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Organizations invest in training mainly to develop the skills of their staff and ensure better productivity and profitability.

But as far as communications training is concerned, the advantages go beyond development and productivity. This kind of training equips the organization with the necessary tools to build and manage its reputation.

By simply reading a newspaper every morning or watching television or surfing the internet, people develop perceptions on certain organizations. Whether it is a business announcement, an interview or a response to some issue, this piece of publicity tells a story about the organization, in fact.

What your employees tell their families, friends, colleagues and the wider communities about the organization also contributes to its overall perception.

Your ‘story tellers’ are the communicators, spokespeople and staff. Understanding why to communicate, what to communicate, and how to communicate improves the quality of content communicated to the different audience group.

Equipping the ‘story tellers’ with the knowledge and experience is important and if ‘practice makes perfect’, then training for sure is the starting point!

– Tania Atallah, Account Director, H+K Strategies Dubai

H+K Strategies offer a range of training courses for executives and management involved in communications – from media relations to crisis management; executive spokesperson training to delivering presentations with impact.

Visit H+K Strategies Dubai on LinkedIn for more information on specific courses.

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Hardly a week goes by without a news story or research report into the growing use of social media across the Middle East. However, one of the most comprehensive studies on the subject was released just last week, authored by the Dubai School of Government’s Governance and Innovation Program.

The “Arab Social Media Report” (ASMR) provides some welcome quantitative analysis in a field often dominated by anecdote and hypothesis, and delivers a host of illuminating insights – for example, that Kuwaitis are the most active tweeters in the region.

I don’t want to go into much detail but highly recommend taking a closer look at the report.

But what does all this analysis mean for us, as we look to add value and wisdom to our clients in government and business?

Let’s have a quick look at the numbers…

The youth (15-29) are embracing social media most, which is unsurprising given that over half the population falls into this category. As stated in the report, “social media now infiltrates almost every aspect of the daily lives of millions of Arabs, affecting the way they interact socially, do business, deal with government, or engage in civil society movements.

However, one of the common mistakes that brands make as they move into social communications is to treat the discipline as a broadcast medium, rather than an interactive experience. This usually stems from a failure to listen to their audience, before wading in and talking at consumers.

This is where “Smart Listening” comes in – a practice that emphasizes a tailored approach to help understand chatter in the digital sphere and filter noise in the social realm. The ultimate objective of “smart listening” is to extract the relevant signals from online conversations and build business intelligence that supports outreach and engagement. This means that social media monitoring must be customised beyond simple keyword tracking. Keywords and hash tags must be tested and spam filtered, and topics must be drilled into to uncover subtopics and conversation drivers.

Another aspect of “Smart Listening” is to identify opinion drivers, or so called “influencers” and understand the ways they participate in, and shape, online conversations about brands, products or companies.

Simply counting mentions about your company or products provides you with that – numbers without context. At the very least these should be benchmarked against competitors and tracked over time. Numbers with no context will not provide any insight which is required to build a strategy – and this is where “Smart Listening” starts. By breaking down conversations and extracting detailed product and customer feedback, feedback on your company’s corporate social responsibility activities (CSR), how people perceive your company’s (reputation) and how your messages resonate with consumers, journalists, bloggers and analysts; is an approach which doesn’t neglect quantitative data but goes beyond it by adding qualitative analyses.

By identifying relevant topics, key drivers and influencers within the online conversation prior to starting your journey into the space of social media will help avoid any pitfalls, and the continuation of a sophisticated monitoring program will provide a company with valuable insights and allow for higher levels of audience engagement and business goals to be achieved.

Sebastian Troch, digital consultant, Hill+Knowlton AMEASCA

The latest issue of Middle East Media Educator is out today, and a great read for those in the industry looking to get under the skin of local markets, media and communications trends.

This is the second annual issue under the MEME banner, published by Alma Kadragic (@Almakad) at the University of Wollongong in Dubai, and lives up to the expectations set by the first.

Katy Branson, Head of Technology for H+K Strategies in the UAE, has contributed an article exploring ‘Technology in Media and Communications: Catalyst, Enabler, or Driver of Change?’.

Here’s a snapshot of the article…

In today’s world of always-on connectivity, convergent communications and media  pervasiveness, it would be difficult to deny the pivotal role of technology in changing the shape of society in general and communications specifically. The ‘art’ of communication is unrecognizable in comparison to what our predecessors  had to go to in order to speak with relatives, friends and business contacts. And by predecessors, we do not need to search back far– just through one generation to the world in which our parents were raised is enough to ring the changes.

The question is whether it is the technology itself that is driving evolution in our communications environment. To what extent is the rate of technological change in communications media exerting a direct influence on aspects such as the need for regulatory change in the industry, creation of new media markets and spurring quite radical social change in the region…or should we be looking at social change from a different perspective?

