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Public relations in Egypt and the Middle East.

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.

* Special events planning and coordination for inaugurations, seminars, open houses, visits, exhibitions and conferences.

* Clipping and monitoring of Egyptian and Middle East media on matters concerning clients. Articles are clipped daily and translated into English, Arabic and French and faxed to clients on a regular basis.

* Marketing support of public relations programs including visits to factories and offices and distribution of promotional material.

Market research a necessity for some

A major part of the company's overall operations is market research services which handles both qualitative and quantitative research from small focus groups to national surveys. These services are for attitude studies, new product development, product testing, social research studies and market forecasting.

It is one of only several companies specializing in market research in Egypt.

Seif says that the media relations aspect of public relations in Egypt is "very tough."

"There is a big confusion among the news media people about advertising and public relations. When we call on the media, they often think it's for advertising. For the media to run a story based on a press release it has to be a strong, fantastic event.

"It's hard to get the name of your client printed. Our clients understand this. It takes time to build an awareness of a product. In time, maybe you can get the name of the client into the story rather than just 'pharmaceutical firm."

Seif recalls a major PepsiCo convention at Mena House, one of the five-star Cairo hotels, attended by more than 300 company executives. The chairman gave a speech on economics; some of the media mentioned the name of the company, some described him as head of a "soft drink company."

Among the special events RadaResearch has worked on was General Motors Egypt's official factory opening and Northrop Corporation's demonstration of its F-20 Tiger Shark fighter aircraft to the Egyptian Air Force.

Seif says the best chance for publicity is via special events because of the "very difficult reception" of news sent to the media in Cairo.

However, he notes that magazines are not as difficult as television, radio and the major newspapers (which have severe limitations of space). Photos sent to the major daily print media are "out of the question" whereas magazines will use a quality shot, especially the business weekly Tissadi.

Technology lags,

pace is slower

A major difference between doing media relations in the Western world and Egypt is that very little communication is done here via fax or telephone.

Seif says: "You have to go to the media person each time, explain, and follow-up in person. There's a problem because many are only in the office one hour a day and the trick is to find out what that hour is."

Another aspect of RadaResearch's media relations is having clients -- such as Boeing and Upjohn -- invite Egyptian news reporters to their headquarters in the U.S.

There, they have an opportunity to learn some key aspects of public relations. These, he says, include:

* Translating. Most executives do not excel at public speaking or writing in non-business words -- so the public relations function is to translate the executive's knowledge into intelligible information, without jargon, to an audience.

* Acquainting the client with public perceptions of that client so that information disseminated is consistent with the real world.

* Preparing technical articles for what is called the "vertical" media (a term not known in the Middle East).

* And, reponding to "crisis" situations. The concept has not arrived in the Middle East, with one exception, that when a disaster strikes, the public relations practitioner's job, working with legal counsel, is to assess the situation, assemble the facts, and organize the client's response. The exception was several years ago when a Kuwaiti airliner was hijacked, and the Kuwaitis adopted a public relations plan.

Seif, who has been with RadaResearch for two years, after working in market research, says his section works closely with the public relations departments of its clients. For example, he spent 10 days in Seattle, Wash., on a trip to the Boeing Company.

RadaResearch is planning now for two events this fall. One is prominent U.S. heart surgeon Adel Matar's return to Egypt to perform several sophisticated operations and participate in medical conferences and, the arrival of the new Boeing 737-500 for the national airline, Egypt Air.

In summing up, Seif says the view of public relations by RadaResearch is remarkably in sync with prevailing practice in the U.S. But, it's a loner in the Middle East.

Paul Spiers is a media consultant and freelancer in Cairo.
COPYRIGHT 1992 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Section 4: Communicate Globally by Communicating Locally; includes related article
Author:Spiers, Paul
Publication:Communication World
Date:Feb 1, 1992
Words:1365
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