A robust defence of the region’s PR industry has been launched by the chairman of the Middle East Public Relations Association and CEO of Hill & Knowlton Middle East, following the results of a survey in which journalists were critical.
Responding to the Media Source / Insight Middle East Journalist Survey 2009, Dave Robinson told Campaign: “I disagree that the survey paints a grim picture of the standards of PR – in fact it shows positive improvement from the last survey [in 2007]. The most frightening statistic is that of journalists self-rating themselves. 47 per cent of Arabic journalists believe the quality of journalism in the region to be either ‘very good’ or ‘fairly good’, compared with just 22 per cent of English-language journalists who feel the same. One therefore has to deduce that 53 per cent of Arabic journalists believe the quality of journalism to be average, fairly poor or very poor, with an enormous 78 per cent of English language journalists feeling the same way.
“That said, this doesn’t indicate any level of satisfaction on my part about the standards and levels of best practice in the industry across the region – far from it. But seeking to improve and develop as an industry is not unique to the Middle East – you will find the same desires in New York, London or Hong Kong – just focused on different aspects of the profession based on its level of development in those countries / cities. Moreover you will find similar tales of frustrations from journalists who like to complain about the interaction they have with PR people.
“MEPRA (Middle East Public Relations Association) is working across all areas of business practice and ethics to ensure that its membership are both professionally bound by a code of practice and also – and arguably more importantly – that its membership is working to best practice and advancing the sophistication and effectiveness of the PR industry in the region. It is a young industry by global standards (H&K is the oldest international PR firm in the Middle East and we are only 25 years old while we have celebrated more than 40 years in Brussels and more than 80 in the US) – but it is growing quickly. Part of growth is maturity and the maturing process is greatly aided by sharing experience and collective learning – MEPRA aims to do this – including relationships with the media.
“I don’t however see an equivalent organisation representing best practice in journalism in the Middle East… Moreover, how is it that there is so much difference of opinion or diversity of opinion among Arabic journalists and Anglophone journalists? Who are the more professional group?
“Very surprising also – and I would have thought newsworthy – is the attitude of regional media and journalists to online and social media. Many of them blog, Tweet and are active on informal online channels, yet few seem to recognise the influence of social media on perceptions, and indeed news. Perhaps this survey pre-dates the Iranian elections.
“In conclusion, journalists and PRs are in a symbiotic relationship and the more mature of both species appreciate and understand that – and more importantly work together on that basis. The less mature of both species spend their time in denial and get nowhere fast.
“This survey shows that journalists regard PR as a news source and the majority see it as either a fairly important or very important news source – so it is clear media recognise that PR is useful – but just wish some of it could be done a little better – and I’d agree that some of it could or should be done a little better. More thought to targeting, more thought to news worthiness, more understanding of client’s products, services, business strategies, competitive environment.”