ASDA'A/Edelman Global CEO survey reveals that region's image in the west still dominated by conflict
Annual communications event highlights urgent need for Middle East to communicate more effectively
Dubai, March 30, 2004: A global survey conducted by the region’s premier PR consultancy, ASDA’A Public Relations, and its new global partner, Edelman, the world’s largest independent PR consultancy, has revealed that the perception of the Middle East in non-Arab markets is still dominated by conflict, war and extremism.

Responding to the question of “what is the first thing that comes into your mind when you hear the word Arabs,” over one third of the respondents said the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The survey was conducted among CEOs operating in the US, Latin America, Europe and Asia and was presented at the ASDA’A/Edelman annual communications forum, Speak Up!, held last night in Dubai and themed “Talking to the World: The Middle East Communications Challenge”.

The survey showed that perceptions of the Arab world continue to be based on stereotypes with 20 per cent of the respondents saying that they associated the Middle East with extremism and 11 per cent saying that Iraq was the first thing that came into their mind when hearing the word ‘Arabs’.

On the positive side, almost half of the respondents said that they had visited the region and that their operations there had been worthwhile. A resounding 75 per cent of those that had done business in the region said that they would consider doing so again. Some 44 per cent, however, said that concerns about doing business in the Arab world revolved around the political climate and 33 per cent said that they were worried about security issues.

Over one third of respondents said that they would like to know more about governance issues in the regional business environment and 61 per cent said that the regional resource base is the most positive aspect of the Arab world suggesting that oil and gas still dominate perceptions of its potential.

David Brain, President and CEO Europe, Edelman, noted in conclusion that the majority of those surveyed acknowledged that their main source of information on the region was TV, newspapers and magazines rather than personal contacts or family and friends suggesting that the region itself could do much to enhance its image by targeting international media.

“Strong lessons can be learnt from other parts of the world where location branding has been achieved by broadcasting clear and succinct messages to the global business community through international media channels,” he commented noting that Singapore in particular had very effectively disseminated a positive message about the country through targeted communications.

The event united a panel of speakers from varied nationalities and professions and comprised Joseph Ghossoub, Chairman and CEO of The Holding Group, which owns ASDA’A and several other communications companies, Anthony Harris, former UK Ambassador to the UAE and Director of International Relations at the Link Group of Companies in Dubai, Kate Dourian, Editor Middle East of Platts, Phil Garrison, the President of the Dubai-based American Business Council and Boutros Boutros, Vice President, Media and Public Relations at Emirates airlines, in addition to David Brain.

“The Middle East needs to engage with the world and talk proactively to the international community proactively,” said the forum moderator, ASDA’A Managing Director Sunil John. The experience of ASDA’A as a premier PR consultancy, led to the idea of an annual meet to promote positive aspects of the region. “The Arab world has to take responsibility and tell the story behind the headlines,” John commented.

In a Question and Answer session, a member of the audience drew loud applause when he questioned why the panel assumed that addressing a “global audience” meant addressing America. Boutros responded by saying that America’s power meant it was inevitably the primary destination for Arab messaging. However businesses need to target markets based on their target audience.

“Talk to them. If you don’t talk to them, don’t expect them to carry your views,” said Boutros. “You cannot blame Americans if they don’t know us. You have to go there and tell them who you are. That’s not very difficult.”

Drawing on his diplomatic experience as an information officer, Harris called on government to speak up. “Many Arab governments have been invisible since 9/11 and have tended to be reactive to issues. It’s not good enough. They need to enunciate their beliefs publicly. The key thing is addressing yourself to the outside world,”

“If we look deep inside, we find many positive values: family, ethics, hospitality, pride and history,” said Joseph Ghossoub, CEO of The Holding Group, parent company to ASDA’A. “Let’s light a candle. Let’s stop talking at the mirror, and remind ourselves of our credentials. Let’s show the Arab world in its true light.”

Dourian noted that OPEC was a particularly good example of an organization that is very effective at leveraging the media to get its message across but noted that despite the wealth of the GCC, its communication remains muted. “If money talks, why is the region so silent,” she asked.

Commenting on the need for a cohesive message, Garrison pointed out that some individual Arab states have succeeded in effectively articulating. However, he called on the region to unify its voice. “You must know your message, you can’t allow confusion.” However, he pointed out that putting out the Middle East message as opposed to a country specific one is a very difficult but necessary task.

The Speak Up! event will be an annual platform organized by ASDA’A and Edelman to encourage the regional communications industry, media, governments and the private sector to actively address the issue of the Middle East communications challenge and how the region can more effectively articulate positive messages about its potential. The event was held on the occasion of the signing of an exclusive affiliate agreements between Edelman and ASDA’A which will build on the two companies’ synergy as the largest global PR firm and the largest regional one.