Relations improve after tips for PRs find a ready market

I had a bumper post bag (as we used to say) in response to my notebook last week about “tips for PRs”. It seems all you spin doctors out there are very keen indeed to learn how to get on with the media, even to the extent of taking advice seriously from a grizzled old hack such as myself.

The quirkiest response came from a PR who had time to kill while waiting for a flight in a Caribbean departure lounge (the lives these people lead) who sent me an email which deliberately broke all the rules I had recommended: inquiring if I was “fine”, wishing me an “incredibly fantastic weekend” and generally doing all the things guaranteed to hack me off. I saw the joke though.

The most gratifying response came, as intended, from the PR firm which looks after La Petite Maison, inviting me to lunch at their august establishment to discuss the matter further. Although I suspect there is no such thing as a free lunch in this context, I accepted with enthusiasm and will keep readers informed of developments.

My advice last week was light-hearted, but these are serious times in the PR industry in the UAE, especially in the financial sector, with which I have the most contact. Their world is increasingly serious and competitive as the battle for new business intensifies.

Almost all the financial PR firms I know are in expansionary mode, hiring staff, moving to bigger premises, opening new offices in various parts of the Arabian Gulf.

They have obviously decided that the long-term ambitions of Dubai (reinforced last week by the 10-year plan of Dubai International Financial Centre) and Abu Dhabi (on track for the launch of Abu Dhabi Global Market this year) outweigh worries about security, energy prices and government spending.

The Saudi markets opening and Qatar’s determination to overcome negative headlines elsewhere in the world are also persuasive signs for the financial PR firms.

Maybe the most ambitious recent move has been by Hill & Knowlton (sorry, H+K Strategies as I must remember to call it). It has teamed up with a London financial firm, Buchanan, to launch H+K Financial, a financial advisory business aimed exclusively at the Middle East and Africa.

Both firms are part of the giant communications business WPP, and their coming together is an example of what its chief executive, Sir Martin Sorrell, calls “horizontality”.

If Sir Martin wants to get really serious horizontally, he could go much further, as he owns several other businesses in the region, including Finsbury Associates and Asdaa Burson-Marsteller. That also shows just how crowded the market has become.

Sconaid McGeachin, the head of H+K in the region and beyond, is up for the challenge. “We already have the biggest network in the region, and now is the right time to expand. Nobody really does Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and we see a steady flow of business from both. We can also leverage up our big African network,” she says.

You have got to wish her, and her partner in the enterprise, well. Buchanan had a previous foray into the market, but it was badly timed, coming just as the region entered the turmoil of the 2009 financial crisis.

This time, she hopes, things are different. “We have all learnt from then. Now the client potential is bigger, with more activity expected from the region’s big family businesses as well as a revival of M&A and IPO markets, hopefully. This launch puts us in the game, and it is a big game,” she says.

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