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It’s widely recognised that the PR industry has long suffered a reputation challenge of its own. After all, it’s not rocket science, right? Anyone can do it! And we see this reflected at times when we go to meet a prospective client only to find that the receptionist or office administrator has been tasked with managing the agency with a brief to get the company into the press.

Aside from the appreciation for what a solid communications strategy can do for a company, this sets alarm bells ringing over the perception of how important the company takes its reputation, regardless of industry and scale. It’s not just the big brands that need to think about their stakeholders’ perception of the business. The potential commercial opportunities brought to any organization that attracts a fresh injection of capital, opens up new markets or strengthens partnerships, can open the door to new level of growth.

This begs the question, how many organizations that we work with truly position communications – or more importantly, reputation management – as a priority at the boardroom table?

Around this table the C-level executives may be more concerned with shareholders, profit and loss, and market performance than what the PR team is doing. But at the end of the day, success in these areas of business stem from the strength of reputation and relationships that a company holds with its groups of stakeholders, or ‘publics’. These are segmented and defined groups, with specific motivations, drivers and opinions that “big PR” is less likely to have influence over. It requires an approach that strategically considers the priorities of individuals and the actions it aims to inspire.

Influencer engagement that reaches beyond media to analysts, bloggers, investors and industry leaders too often represents a missed opportunity in the Middle East market. However, this is how investment in reputation and communication can extend beyond traditional media to reach new influential heights with the company’s proposition and message.

This more targeted approach is highly effective in engaging specific publics in a less crowded and noisy environment than that offered through the media. Engagement strategies and specialist forums that provide an opportunity for connecting to partners, investors and advisors more directly can elevate the ‘issue’ of communications to garner boardroom support and more closely relate impact to business success.

As with any boardroom discussion, however, the proof lies in the bottom line. Being taken seriously in this forum means application of business-led measurement criteria that shows a clear return on investment for the organization. Measurement on the ‘thud factor’ no longer applies and message resonance is hard to pin down to a dollar value. The C-suite discussion needs to capture influence, investment and profit in hard currency through business growth and opportunity such as new sales leads, value from alliances and the results of investing in reputation campaigns.

So, think again about the value that reputation management has in the boardroom of the organizations that engage your counsel. Adding real business value is the only way to shift our own reputation in this inner circle, and the best way for communications to earn its place at the table.

– Katy Branson, Head of Technology UAE at Hill+Knowlton Strategies Dubai

glob·al·i·za·tion [gloh-buh-luh-zey-shuhn] noun: worldwide integration and development

When you look up the definition of globalization, it’s hard to tell if it’s a positive or negative characteristic of the world we live in. On one hand, ‘worldwide’ means universal acceptance – international, wide-reaching; but on the other hand it denotes a common approach, impersonal, and collective.

For brands that can successfully reach across borders, globalization gives the opportunity to truly connect – especially in today’s digital age. And this is ‘everywhere, anywhere, and anytime’ connecting. With that can come highly sought after brand power, equity, and potential market dominance.

Today, a good idea, service, or offering can go global because people generally share similar aspirations, character traits, wants, and needs. Just ask the big names: Cola-Cola, Apple, and Starbucks to name a few. That said, is the world a single market, and can a one-size-fits-all concept satisfy everybody?

Firstly, the world is rich with cultures, values, and traditions, so why should we all buy into global brands? People not only want to feel like individuals, they want to feel special. It is therefore crucial that consumers feel organizations genuinely understand and care about their needs, interests, and happiness. Ultimately, if the consumer is happy and feels a connection, he or she is likely to become loyal to the brand.

So how do you make something global go local in order to make that connection?

Adidas, the global sports brand, invests millions of dollars every year to have international celebrities such as David Beckham as the face of their brand around the world. What it also does on a smaller scale is invest in local brand ambassadors to engage interest in the local market. They recognize that a 14 year old in Sao Paulo, Tokyo, Paris, Beirut, and Dubai may share an immense passion for football and dream of one day being the next Beckham. But they’ll also have a local hero – someone that can more easily identify with from their hometown. Again it’s the personal connection that matters.

What marketers, PR professionals, or even sales professionals should remember is that their product or service must always connect to the target audience culturally.

Take the global reality TV star, Kim Kardashian, one of the most followed celebrities to date. How can we make such an American icon relevant to the UAE and the women in the Middle East? Where are their shared passions and commonalities? In this instance it’s not finding out more about Kim’s life, but rather finding out more about what Kim likes about the Arab life.

