An In­de­pen­dent View…

Be­ing paid and be­ing recog­nised for the value they pro­vide are two is­sues fac­ing in­de­pen­dent PR agen­cies

ArabAd - - CONTENTS -

“We’ve had three multi­na­tional client wins in the past four months, and three re­gional start-ups who we’ve taken on as new clients,” says Tara Rogers-el­lis, man­ag­ing part­ner of Mojo Group. “We’ve had one long­stand­ing re­gional client who hasn’t paid us for a year, that we’ve now had to re­sign, and one re­gional client who has proved more trou­ble than they’re worth and we’ve re­signed them too. The mar­ket is tough, but there is still great op­por­tu­nity and we’re qui­etly con­fi­dent about our fu­ture.”

Wel­come to the life of an in­de­pen­dent PR agency in what is a volatile, un­sta­ble and com­plex mar­ket. As with Rogers-el­lis, the ma­jor­ity will tell you it’s also a mar­ket filled with op­por­tu­nity, but you can’t suc­ceed if you’re not be­ing paid.

“Pri­mary chal­lenges are be­ing recog­nised for the value we pro­vide, and be­ing paid for it,” ad­mits Rogers-el­lis. “Stay­ing on top of re­ceiv­ables has never been more crit­i­cal – PR ser­vices tend to slip down in or­der of pri­or­ity in pay­ment sched­ules and iron­i­cally, the most long­stand­ing clients are of­ten the ones who de­lay their pay­ments the long­est. They ex­ploit your good­will which can be dis­ap­point­ing.”

As with bou­tique ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies, the ar­gu­ments for going it alone in the PR field are sim­i­lar: That the old op­er­a­tors lack cre­ativ­ity, are slow to make de­ci­sions and even slower to re­act. In­de­pen­dents, in con­trast, are free of the bu­reau­cracy and pol­i­tics that weigh their net­work ri­vals down.

With PR, how­ever, it’s not quite that straight­for­ward. In a cli­mate of trans­for­ma­tion, em­brac­ing new tech­nolo­gies and integrating your of­fer­ing takes money. Money that, by and large, only the multi­na­tional net­works have.

Su­nil John, the founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Asda’a Bur­son-marsteller (see sep­a­rate interview), de­fines the PR mar­ket in the MENA re­gion as hav­ing four seg­ments. The first, which is made up of more than 100 firms, con­sists of those agen­cies with up to $1 mil­lion in fee rev­enue. The sec­ond fea­tures the 20 to 25 agen­cies with fee rev­enues of be­tween $1 mil­lion and $5 mil­lion. The third con­sists of the 10 agen­cies (max­i­mum) that have fee rev­enues of be­tween $5 mil­lion and $15 mil­lion. There are two play­ers at best in the heavy­weight divi­sion of $15 mil­lion to $25 mil­lion, with Asda’a Bur­son­marsteller one of them.

The ma­jor­ity of agen­cies are fight­ing for sur­vival at the bot­tom of the rung, with lim­ited in­no­va­tion tak­ing place and cash­flow a se­ri­ous con­cern.

Ge­orges El As­sad, chief man­ag­ing of­fi­cer at Front Page Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, an in­de­pen­dent PR agency with of­fices in Beirut and Dubai, says achiev­ing the num­bers is both the big­gest pri­or­ity and the

great­est chal­lenge for in­de­pen­dents, with ‘un­fair’ com­pe­ti­tion from PR agen­cies that are part of in­ter­na­tional com­mu­ni­ca­tions groups mak­ing life dif­fi­cult.

“They can af­ford to wage price wars on in­de­pen­dents in terms of PR fees while re­ly­ing on that kind of cush­ion [from a con­sol­i­dated bot­tom line across ad­vert­ing, me­dia and PR],” says El As­sad. “Within a strat­egy of wear­ing out the in­de­pen­dents fi­nan­cially (and per­haps driv­ing some of those out of the mar­ket) then hik­ing up their fees when the theatre of op­er­a­tions has be­come freer to them.”

Yet, as with ad­ver­tis­ing, the num­ber

PR ser­vices tend to slip down in or­der of pri­or­ity in pay­ment sched­ules and iron­i­cally, the most long­stand­ing clients are of­ten the ones who de­lay their pay­ments the long­est…. Tara Rogers-el­lis Man­ag­ing part­ner of Mojo Group “PR agen­cies that are part of in­ter­na­tional com­mu­ni­ca­tions groups can af­ford to wage price wars on in­de­pen­dents in terms of PR fees while re­ly­ing on that kind of cush­ion[from a con­sol­i­dated bot­tom line across ad­vert­ing, me­dia and PR]. Ge­orges El As­sad Chief man­ag­ing of­fi­cer at Front Page Com­mu­ni­ca­tion

of in­de­pen­dent agen­cies is in­creas­ing, pro­vid­ing more and more com­pe­ti­tion in an al­ready com­pet­i­tive mar­ket. Com­pe­ti­tion from else­where is also on the rise.

“The world is be­com­ing more fa­mil­iar with the value of PR, but con­se­quently our area of ex­per­tise is at­tract­ing new com­pe­ti­tion,” says Rogers-el­lis. “We’re at risk from dig­i­tal, so­cial me­dia and SEO agen­cies, as well as the very me­dia com­pa­nies that tra­di­tion­ally worked with us, who are now work­ing di­rectly with our clients. Our most re­cent com­peti­tors are con­sult­ing com­pa­nies who are adding the rep­u­ta­tion man­age­ment el­e­ment tra­di­tion­ally man­aged by PR agen­cies to their own port­fo­lio of ser­vices.

“If we want to stay in busi­ness we have to make sure that our ser­vices are in­te­grated, that we’re nim­ble, smart, cre­ative, add value be­yond the stan­dard, and be­come so in­te­gral to our client’s busi­ness that they for­get we’re not per­ma­nent mem­bers of their team.”

Dubai-based Mojo Group is grow­ing, as are oth­ers, but not with­out tack­ling the trans­for­ma­tion af­fect­ing the en­tire in­dus­try. Its PR team now in­cludes cre­ative direc­tors, film­mak­ers, graphic de­sign­ers, UX de­sign­ers and dig­i­tal strate­gists.

“Our of­fice re­flects the new or­der too,” ex­plains Rogers-el­lis. “We now have a pho­to­graphic stu­dio, an edit­ing suite and a pod­cast sta­tion, as well as al­most a dozen break­out zones to ac­com­mo­date the mil­len­nial work style. It’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment to a PR of­fice less than a decade ago – and we love it.”

“Let’s not for­get the cru­cial role that start-ups can play,” says El As­sad. “There are very young, bright, and il­lu­mi­nated minds which en­ter the scene ev­ery day, in­ject­ing new blood and new per­spec­tives of how to de­vise so­lu­tions in all sec­tors, com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­cluded.”

Rogers-el­lis adds: “The fu­ture of PR is bright, not least be­cause of mil­len­ni­als – there has never been a gen­er­a­tion more suited to our craft. They are strate­gic by de­fault, want­ing to un­der­stand why they are do­ing some­thing and where it fits in to the big­ger pic­ture; they need change, flex­i­bil­ity and di­ver­sity in their day; they are nat­u­ral re­searchers; they need to learn new tasks and new skills con­stantly to re­main en­gaged. If we un­der­stand how to em­brace their tal­ents and skills with­out try­ing to fit them into the old style of work­ing, they are per­fect raw ta­lent for PR.”

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