Setting the Standard: PR in Dubai

By James Holmes, Managing Director, Limelight PR Middle East

I have been working in Dubai for three years and even in that time, I have seen the ‘4th estate’ improve dramatically. The opening of The National has introduced world class journalism into the region and digital content is being taken seriously by financial markets around the world.

Even the closing of Emirates Business 24/7 print edition has been blamed on an increase in competition.

And so it’s only natural that the public relations industry improves as a result. Just as the recession highlighted the vulnerable, so any agency that relies on the replication of a release will flounder in a media market that is demanding higher standards.

I am therefore surprised when I hear, on an all too often basis, that the standard of public relations in the UAE is way below average, especially compared to more developed markets. Ironically statements that come from many ex-pats who have indeed trained in developed countries and now practice in Dubai!

But bearing in mind the advertising industry has a similar reputational issue and is much older; such commentators cannot expect standards in public relations to improve over night and ahead of the media. We are a young industry in the Middle East that is making faster progress than anywhere else but we can only improve as fast as clients will allow and in alignment with progression of the media.

Think of it as a cycle. As the media becomes more investigative (or dare i say it, objective), so the corporations will recognise public relations as a core business function. As a result, the PR agencies in the Middle East will begin to focus on quality – not quantity in order to prove their worth.

What this means, is more strategic PR. Understanding the objective and goals of a campaign and measuring against them – not the advertising equivalent.

The cycle then goes full circle. PR agencies will have to offer a more frank and honest consultancy to clients. They need to be able to explain that the appointment of a janitor for the store cupboard is not news and resist demands to distribute the release to every man and his dog. This will then help contribute to the standard of content (especially online) and build better relationships with journalists.

As it stands however, there are too many variables that prohibit a PR consultant from fulfilling their capabilities, and whilst I applaud MEPRA and its remit, advice needs to be directed towards procurement, towards clients, and those who don’t understand public relations but have to work with PR agencies, because these are the parties stunting the sector’s standards.

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