Convoy tour guide: PR and marketing in the Middle East & North Africa

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By in International PR
On April 6, 2021


Anu Bhatnagar from Dubai-based PR and marketing agency NettResults guides us through the intricacies of the MENA and UAE markets.

First things first: what is the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region and how is it different from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region?

The MENA region consists of a heterogeneous group of countries ranging from the high-income oil-exporting countries in the GCC – namely United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain – to lesser developed countries such as Sudan, Yemen and Mauritania.

Turkey is the largest economy in the region followed by Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Other notable business centres often included are Egypt, Lebanon and Israel.

Where should you target?

The first port of call for most companies looking to expand into the Middle East is the UAE. There are two reasons for this:

  1. The UAE is one of the easiest and most international markets, with a huge aspirational value.
  2. The UAE is very welcoming to international businesses.

Often described as the window into the MENA region, the UAE is the easiest market to set up in commercially. However, it can be complex to navigate. That’s why tapping into local expertise is so important.

The UAE is a potentially lucrative, yet demanding, market to enter and build long-term brand awareness, but the effort and investment is definitely worth it.

Why the UAE?
What do you need to know?

There are five key factors for any brand looking to break into, and succeed, in the UAE and Middle East market to keep in mind.

  1. Demonstrate your commitment

You have a higher chance of success, especially with media and stakeholders, if you come with a tangible commitment to invest in the region. Invest through talent, employment generation and long-term plans.

An effective way to demonstrate this commitment is to have a spokesperson or senior executive who understands the market, the region and the local relevance of the brand’s products and services. Having this perspective can make a huge difference, especially if you want to drive her/his online presence as a thought leader and a go-to-expert.

  1. Customise your strategy

While a global strategy can add value in the UAE, the biggest impact will come when you are willing to refine it as per the local markets. Ask yourself how aligned your regional/country business strategy is to the national interests. Then, create a marketing and PR plan that showcases the mutual objectives and your commitment to work in support of the country’s agenda.

Almost all GCC countries have a very well-developed vision, so review this and find common points of interest up front. In the UAE specifically, think about how you can align your marketing and business objectives with a focus on healthcare, innovation, smart governance and AI.

Also, fine tune your adoption of environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting in relation to the UAE or/and any other GCC countries.

  1. Adapt to local customs

GCC countries are a study in contradictions, as they blend their traditions and heritage with their global advancements.

The UAE is only 50 years old and the older generations are still very much active in the business environment. The country’s business culture reflects this blend, so new entrant must take the time to understand the local nuances.

Companies have traditionally taken a practical approach to doing business here. Up until just a few years ago, nearly all the major trade exhibitions, conferences and events were held from September-April. The market would then go into a slumber with almost no major events or business activity occurring during the extreme summer months.

This effectively means the business cycle consists of 7-8 months of intense activity followed by four months of calm – a unique business and marketing cycle compared to most other countries.

These local nuances need to be factored in when you set your targets, or plan an event or launch. If you are new to the region, you’ll need to pace yourself and find ways to manage the expectations of management teams stationed elsewhere who might not realise the local realities.

  1. Don’t rush in

It’s vital that you invest in your PR efforts well in advance. Don’t just spin up a plan at the time you decide to launch. Like all good strategies, PR and marketing in the UAE needs to be built, tried and tested over time.

If the above three points indicate anything, it’s that the region requires a customised strategy. The marketing messages, the tone and the way the message is delivered to the target audience will vary depending on industry you are in. You also may need to invest in bilingual campaigns and identify and train spokespeople in the market landscape before launching.

Having access to a local, established team of advisors could save you a lot of time and effort and stop you from making potentially costly mistakes.

  1. Avoid these mistakes

We have proved time and again that there are far more effective ways to gain efficient ROI and a much better chance of getting media relationships than the standard approach many brands take. This typically includes:

These are all common mistakes that new companies make time and again – and they invariably fail to make an impact. Take the time to develop new approaches and refine your tactics. This is what will help you get better and faster results.

And remember, this is where having access to local exerts will prove invaluable to the success of your brand.

Anu Bhatnagar works for Dubai-based b2b PR and marketing agency NettResults, which specialises in b2b technology, healthcare, lifestyle and financial services. NettResults is part of our global agency network Convoy.

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