Public Relations in Egypt and the Middle East

Article excerpt

According to observers of the Egyptian business scene, Egyptian businesses do not understand the contribution public relations can make, confuse it with advertising or don't believe in it even while the private sector is growing in the new era of economic reform toward privatization.

Businesspeople in the Middle East don't know that in the U.S. and Europe, public relations is much more than generating favorable publicity and knowing what kind of story is likely to be printed or broadcast. They don't know that a strategic goal is to project a favorable public image, one of good corporate citizenship. Nor, that allied with that is the first responsibility of public relations: to persuade management that the reality must correspond with the public image.

One Egyptian practitioner, who works with 15 foreign clients, sees his company's client list growing in the next five years, but is pessimistic about any growth among Egyptian companies working with the profession.

Halim Abou Seif, public relations manager for RadaResearch, says, "There is not enough understanding among Egyptian companies about what public relations can do. Whatever growth comes will come from international companies."

He notes that the Egyptian culture differs from the Western experience and that business practices, financing, retail distribution and consumer tastes may appear unusual to a foreign company doing business in Egypt for the first time.

He adds that Egyptian culture often requires an approach quite different from accepted practice in North America and Europe.

RadaResearch, founded in 1982, is an Egyptian company, independently owned and managed by Loula Zaklama, a dynamic executive who frequently travels through the Western world to meet with clients, being invited into their corporate planning sessions. For example, in July she was in Germany to meet with top executives of Upjohn, one of the firm's clients.

She has been a public relations practitioner for a dozen years, teaches the subject at American University in Cairo, and has taken numerous courses in the U.S. and U.K.

Zaklama is well known in the American Chamber of Commerce in Cairo as a member of several international public relations associations that work to codify and uphold ethical standards.

Understanding PR is rare

She says she is disturbed by the status of public relations in Egypt, which she characterizes as a profession like engineering or architecture. She estimates there are about 5,000 people in the country who have the title of public relations practitioner, but they don't understand the concept of the profession at all.

In Zaklama's view there are no more than 50 skilled professionals in the country. Some, she says, are employed by industry and hotels.

But, overall, she looks askance at the role of public relations in hotels.

"The hotels tend to dump public relations into the sales department or guest relations. They do a lot of other things and it's just a side job."

Her firm employs 25 Egyptians, with five working on public relations. It is affiliated with the international communication firms of Gallup International, Hill & Knowlton and Charles Barker of London -- and its major clients include Boeing, Pepsi Cola, Procter and Gamble and Glaxo, a British pharmaceutical firm.

RadaResearch -- which has done no advertising work for six years -- offers a classic example of what a public relations agency can do for a client wherever the client is located. Its wide range of professional services to help clients meet their corporate relations and communication needs include these standard practices:

* Media relations, which includes issuing the news releases, following up with the media on news releases, regular personal contact with media representatives, preparation of media kits for news conferences and special events. …