The aim of strategic PR is not to gain brand awareness or exposure. It is about connecting to as many individuals as possible, no matter where they are or who they are. Next time you’re in Starbucks, ask why a global brand is making the effort to write your name upon your latte. That personal touch – that brand love – is what it is all about.

– Lama El Ali, Account Executive at Hill+Knowlton Strategies

“Welcome to H+K Strategies.”

These were the first words I heard as soon as I walked through the embossed glass doors. The receptionist was smiling at me, and all I could do was nervously smile back. Inside, I was terrified. This was my first real interview, and my chances of an internship with my first-choice PR agency depended on it. I sat down gingerly on the plush sofa and ran through likely scenarios in my head for what seemed like the millionth time.

In hindsight, I needn’t have worried so much. Five minutes into the interview, when I was discussing The Big Bang Theory with the internship coordinator, I was confident that they would offer me the internship. Even better, I knew that I would fit right into the corporate culture.

Hill+Knowlton Strategies was my first choice for a number of reasons. My professors recommended it to me, past graduates gushed about it, and most importantly, students who interned there assured me that H+K takes the trouble to teach interns the ropes of the industry. I’m happy to report that they were all absolutely right – I’ve learned more at H+K in two months than I did in three-and-a-half years of university.

The work has been fantastic, and I was lucky to have been given real work from day one. This was no “get me a coffee” type internship. Throughout the past two months, I have done benchmarking analysis for a regional non-profit, updated media lists, written innumerable bios for a major news channel launch, researched food and beverage trends for a hospitality client, played around on LinkedIn for a major tech company, and written website content for a pharmaceutical. All this and I haven’t even mentioned my daily assignments or the urgent requests that fall onto my lap that are usually due in a few hours (believe me, I’m not complaining).

As I tried to wrap my head around my rapidly changing schedule, people at the office were always willing to help out with a bit of advice. I was assigned a buddy (who coincidentally happened to be a friend of a friend), and my internship coordinator went out of her way to make sure I wasn’t overburdened. Everyone treated me like a part of the family, and not once did I ever feel like I was the lowly intern. In fact, at H+K, there is no such thing as a lowly intern.

As my internship draws to a close, I cannot help but look back at these two months with genuine fondness. I know many people who have been discouraged from PR after their internship, and I was keen to not become one such casualty. I am fortunate that H+K has instilled a deeper love for PR in me, and given me confidence in my ability to produce good work. For these and other things, my time at H+K has been an internship to remember.

– Madhavi Ravi, Intern at Hill+Knowlton Strategies

You didn’t possibly think we’d have said advertising, did you? Well we do have some interesting statistics to back it up, so read on.

It is third-party endorsement that makes PR the most persuasive tool in building reputation and protecting it. Put in simple terms, if advertising is what you say about yourself, PR is what others say about you.

Let’s take corporate reputation as an example. There are several sources to find out information about a company and its products or services. For apart from the company’s marketing collateral and advertisements, there is what its customers say, what other people say, and what the media says. If it is a public company, then its shareholders and the market analysts’ opinions come to the picture as well.

Research by Siegel + Gale shows a major difference between the significance of information sources about a company and the extent to which people are convinced by them. For instance, 42 percent of those surveyed believe people in general are the best source of news about a company, yet only 33 percent of them consider that source as the most credible one.

Likewise, 43 percent consider articles published by specialist media to be the most credible source of information about the company, but only 37 percent believe those articles are the best source overall.

No wonder, then, that while 30 percent of the participants see a company’s collateral as a prime reference of information, the percentage goes down to 13 when it comes to how much they believe what is written in that collateral.

These results demonstrate that PR – or the third-party endorsement – is what makes a campaign legitimate. Perhaps marketing guru Jack Trout was inspired by this when he wrote in his book titled The New Positioning: “PR plants the seeds. Advertising harvests the crop.”

In a landscape of varying attentiveness to media, increasing clutter and dwindling attention span among consumers, evidence shows that PR-led communication channels generally rate higher than paid-for advertising, both in terms of source and trust. And we cannot ignore the fact that marketing literacy, particularly among the young, has led to increasing ad avoidance – a communications gap which PR can effectively help fill.

