April 26, 2012
If you can’t write well in either English or Arabic, then why are you here?” That question was asked frequently of her staff by one tough but astute Dubai PR agency boss who has since moved on. It encapsulates in one sentence the problems and opportunities that exist in the UAE PR agency market. Having been a client of UAE PR agencies for the past eight years, I am well aware of the poor standard of English writing on offer. Friends in the media confirm that the quality of press releases and other materials they receive is not generally very high. I have been party to enough heated discussions about the quality of Arabic writing from agencies, freelancers and translators to know that the quality of Arabic writing in agencies isn’t that great either. Truly excellent writing isn’t that easy to come by in the rest of the world, of course. I’ve run agencies in London, New York and Hong Kong and it never ceased to amaze me how many people could carve out a career in PR without being about to write a well-structured, coherent news release. It’s a particular problem in the UAE, however, for several reasons. Chief among them is that many – perhaps most – agency employees are not native English speakers and therefore are writing in English as a second language. Secondly, there are fewer PR managers on the client side with a classical PR or media background and who come instead from the marketing stream, where the line between editorial and marketing promotion comes pre-blurred. Thirdly, Arabic is such a diverse language with so many different dialects that finding agreement on the correct word or phrase can be more challenging than it might seem at first. My goal for MCS Action in the UAE is that we build a reputation for delivering the best writing (in both Arabic and English) and the best media relations service in the country. Yes, we offer all the other professional services of a full-service PR firm – strategic counsel, crisis management, internal communications, media training, events and so on. But the truth of the matter is that what most clients here want, most of the time, is excellence in writing and excellence in media relations. Remember the Florida election disaster in the 2000 US presidential campaign, in which there seemed to be some serious counting errors that affected Al Gore in particular? One American comedian summed it up well when he said: “You know that big idea about building a missile shield in space that would shoot down incoming missiles and protect us from nuclear attack? Hey, before we do something really ambitious like that, why don’t we just invent a great big counting machine…!” So before the PR agency community in the UAE tries to advise clients about positioning, messaging, digital media strategy or crisis management, how about they start with the basics and start producing decent copy. We already have the best English writer in the country on board and have just strengthened our Arabic team with a top-flight Arabic writer and editor, so we’re doing our bit.