By Damian Reilly
Dubai PR guru says his industry has played bigger role 'than even the media'.
Public relations firms have done more to encourage political and corporate transparency in the UAE than any other form of media, founder and CEO of Asda’a Burson-Marsteller public relations firm Sunil John said on Sunday.
“What is not really understood here is that the role of PR companies is not just about being a barrier and making stories go away – we have very quietly but very effectively played a role with the government sector, with family companies, with listed companies, to make them understand the need to communicate openly... I think that is a role that is least appreciated. I think we play a much bigger role (in transparency) than even the media,” he said.
Now ten years old, Asda’a Burson-Marsteller has a client list which includes Emaar, Damas, Etisalat and Dubai Islamic bank.
John said the UAE’s media had become markedly more open over the last decade, but added it “still operates within a censorship environment.”
“I think the fact that in the UAE the media can operate in pretty much a free environment… I mean you can criticise probably any company listed on the stockmarket. You can write pretty much about non-delivery on certain things. Nobody is stopping you doing that. The fact that that happens in an environment of self-censorship, that you don’t cross the line on certain things, is a mark of the openness and wisdom of the rulers of this country,” he said.
Not all journalists would agree with John’s assessment of the role of PR firms in the development the UAE’s culture of transparency. Asked about censorship in 2008, Gulf News Editor-in-Chief Abdul Hamid Ahmad said: "Every company now, even the government, they hire these PR companies. And they control the news. The PR companies control the news, they control the information. So the struggle is there. We hope one day these PR companies will do their role in a different way, not to control the information."
Sunil may be right, however this is not the experience I have enjoyed. In fact, I deal on a daily basis with PR companies looking to hide the truth. Either that or they boast an incredible ability to block communication with the company you are trying to reach. If it wasn't for the media demanding more of a response I would put forward the notion that the PR companies in the region would have done little to make companies communicate openly. However, as always, these things are not black and white and there are a number of very good PR professionals who do break the mould.
Is it me or am I just reading an online pitch for Asdaâ€™a Burson-Marsteller?! The main reason we are seeing more political and corporate transparency in the UAE is due to the fact that Dubai more than ever is under the microscope of the Western Media after so many individual and institutional investors have lost money backing projects in the region. Local entities to protect their credit ratings, it has nothing to do with any initiatives or activities of local PR companies!
This is the same agency that represents Emaar, right? The one that just last month issued a statement "denying" there is a leak in the aquairum... Please!!
Hmm. Doesn't Asda'a do the press for Emaar, the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall? Yep...transparent alright.
What absolute garbage. The incompetence of PR companies in the Gulf is staggering. The copy they send out is riddled with errors. It is often full of spelling and grammatical mistakes. It is also content free and instead is full of fluffy sentences. The attached images are regularly woeful (if they exist at all). They are out of focus, badly framed, under or over exposed, or irrelevant. The PR people don't have clue what the company they supposedly represent does or even who does what. They don't know anything. Worse still, they have no experience of dealing with journalists and are more often than not hostile towards the media they are ignorant of. Most don't have an iota about journalism and wouldn't know a camera from a camel. They are slow, inefficient and frequently obstructive. The events are appallingly organised. The AV is so bad as to be kindergarten quality and the speakers have no training. The PR people attempt to block access to the speakers, even when the speakers are happy to speak to the media. Sounds to me like Sunil John doesn't have a clue about either what is going on in his business or doesn't know what first class PR is. Par for the course, by the sounds of it. It must be a slow day at AB if they are printing this garbage and Damien, you should know better.
I would say that PR firms cannot take more credit than media in encouraging corporate and political transparency in the UAE. A handful of the PR firms in the Gulf may have the expertise to advise the clients in matters of corporate transparency or corporate reputation. It is mostly the stories published in the media , for instance the Enron scandal or the AIG crisis that have driven the need for organizations to be more transparent in their operations. Again, this is the age of two-way communication. With so many social networking sites out there,and with so much freedom of expression and speech, information can neither be controlled by the media nor by the PR agencies.Infact, there is no information control, there is only information flow. If at all, there is information control, that control is exercised by the people. To sum it up, corporate transparency in the Gulf is largely driven by the media and the people or the consumers who have the right to raise their voice on issues of organizational accountability and trust
The only thing Sunil does not know about PR, is PR. It's really anything but transparent. The vast majority agrees with the Editor-in-Chief's conclusion.
â€œWhat is not really understood here is that the role of PR companies is not just about being a barrier and making stories go away".. I thought PR stood for Public Relations not Patch & Repair. If the overly-paid PR Gurus got their job right in the first place you would'nt need to repair so much damage done to the public. You have got it backwards unless you're only interested in crisis public relations! or CPR - but sometimes it can be too late for that! (subtle hint > a medical technique for reviving someone whose heart has stopped beating.) It's about time the spin doctors stopped spinning so much so they can see straight!
I don't know much about this fellow... For all I know, he's a great guy. But how absurd to celebrate imagined contributions to transparency from an industry that's (over)paid millions for managing the public's expectations and perceptions. (Dear author: Isn't the term "political and corporate transparency" an double oxymoron?) After all, if it was genuine transparency we were all after, wouldn't we just take the PR profession out of the mix? All I can say is that whoever got AB to publish this article is or has a great PR person. Kudos to you, whoever you are. (I want to hire you.)
Think about it - these PR companies are HIRED by the Corporates, to present to the public the GOOD image, in a way, or for Damage Control, if the information out there is damaging enough, in the long run. SO, having said that, how can the transparency be there, when these HIRED goons of journalism (supposedly) say what the client wants to portray? Most of the time, these PR companies get it wrong, esp w/ the problems in Real Estate sector. And it's not even worth mentioning the Telecommunications Companies... Enough said.