Region’s PR industry must reskill for the new opportunity in ESG communications: #PRovokeMENA Summit

The Public Relations industry in the Middle East must reskill and upgrade its competencies to embrace the fast-growing trend of environmental, social and governance (ESG) communications, observed the opening panel discussion of the fourth annual PRovoke MENA Summit.

Under the theme, ‘A New Middle East Narrative: A Manifesto for Change in PR,’ the discussion, moderated by Sunil John, President – Middle East of BCW and Founder of ASDA’A BCW, explored the need for the PR industry to adapt and thrive in a profoundly changed media and economic landscape. On the panel were Rania Rostom, Chief Communications Officer, GE International Markets; Mazen Nahawi, the Founder & CEO of CARMA; and Vasuki Shastry, an ESG and public affairs expert, and former Global Head of Public Affairs and Sustainability at Standard Chartered.

The discussion centred on three imperatives shaping the new Middle East narrative: the new era of peace following the normalisation of ties between the UAE and Bahrain with Israel, the increased focus of regional governments and businesses on adapting to climate change, and the massive investments by state-owned entities in domestic infrastructure and economic diversification.

“The dramatic changes of the past year make it important for the PR industry to rethink its business and operating models,” said Sunil John. “What matters is not just how quickly we evolve and how we reskill, but also how relevant our work will be for our clients and the media. Our research and hands-on experience of over 20 years in the region tells us that the Middle East is entering a new phase of regional growth and optimism, and our role as PR practitioners must be to set a new communications agenda.”

“It is time to integrate an organisation’s social purpose with its operations, which is a profound communications challenge and opportunity for PR,” said Vasuki Shastry. “Companies that can articulate their purpose and back it up with their actions, will take the lead. ESG communications presents a huge opportunity for PR experts to completely reengineer brands. What will make a difference is the ability to articulate purpose and back this up with facts, which will benefit both brand and share premium.”

“The bold vision for change by regional governments to move from an oil to knowledge-based economy has built the path for a strong innovation ecosystem in the Middle East,” said Rania Rostom. “GE’s Global Innovation Barometer, conducted in the midst of the pandemic, revealed that Saudi Arabia and UAE are seen by global business as innovation-conducive economies, which speaks volumes about the progress the region has made. There is a lot more to be done, in today’s fast-changing landscape, and we can only do it by working together.”

Discussing the importance of trust in communications, Mazen Nahawi said the impact of PR is measured is “less about advertising value equivalency (AVE) and other vanity matrices but about trust: do people believe what we say and how are they engaging. The focus today is to measure the impact of campaigns based on data, and whether it leads to driving conversations at the highest levels.”

The panelists observed that the fair representation of the Middle East in international media can be transformed by the region’s digital-savvy youth, with most major companies recruiting millennials, who are a force for change. “We’ve got a richer canvas to work off,” said Rania. “We need inclusion of more voices into our narrative. More diverse and local voices from the ground up so we can build this collective momentum. It’s a time for openness.”

Concluding the session, Sunil said: “A new era of hope and opportunity is emerging on the horizon, despite the unprecedented challenges of the past 12 months. And it is incumbent upon the PR industry to help convey that message through a new manifesto for change in PR.”

ASDA’A BCW is the Platinum Sponsor of the PRovoke MENA Summit, led by PRovoke founder/chair Paul Holmes and CEO/editor-in-chief Arun Sudhaman.

BCW Ranked Number One on PRovoke Media’s Global Creative Index

UAE, December 21, 2020 – BCW (Burson Cohn & Wolfe), a leading global communications agency, announced it has been ranked number one on PRovoke Media’s ninth-annual Global Creative Index.

PRovoke’s Global Creative Index analyzes entries and winners from more than 25 PR, digital and marketing awards programs from around the world over a 12-month period, up to the 2020 Global SABRE Awards. The formula takes into account the expansion of ‘public relations’ work across multiple categories at advertising-oriented shows.

In honoring BCW, PRovoke reported that BCW’s top ranking was “powered by a range of work from across its global network, including award-winning campaigns for Boehringer Ingelheim, Coca-Cola, Huawei, Lenzing, the NBA and Tencel — with much of the work originating from its Asia-Pacific, EMEA and LatAm markets”.

Donna Imperato, Global CEO, BCW, said: “I am so proud that BCW has been ranked number one on PRovoke’s Global Creative Index because it recognizes BCW’s creative strength, which we have always believed to be the core component of the work we do to move people for our clients.”