– Marwan Abu-Ghanem, Regional Media Director at Hill+Knowlton Strategies

العلاقات العامّة مقابل الإعلان: من الفائز؟

إن كنت قد استغربت ذكرنا لكلمة “إعلان”، فما عليك إلا أن تقرأ الإحصاءات المهمّة أدناه لتتبيّن صحّة وجهة نظرنا.

فالاستحصال على مصادقة الجهات المحايدة هو ما يجعل العلاقات العامة الوسيلة الأكثر إقناعاً في بناء السمعة وحمايتها. وفي تعريف عملي للأمر، أنّه إذا كان “الإعلان هو ما تقوله أنت عن نفسك … فالعلاقات العامّة هي ما يقوله الناس عنك”.

لنأخذ السمعة المؤسسية على سبيل المثال. هناك مصادر عدّة لمعرفة معلومات حول شركة ما ومنتجاتها أو خدماتها. فإضافة إلى المنشورات التسويقية والإعلانات، هناك ما يقوله زبائن هذه الشركة، وما يقوله الأناس الآخرون، وهناك ما ينشر في الصحافة أو ما يبث على وسائل الإعلام المرئي والمسموع. وإن كانت أسهم الشركة مدرجة في أسواق البورصة، يصبح لحملة الأسهم ومحلّلي الأسواق المالية رأي قيّم أيضاً.

وكما أشار بحث أجرته مؤسسة “سيغل آند غايل”، هناك تمايز واضح بين أهمّية مصادر المعلومات حول شركة ما وبين مدى اقتناع الناس بهذه المصادر. فثمة 42 في المئة من الذين شملهم البحث يعتقدون أنّ ما يقوله الناس عامّةً يعتبر من أفضل المصادر بالنسبة للمعلومات حول الشركة، لكنّ 33 في المئة فقط من هؤلاء يعتبرون أنّ ما يقوله عامّة الناس هو الأكثر تصديقاً.

في المقابل، يرى 43 في المئة من الذين تم استطلاع آرائهم أنّ المقالات التي تنشر في المطبوعات المتخصصة هي الأكثر تصديقاً، من حيث المعلومات التي تتناولها عن الشركة، لكنّ 37 في المئة فقط من هؤلاء يعتبرون أنّ تلك المقالات هي من أفضل مصادر جمع المعلومات.

ولا عجب بالتالي أنّه في الوقت الذي ينظر فيه 30 في المئة إلى منشورات الشركة على أنّها أفضل مصدر للمعلومات، تنخفض نسبة هؤلاء إلى 13 في المئة فقط عندما يتعلّق الأمر بمدى تصديق ما يرد في هذه المنشورات.

هذه النتائج تثبت إذاً أنّ العلاقات العامّة – أو مصادقة الجهات المحايدة – هي التي تؤتي الشرعيّة اللازمة لأية حملة تسويقية. وبالتالي فإنّ “العلاقات العامّة هي التي تزرع البذور، بينما يأتي الإعلان بعدها ليجني المحصول”، على حدّ تعبير جاك تراوت، الخبير المعروف في مجال التسويق ومؤلف كتاب “التموضع الجديد”.

وفي بيئة يتفاوت فيها الإنتباه إلى وسائل الإعلام، ويتضاءل فيها نطاق اهتمام المستهلكين وسط “الضجيج التسويقي”، تشير كل الدلائل إلى أنّ قنوات الاتصال التي تقودها العلاقات العامّة تتفوّق عموماً على الإعلانات المدفوعة، إن من حيث أهمّية مصادرها أو من حيث الثقة فيها. ومع انتشار المعرفة التسويقية يوماً بعد يوم، وخصوصاً في أوساط الشباب، نجد تجنّباً متزايداً للإعلانات – والعلاقات العامّة هي التي تستطيع سدّ هذه “الثغرة الاتصالية” بفعّالية.

Launched back in 2010, Pinterest went almost unnoticed by the tech press for almost a year, until early adopters suddenly realised that a site with millions of users had been seemingly created overnight.

Since then, Pinterest has grown out of pure devotion from a dedicated, mostly female (80% cite some stats) following, who enjoy “pinning” items onto their pin boards from around the web.

Unsurprisingly, the popularity of this social network has attracted significant brand attention, and some of the most established and emerging brands now have a presence on Pinterest (as well as Pin it buttons on their websites) by which they engage large and small audiences in different ways.

