We are living in an age where information moves at lightning speed. Even before we realise it, information is available on smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other smart gadgets, thanks to ever-improving connectivity and technological innovations. Digital platforms such as social networking sites, websites, blogs, emails, and apps, also called new media, have brought a paradigm shift in the public relations (PR) industry.
The predictions of the PR industry going digital are based on facts that technologies like Artificial Intelligence(AI) could contribute more than $300 billion by 2031 to Middle East GDP, with UAE estimating AI to add $182 billion to the economy by 2035. These numbers are fueling digital working across industries and PR is no exception.
Digital evolution calls for an integrated approach towards communication, branding, and marketing for customised services to clients. A decade ago, nobody would have thought that social and business networking platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, would one day assume such a great significance in reaching wider audiences. It was unimaginable that operating virtually would be as important as traditional methods. In today’s hyper interconnected world, the boundaries are blurring fast and PR agencies are now required to serve clients in multiple disciplines and markets at the same time - sometimes the disciplines are interconnected as well making the process even more complicated.
In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, PR firms are increasingly operating across the communication spectrum with social and digital marketing, advertising, and strategy services. At the same time, core skills pertaining to media relations, reputation, crisis management, media training, executive coaching, influence and performance marketing, content creation and production still hold good and will continue for some time to come. However, PR firms that go beyond this and specialise in using online media channels to help companies not only project their respective brands effectively but also market their goods and services successfully, will have the edge over their traditional counterparts.
Governments in the MENA region are focused on digital inclusion. Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s biggest economy, reportedly spent at least $37 billion on information and communications technology last year, while the UAE aims to invest $23 billion by 2024. The UAE also boasts of the highest smartphone penetration rate in the MENA region, where the share of mobile commerce increased to 42 per cent in 2020. Adopting this trend, MENA companies, too, are taking a lead and investing heavily in digital services.
In the shifting communication space, PR firms in the Middle East are embracing digital change and going beyond PR events, conferences, exhibits and press releases. Riding the technology wave, these firms are developing integrated digital marketing campaigns to maximise reach, increase traffic on websites, optimise target consumer engagement and elevate campaign visibility. The growing talent within the PR industry is gaining expertise in mobile phone and online advertising, search engine marketing and optimisation, social media strategy, analytics, and website development. It has now become more of an economic necessity than an option for PR firms in the Middle East to transform digitally, with their clients’ expecting campaigns, content, and repositioning of their brands in sync with multiple channels of communication.