Sunil John, President – Middle East BCW, stated: “I’m very proud that BCW has received this global recognition of the exceptional work we are doing for our clients around the world, including the MENA region. I look forward to an exciting 2021with all the challenges and opportunities that a new year brings.”

Frustrated with struggling economies and corruption, nearly half of young Arabs have considered leaving their country

  • Desire to emigrate highest in the Levantine states of Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Palestinian Territories, while young nationals of oil-rich Gulf states least likely to want to leave
  • Survey findings shed light on the views of Arab youth on anti-government protests, gender rights, personal identity, jobs, foreign relations and the COVID-19 pandemic

Nearly half of 200 million young Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have considered leaving their country, frustrated with struggling economies and widespread government corruption, according to the findings of the 12th Annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey, released today. The survey also reveals that the COVID-19 pandemic has further increased young Arabs’ desire to emigrate, with one-third of the region’s youth more likely to want to leave their country.

Across the region, 42 per cent of young Arabs have considered emigrating to another country. The desire to leave is most prevalent (63 per cent) among youth in the Levantine states of Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Yemen and Palestinian Territories. Meanwhile, young people in the oil-rich Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states are least likely (13 per cent) to consider leaving. The primary drivers of potential emigration are economic reasons (24 per cent) and corruption (16 per cent), with educational opportunities, new experiences and safety and security also playing a significant role.

The findings of MENA’s largest independent study on youth conducted for ASDA’A BCW by PSB, a global strategic research and analytics consultancy, reveals the opinions of young Arabs on a range of subjects including the anti-government protests that raged through parts of the region during the past year, gender rights, personal identity, employment, personal debt, foreign relations and media consumption.

The survey polled 4,000 young Arab nationals aged 18 to 24 from 17 Arab states in the Middle East and North Africa with a 50:50 male female split. The research was conducted in two phases, with the main survey polling between January 19 and March 3, 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the region; and the second, COVID-19 Pulse Survey, between August 18 and 26, 2020, conducted in six Arab states.

“The findings of our Arab Youth Survey highlight the unique complexities – and opportunities –that must be addressed to meet the aspirations of young people in the Arab world,” said Donna Imperato, Global CEO, BCW (Burson Cohn & Wolfe). “These insights on the region – one of the most diverse in the world and where the under-30s make up two thirds of the population – form the basis of the communications counsel that we provide to our clients, including governments, civil society organisations and the private sector.”

“As an independent study, the ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey has consistently delivered evidence-based insights on the hopes and frustrations of young people in the Arab world,” said Sunil John, President, Middle East, BCW and Founder of ASDA’A BCW. “Set against the backdrop of street protests and a sharp oil price decline that have led to acute government budget deficits, the study demonstrates the link between poor governance and lack of opportunities. The findings underpin the need for many parts of the MENA region to focus on and nurture its youth dividend or risk losing a generation of its brightest young people.”

Following a wave of anti-government protests across the region over the last 12 months, the survey reveals that almost nine in 10 young Arabs in Algeria, Iraq, Sudan and Lebanon supported the protests in their own countries. A majority of the youth in these four countries are optimistic that the protests would lead to real positive change.

Protests resulted in the ousting of Omar Al-Bashir after nearly three decades in power as president in Sudan, and the resignation of Abdelaziz Bouteflika after over two decades as the president of Algeria. Lebanon and Iraq also both saw a change in leadership. The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have added to the possibility of more unrest, particularly in Lebanon, where nearly three-quarters of respondents in the COVID-19 Pulse Survey said they believe the pandemic has made protests against the political status quo more likely.

“The link between the protests and corruption can also be inferred from the fact that tackling government corruption is seen as the single largest priority for achieving progress in the Arab world (36 per cent of all respondents), ahead of any other issue, including creating well-paying jobs (32 per cent), and defeating terrorist organisations or resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict,” John added.

With job creation identified as the second most important priority for regional progress, almost nine in 10 young people (87 per cent) are concerned about unemployment, but only half (49 per cent) say they have confidence in their governments’ ability to deal with unemployment. The ongoing economic woes appear to be further compounded by the impact of COVID-19, with 20 per cent saying someone in their family has lost their job due to the pandemic, 30 per cent reporting higher household debt, and 72 per cent saying the pandemic has made it more difficult to find a job.

