In Italy, from the Middle Ages through to the Renaissance, city states such as Florence, Urbino and Venice flourished, bringing wealth, prosperity and fame to their lands. This period saw great innovation, growth in international trade, development of civic administration structures to manage the growth in population and societal complexity, and major advances in quality of life.
Excess liquidity from trade and international finance led the rulers of these states to re-invest in their cities to create civic pride and build the infrastructure to support generations to come. Investment in buildings, businesses, the arts and culture created environments that actively attracted people and money. The result is still visible and highly celebrated today.
Now the Arab world is undergoing the same transition, producing an Arabian renaissance. Fuelled - at least initially - by the liquidity provided by oil surpluses, the Gulf States have invested in the creation not only of sustainable, diversified economies, but also in sustainable, diversified societies. This investment and its effects have been rapid, dramatic and impressive. It has also given the Arab world a profile that has not been enjoyed since the invention of mathematics or the rise of Islam.
Many of the same challenges, opportunities and objectives of the city states of medieval and renaissance Italy are shared today by nation and city states in the Gulf Co-operation Council (the states bordering the Arabian Gulf). The chief difference is context.
Global marketplaces, technology and comms and the mobilisation and migration of human capital have all created a context that is highly complex, competitive and often confused. Speed, accuracy and efficiency have never been more critical to growth strategies for businesses or nation brands. But more than this, comms has become the enabling factor that creates competitive advantage. City states such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and nations such as Qatar and Bahrain are operating comms and marketing-led strategies to grow their profile, economies and societies, with remarkable results. This is matched by regional companies transforming into truly global companies - such as ABIC, DP World, Mubadala.
The ability of business in the region to position itself correctly, meet the needs and expectations of stakeholders and create trust will be the critical success factor, particularly in a global economic downturn. The key will be finding the balance between responding to the imperatives that govern global business and comms, while effectively representing the identity and culture of the region and its people.
Arab businesses and nation brands do not need to compromise on local resonance or sacrifice heritage to become effective and compelling in a global marketplace. But they do need to focus on communicating messages and positioning that can be heard and understood by the stakeholders and audiences being targeted. Success at home will breed success abroad.
The future of the Arab region is bright and full of opportunity. However, the ability to adapt and communicate through change will mark the winners from the losers. This applies to both Arab and global firms in the region. Now more than ever is the time to engage with the PR process. Domestic clients can no longer afford to just 'act local', while international clients must localise. Comms consultancies must rise to the challenge of providing effective solutions in a region that provides one of the few opportunities for rapid growth in an economically uncertain world.
While this time marks a renaissance for the Arab world, it also marks a coming of age for the PR industry serving it.
VIEWS IN BRIEF
- What would improve the practice of PR in the region?
More investment in research and planning and wider recognition that media is but one channel for communications.
- Who is the in-house comms person to watch?
Simon Pearce of the Abu Dhabi Executive Affairs Authority. He's leading the branding and comms strategy of Abu Dhabi to great effect.
- Where in the Middle East do you go to relax?
Out to the mountains on the Omani border with my motorcycle. Or the Shangri La Barr Al Jissah resort outside Muscat in Oman.