 

…Turn to p109 of MEME to read on!

When thinking of communications, the focus can rest on flashy PR campaigns that generate a sizeable amount of coverage. And when the impact of the first campaign withers away another campaign is formulated create another wave of recognition!

Effective communications is about sustaining a momentum that builds, elevates or maintains the organization’s profile and help it achieve its business goals. Here is an ABCD (and E!) approach to make it happen:

Step 1: Align– understand what is your organization trying to achieve (business goals), where did communications fail or succeed in the past and what could be done better.

Step 2: Build– develop your plan to take you where you want to be and set metrics. Prepare the messages, content and formalize your processes.

Step 3: Communicate– engage with your audience and convey your message in their own language using tactics that they can relate to and channels they trust!

Step 4: Discover– did your message resonate! Did it manage to shape or change perceptions? Research in the form of audits, surveys or focus groups can tell you!

Step 5: Evaluate– revisit your plan, messages and tactics to bridge any gaps identified in the previous stage and engage again.

Communication is an ongoing dialogue between an organization and its stakeholders and never a stand-alone monologue!

It should be looked at as an organic function that adapts to the organisation’s evolution, market change, stakeholders’ perceptions and community needs.

– Tania Atallah, Account Director at H+K Strategies, Dubai

The past two years has been a turning point for our generation as market prospects changed and economies deteriorated. The vicious cycle of the global economy diminished employment prospects to an all-time low in many countries which has also become increasing prevalent across the region.

Over the last year we have witnessed the rise of the “Arab Spring” and seen the youth call for improved economic conditions and better employment opportunities. This revolutionary period has also seen individuals calling for a better future for generations to come by placing governments under pressure to find solutions and fast. They want answers to their questions; will I find a job after graduation? How can my public and private sector help my employment prospects? What other avenues are available to me?

The answer is to build up entrepreneurial capacity amongst today’s youth.

By working together, governments and the private sector in the MENA region have the ability to build the skills of the future generation so that entrepreneurship becomes a viable career option as starting a new business provides an economic advantage to a community.

Over the next 10 years, the average annual growth rate in the labour force in the MENA region is an estimated two per cent per year; youth need to take matters into their own hands by taking the initiative in creating jobs for themselves and others.

Hill + Knowlton Strategies has a long standing partnership with INJAZ Al-Arab to help foster entrepreneurship across the region. INJAZ Al-Arab focuses on working with the private sector and government to educate students and provide them with the necessary skills and qualifications needed to succeed as entrepreneurs.

Recently named one of the top NGO’s in the world by Global Journal, INJAZ Al-Arab operates in 15 countries across the MENA region and is a member of Junior Achievement Worldwide. INJAZ Al-Arab programs provide middle school students with entrepreneurial mentorships; a great example of how the private sector can support and benefit the next generation of business leaders. INJAZ Al-Arab gives the Arab youth an opportunity to tackle entrepreneurship head on with no fear. Once they believe in their potential and live their dreams, they will become a key factor in benefiting the local economy and a driver of the community.

To-date, INJAZ-Al Arab has reached out to over 1 million youth and the organisation hopes to reach many more.

– Noor Ghazzi – Junior Account Executive at Hill+Knowlton Strategies Dubai

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For companies targeting enterprise buyers, particularly in the technology sector, analysts can be important influencers that are often left untouched by communications. However, in skipping this audience, a number of fruitful business opportunities can be left unexplored.

Several international analyst houses have increased commitment to the Middle East and Africa region over recent years, expanding their operations from sales offices to – in some cases – fully fledged research operations. This local presence is enabling analysts to build a closer focus on the fast-growing economies of the region rather than the Euro-centric view of years gone by.

From a company’s perspective, analysts offer opportunity to establish a reciprocal relationship that yields returns through building conversations over time. Analysts spend much of their day speaking to industry leaders with their eye on new trends; young start-ups that might be the next big thing; and government bodies that can influence the changing tides of investment. Sharing information about business success, direction and marketplace trends can be an astute investment if in return your conversation garners valuable insight from an industry expert.

And the discussion can be more detailed than that which might be shared with the media; these exchanges are not going into print. Instead, analysts are often reference points for companies considering big investments and weighing up potential suppliers, so the more they know about your business the better armed they will be in this conversation.

There is opportunity to partner on research and whitepapers on industry trends in the region, shedding new light on the economic and industry trends here, and contributing to knowledge development. Analysts can bring credibility to these reports through their position as independent experts, and offer another angle for driving coverage through the press with opinions to support business findings.

Bringing H+K’s expertise from around the world, where in many places analysts are a staple part of a technology engagement programme, we hope to see more involvement between companies and analysts in building the research and knowledge amongst industries across the region.

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

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

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.

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

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