In a region with the world’s highest youth unemployment (over 26 per cent according to the International Labour Organisation), a rising number of young Arabs are looking beyond the government or the private sector to provide employment, instead preferring to work for themselves or their families (23 per cent vs. 16 per cent in 2019). Two in five are also considering setting up their own business within the next five years – with youth in the GCC showing the greatest entrepreneurial spirit (55 per cent).

The survey also debunks stereotypical notions of the region, particularly on gender rights. A strong majority of young Arab women (75 per cent) say they have the same or more rights as men in their country. Young Arab women (76 per cent) and men (70 per cent) agree that a woman can benefit her family more by working than staying at home.

Voicing their view on the changing dynamics of foreign affairs, Arab youth see Saudi Arabia and the UAE as the two rising Arab powers that have most influence on the geo-political environment of the region (39 per cent and 34 per cent, respectively). Among non-Arab states, the United States is seen having increased its influence in the region the most over the past five years. This year, the US is also seen more favourably (56 per cent) by Arab youth than in 2019 (41 per cent) or any point since 2016.

For the ninth consecutive year, the UAE continues to prevail as the preferred nation for young Arabs to live in (46 per cent) and for their own nation to emulate (52 per cent). The United States is the next most popular country among Arab youth to live in (33 per cent) and emulate (30 per cent).

Other key findings from the survey include:
• More young Arabs say they are being saddled with personal debt. Nearly one-third of young Arabs (35 per cent) say they are in debt now, a significant increase from earlier years (21 per cent in 2019).
• Religion is seen as the most important aspect of the personal identity of young Arabs (40 per cent), more so than their family, nationality, gender and other factors.
• Arab youth are increasingly embracing the digital revolution: In 2015, just 25 per cent young Arabs cited social media as their source of news, this year, 79 per cent say they get their news from social media. Since 2018, e-commerce has also experienced exponential growth among Arab youth and a large majority (80 per cent) now shop online.

With two-thirds of the Arab population under the age of 30, the survey presents evidence-based insights into the attitudes of Arab youth, providing public and private sector organisations with data and analysis to inform their decision-making and policy creation. Download for free, the full findings and a White Paper on this year’s ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey at arabyouthsurvey.com

ASDA’A BCW’s Sunil John named Best PR Professional in the Middle East in PRWeek Global Awards 2020

Sunil John, founder of regional public relations agency ASDA’A BCW and President of BCW Middle East, has been named ‘Best PR Professional in the Middle East’ in the PRWeek Global Awards 2020.

This latest individual award for John from the global PR industry coincides with the 20th anniversary year of ASDA’A, the agency he founded. He is credited with transforming PR from a communications function struggling under the shadow of big advertising agencies “to a thriving industry that attracts global capital and talent to the Middle East,” according to PRWeek. Other judges’ comments highlighted his role as “a renowned expert in the region, a true leader with a point of view on all things communications and business related.”

Under John’s leadership, ASDA’A BCW’s achievements include being part of the team which launched the tallest tower in the world, Burj Khalifa in Dubai in 2010, and supporting the UAE in its bids to host Expo 2020 Dubai and Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi.  John is also the driving force behind the annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey – the largest and longest running research into the region’s largest and most important demographic, its youth. The 2019 edition of the survey, titled ‘A Call for Reform’ was shortlisted in the PRWeek Global Citizenship Award.

ASDA’A BCW was also Highly Commended in the Middle East Agency of the Year category. Judges noted how the agency used the formation of Burson Cohn & Wolfe (BCW) in 2018, following the merger of two of WPP’s biggest public relations brands Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe as, “a springboard to adopt new methodologies, focusing on culture and training.”

ASDA’A BCW has continued to grow through its five specialist practices: Consumer & Healthcare, Corporate, Enterprise & Technology, Financial and Public Affairs from small shoots as ASDA’A in 2000. It is now the only Middle East geography reporting directly to worldwide among any international PR agency and John, as President-Middle East, has a seat on the BCW global board. John also leads two additional subsidiary brands in the Middle East: Proof, spanning design, digital and social; and PSB Middle East, the research specialists.

This prestigious global award from PRWeek is the fourth individual industry award for John, following the SABRE Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in 2014, and two MEPRA awards, including the Chairman’s Award in 2016 and the inaugural MEPRA Fellowship in 2018. He was also invited to join the Arthur W Page society in 2019. In 2018, he was named among the ‘Arabian Business 100 Inspiring leaders in the Middle East’ and was ‘Arabian Business 100 influential people helping shape the Emirate’.