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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Limelight Middle East launches in Dubai

Over the past year or so, through trends in the industry, and speaking to clients, peers and prospects, we have seen a growing need for business driven communications across the Middle East.

And whilst the current economic conditions and chatter surrounding Dubai haven’t been as optimistic as in recent years, we at Limelight are pretty confident that we have a compelling and commercial offering that will make a real difference to businesses in the Middle East.

So, it is with great excitement that I am launching an independent office in Dubai, Limelight Middle East.

The new consultancy, based in Dubai Media City, is opening as a separate entity to London but joins the Limelight network which, which has a presence in Sydney and New York.

And I’m even more excited about bringing a previous colleague, James Holmes, also former Corporate Communications Manager for Leo Burnett MENA, back into the family to head up the new office.  Having worked with James for many years, I know he will be a brilliant leader of our new business.   We know that there is a real gap in the market for our services, and with our ideas and energy I am sure we can make a real difference to the quality of business PR and communications in the region.

Limelight Middle East will primarily focus on business PR and communications, ensuring that any PR or media strategy is integrated directly with a company’s development and sales programme.

Our aim is to bring a high level of professionalism to the Middle East market, not just for the benefit of our clients but journalists and broadcasters too. Our understanding of the local media, the emphasis on standards and our bespoke methods of measurement will be the foundations for our success in this market, and I have 100% belief in James and the team to drive this success.

With a couple of new clients in the bag already, I think that the new agency will follow in the footsteps of the London office, and is destined for great things.  Stay tuned for further updates!