Hotwire in the Middle East – Why it needs to also be about ME!
Louay Al-Samarrai, Joint Managing Director, discusses why you should consider the Middle East when it comes to partnerships
As more and more businesses turn to Hotwire for global communications advice, the question of how best to approach the Middle East is being raised on a regular basis. While every region in the world has its own nuances and cultures, the Middle East perhaps stands apart as being one of the most varied and so partnering with a true regional specialist is the only route to go.
Since signing an exclusive partnership with Active Digital Marketing Communications, a Dubai based Middle Eastern regional marketing agency, we’ve seen an increase in client enquiries from outside the region – those looking to invest – and so it’s critical that marketing and communications professionals have an appreciation of some of the trends, opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for businesses looking to deliver communication campaigns in this fast growing yet diverse region.
Overall, media relations still lies at the heart of many campaigns in the Middle East and so maintaining great relationships with the region’s media is an absolute prerequisite – a skill that is still rare among many practitioners. The right agency partner must not only demonstrate its network but should bring insight and analysis that informs the choice of media target for campaigns and messaging.
A deep knowledge of the media dynamics in each country is therefore a requirement. For example, in Saudi Arabia the media environment is almost entirely commercial and reliant on prepackaged press releases rather than analysis or news reporting. The United Arab Emirates, as a business hub, is home to many regional media owners and so should be treated as a priority. Particularly the Arabic news, which is read in key markets, including of course Saudi Arabia. The real challenge then lies in taking campaigns to other markets in region – countries such as Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and even Iraq where local channels are governed by local economics, media laws and customs. Clearly, one size does not fit all from a media perspective!
Social versus Traditional
Much like the rest of the world the move to digital and online media consumption is very much a reality and with numbers like 76 million Facebook users, over 25 million Instagram users, over 7 million Twitter, and 260 million daily YouTube viewers, the region is ripe for the more integrated approach.
As an agency, we have seen the greatest successes for clients when using digital and social media in tandem with traditional media for both B2B and B2C campaigns. There is, however, still an amount of resistance to using Facebook for business which we predict will slowly change as the business cases emerge and prove its value. Hotwire’s recent Changing Face of Influence report, which demonstrates that B2B decision makers use Facebook as a primary source of news, illustrates this fact and been well received by clients in regions.
Emotion versus Content
This is a region of personal contacts, face-to-face meetings and human interaction because these are emotive. Word of mouth continues to be important and so the more a brand can do to build and exert influence across the region the better. Enlightened brands have already turned to social media as a primary channel to achieve this. The rise in region in the use of social platforms has created significant opportunities for brands to reach far wider audiences. And in many cases, this is replacing traditional media relations as a primary communications vehicle.
There is a clear trend across the Middle East of companies leveraging video content and interactive experiences as core parts of their communication programs and of utilizing influencers, bloggers and vloggers to act as brand ambassadors and third party endorsements. The challenge, as in other parts of the world, is to correctly identify and then manage the relationships with these influencers. This is true not just from a financial perspective, but also from a channel standpoint. What works in one part of the region, might be culturally unacceptable in another.
Integrated versus PR
The net effect of the social media revolution has been a gradual shift to integrated communications. This is a trend seen worldwide but has meant agencies in the Middle East have had to adapt. It’s no longer sufficient to offer pure media relations campaigns based on long standing relationships, agencies must think and act in a more integrated manner. It’s true to say that the region is not an early adopter in this regard, but evidence based on client wins over the past twelve months at Active, demonstrates the appetite for the shift.
The Middle East is not a region to shy away from. When you look at the demographics and the economic trends, it’s clear there is opportunity for global businesses to build market share and to create successful enterprises. With 3.2 million affluent and technically sophisticated individuals under 30, the population is fast embracing change. Add to this an early adopter mindset when it comes to technology and you have an environment that is ripe for growth.
So for any companies, brands and services operating already in this region or those that are thinking to get more engaged with these markets the opportunities are huge and the investment in time, focus and money worthwhile if it’s done through the right partner.
The author Louay Al Samarrai is the Managing Partner and Joint Owner of Active Digital Marketing Communications, a Middle East regional integrated marketing agency based in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and the official partner of Hotwire. Louay can be contacted on – firstname.lastname@example.org.