Here are three currently using Pinterest to great success:

WholeFoods

One of the first brands onto Pinterest, this organic food store has gained over 28,000 followers to date. Pinterest allows WholeFoods to curate images from across the web which help translate brand values to their audience – from community and environment to healthy eating and organic produce. It is important to note that WholeFoods are not promoting their products, rather an aspirational lifestyle.

Better homes and Gardens

Magazines perform well on Pinterest thanks to their good stock of images, editorial content and largely female following. A good illustration is Better Homes and Gardens. They also created a “Pin and Win” contest which called for contestants to create a board using images from BHG.com (via Facebook). They gained a huge amount of Facebook fans and email data as well as inbound links.

U.S. Army

Partly to level out the female sway of this platform, but mostly because it’s an excellent example of how an outwardly “non-Pinterest” brand can use the platform to its advantage, the Official U.S. Army page includes boards such as: “welcome home,” “army history,” and “humanitarian relief”.  While the audience is likely to be made up of Army wives and girlfriends, the U.S. Army is cleverly reaching out to an audience which they may not have been capturing before via other channels.

Opportunity and strategy

While the boards and messages look great, you may be wondering what other benefits exist for a brand on Pinterest. There are many – is the answer – from participation and brand evangelism to relationship building. Additionally, organic search engine visibility will be vastly improved (many brand Pinterst pages ranks above the Twitter pages in the search engine results illustrating Google’s algorithm preference for this platform). However, what brands such as Amazon are discovering is the opportunity to drive large amounts of traffic back to the pin’s original source (assuming the pinner found the image on your website) making it another channel to display your goods or services via valuable third party endorsement.

For brands, Pinterest has become very pinteresting indeed.

– Susan Clowes, Digital Consultant at Hill+Knowlton Strategies Dubai

Despite the existence of 22 Arabic speaking countries, Arab expats living around the globe, and a young internet savvy population in the MENA region, only 2% of content online is in Arabic. We live in an era where  smartphones and tablets are giving us access to online content virtually anywhere, yet no matter the geographic location, the info being consumed is predominately English content.

There are 350 million people in the Middle East region who speak Arabic, and we are seeing a push for Arabic content from Arabic speaking consumers.

And there are local government initiatives, such as that of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, whose office has announced a strategy to support the nurturing of the Arabic language. In Saudi Arabia there is a plan in place that addresses the pressing need for quality Arabic e-content.

The young and growing population of the MENA region, coupled with high internet penetration (estimated at 35-40%), and an increasing trend in mobile (87% mobile penetration) and smartphone  use has created a growing appetite for Arabic content online.  Regionally, the UAE has one of the highest instances of internet use with most people owning on average more than one smartphone.

The transition toward a unified “e-Arabic” has been developing in many forms, from international websites in the region emphasizing Arabic, to Google in Arabic, to an Arabic Twitter interface, to a grassroots initiatives campaigning for Arabic e-content.  Initiatives such as Taghreedat, supported by twofour54, are succeeding in creating Arabic e-content, working to improve Wikipedia in Arabic and create an Arabic Dictionary 2.0 of technical terms to serve the needs of the Arabic internet users who account for 3.3% of all users globally.

There is an undeniable movement toward the creation of Arabic content online, but the challenges lie in changing the user perception, getting people to think online in Arabic, and defining a unified e-Arabic platform of communication and information. In addition, this requires the development of Arabic terms not only to serve the average internet user but to create a regionally accepted e-Arabic for viable use in the developing, software, and translations sphere.

Arabic content is on the rise, but it remains to be seen is if the Arabizing of the internet will be skin deep or if it can take on a life of its own.

– Olivia Quinn, Senior Account Executive at Hill+Knowlton Strategies Dubai

Despite the global economic downturn, the Middle East continues to invest in sport and sport infrastructure, including buying football clubs, sponsoring stadiums, and staging high profile international events. But why is there such a focus on sport from a region that until now has had limited international success on the track, field, or pitch?

One obvious factor is the commitment by a number of governments in the region to achieve greater economic diversification. Through investing with strategic partners, the aim is to create a framework for long-term economic success across industries and sectors, from renewable energy, to aerospace, to fine art, to tourism – to the increasing dominance of world sporting events.

But another major factor is the power sport has to motivate, inspire strong feelings of unity and national pride, and instill valuable life lessons in the younger generation. Middle East nations – especially the oil-bearing Gulf states – are no longer content to simply remain spectators, welcoming hosts and branders of backdrops. They too want to enjoy the long-term benefits, recognition, and emotional highs that are part and parcel of the professional sports world.

