Working in the Gulf’s communications industry
The path to Dubai and the rest of the Gulf is a well-trodden one by many practitioners in the public relations industry.
By Alex Malouf
The Gulf, and in particular Doha, Dubai and Riyadh, have been common destinations for British communications professionals.
While the Gulf is often sold as an appealing destination (think no direct taxes, year-round sunshine, and pristine beaches), there’s much more to the region than the image portrayed. Here are a couple of issues to think about when practicing communications in the Gulf.
#1 Relationships are everything
You can pitch all you want, but a good story will get much more traction (and coverage) when you have a strong relationship with a journalist, particularly with the Arabic language media. Conversely, without strong relationships, even the best pitch may fall on deaf ears.
#2 We’re still Jack-of-all-trades
Much of the communications done in the Gulf, especially on the client side, is a mixture of different communications roles rolled into one. You’ll often find yourself switching between internal comms, media relations and digital work. The region is still maturing, and relatively few firms employ a variety of specializations such as internal communications, investor relations and public affairs.
#3 Forget the politics
I’m not referring here to your typical workplace issues, but rather media. Media coverage in the Gulf practices self-censorship, and coverage of issues such as local politics is always done with a great deal of sensitivity. There’s no tabloid press, and there’s no left or right-wing media when it comes to political debate. The media focus is on local issues and business.
#4 Engage with Arab culture
Being in a city such as Doha or Dubai, where the majority of residents are expats, it can be easy to overlook the local culture. However, engaging with nationals is the key to success in government relations (where nearly all employees are nationals) and shaping attitudes and behavior among Arabic-speaking publics. Go out there, learn about the local customs, pick up the language, and you’ll be amazed at what you can do.
#5 Communications is being localized
Governments across the Gulf are promoting localization, and this includes for communications roles. There’s a rapid push by government and semi-government entities towards bringing in nationals in-house. If you’re a communicator with extensive government experience, you may have to consider an agency-based consultancy role rather than a position in-house.
#6 You have to be social
Usage of social is widespread among consumers in the region, and they’re a sophisticated bunch. Video consumption among Gulf nationals tops the global charts, as does smartphone usage. The Gulf’s consumers are avid users of services such as Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter and WhatsApp. Equally, the use of social media influencers is widespread. Communications in the Gulf has never been as social as it is today.
The communications industry has grown at a remarkable rate over the past decade and a half. Most of the world’s largest and best known agencies are present in Dubai, which has become a hub for the profession. Likewise, the function has become part of the organizational structure of many businesses and government entities in the Gulf.
However, whilst most organizations employ communicators in-house and use agencies, communications still isn’t entrenched as a senior management function. This will change, but the region still has some way to go if it is to be compared with communication practices in locations such as London and the United Kingdom.
About Alex Malouf
Alex is a British national with Arabic roots. He's a 15 year veteran of communications, both in the UK and the Middle East who heads up communications for a global FMCG organization. He made the move back to the region in 2004, firstly as a journalist and then as a public relations professional.
Alex actively promotes the communications industry across the region, in his roles as the Vice-Chairs of the Middle East Public Relations Association and the International Association of Business Communicators in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. You can read more of his insights on his blog and connect with him on Twitter @alex_malouf.