Of course the challenges are as great as the opportunities. Not only do we need to create sports heroes and role models in the Arab world for the Arab population, but we need to garner respect on an international scale. And among the younger population we need to ensure that dreams of greatness in sport are not simply driven by the promise of financial gains.

Like every facet of life within this ambitious region there is a desire to “fast-track.” But while failure is not an option to those investing, the very nature of competitive sport means there will be no short-cuts on the road ahead. Generation after generation will need to set the bar higher for the next one as they move forward on a journey that will be characterised as much by human endeavour and sheer perspiration as it will be by lofty visions and economic resources. The hard yards for sporting success need to be earned.

But we believe success is guaranteed: With such a dedicated focus on sport as a vehicle for economic and social growth, we are certain to see future generations of Arab athletes performing and excelling on the world stage.

– Stephen Reid, Sports Practice Account Director at Hill+Knowlton Strategies Dubai

ثورة الاستثمار العربي في مجال الرياضة

رغم التباطؤ الاقتصادي العالمي، الا أنّ منطقة الشرق الاوسط واصلت الاستثمار في مجال الرياضة واعداد البنية التحتية اللازمة لها، بما في ذلك شراء أندية كرة القدم، رعاية الملاعب وتنظيم الأحداث الدولية البارزة. لكن ما يثير الجدل هو الاهتمام الكبير بالأنشطة الرياضية من منطقة ما زالت نجاحاتها الرياضية الدولية محدودة جداً، في الملعب أو حوله؟

الجدير بالذكر هنا هو التزام عدد من الحكومات في المنطقة بتحقيق  التنوع الاقتصادي، وذلك من خلال الاستثمار مع شركاء استراتيجيين بغرض تشكيل هيكل تنظيمي لتحقيق نجاح اقتصادي طويل المدى عبر الصناعات والقطاعات المختلفة، ابتداء من قطاع الطاقة المتجددة ووصولاً الى الفضاء، مروراً بالفنون الجميلة والسياحة، ناهيك عن السيطرة المتزايدة على الأحداث الرياضية التي تجرى على مستوى العالم.

لكن هناك عاملاً رئيساً آخر، وهو أن الرياضة لديها القوة على تحفيز وشحن مشاعر قوية من الوحدة والفخر الوطني، وغرس قيم الحياة الثمينة لدى الشباب. فدول الشرق الأوسط  – وخاصة دول الخليج  – لم تعد تكتفي بالمشاهدة والترحيب بالمضيفين وأصحاب العلامات التجارية، بل إنها تتطلع للاستفادة من ذلك على المدى الطويل والظهور على الساحة الدولية، إضافة الى الحصول على التعاطف الجماهيري الذي يعتبر جزءً لا يتجزأ من عالم الرياضة.

لا يمكننا أن ننكر أنّ التحديات كبيرة، كما هي الفرص المتاحة. فنحن لسنا بحاجة إلى خلق أبطال رياضيين للعالم العربي وحسب، لكننا بحاجة أيضاً إلى كسب الاحترام على الصعيد الدولي. إلى ذلك، يجب أن نهتمّ بأحلام شبابنا وتطلعاتهم الكبيرة وعدم ربطها بالمكاسب المالية فقط.

وكما هو الأمر في جميع جوانب الحياة  في هذه المنطقة الطموحة، هناك رغبة لتحقيق النجاح بشكل سريع. وبما أنّ الفشل ليس خياراً لأولئك المستثمرين، فهذا يعني وفقاً لطبيعة المنافسة الرياضية أنه لا يوجد اختصارات للمسار الرياضي ولا نجاحات سريعة. من هنا، ومع استمرار تعاقب الأجيال، يجب أن يستمر الارتقاء بالمستوى الرياضي مع التأكيد على التقدم الملوس قبل تسليم الراية إلى الجيل التالي، الذي سيمضي بدوره في رحلة مصبوغة بالجهد الإنساني والرؤى السامية والموارد الاقتصادية، ليكون بذلك النجاح الرياضي مستحقاً بجدارة.

وبما أن النجاح الرياضي مضمون من خلال التركيز على الرياضة كأداة مهمة للنمو الاقتصادي والاجتماعي، فنحن على يقين من أننا سنشهد جيلاً من الرياضيين العرب المتفوقين على المستوى العالمي.

Translated into Arabic by Lona Ayoub, Account Executive at H+K Strategies Dubai

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