Beyond Dubai part 2: Unlocking PR prowess across the Arab world

Dubai boasts a state-of-the-art media infrastructure, including world-class facilities (including the media city) and cutting-edge technology. The city's commitment to innovation and its embrace of digital communication have propelled the PR industry forward. PR companies in Dubai leverage advanced tools and platforms to craft compelling narratives, engage audiences, and manage reputations effectively in an increasingly digital world. In the first part of this series (LINK), we analyzed what makes Dubai the focal point for PR companies in the Middle East.In the second part of this story, let us find out the major trends that drive the PR sector in the region and what PR pros in the region have to say about the untapped opportunities in the entire Middle East region.According to Anastasiya Golovatenko, PR Director at Sherpa Communications, the major trends are:Data-driven approach: PR is increasingly adopting data-driven strategies, fuelled by advancements in data analytics. In 2023, there was a notable focus on harnessing big data for deeper insights into target audience behaviour. This enables more personalized and impactful messaging for clients, enhancing brand resonance.Multimedia content: The growing reliance on smartphones underscores the significance of multimedia content. In 2023, people watched an average of 17 weekly hours of online videos, and they are 52% more likely to share video content than any other media. Leveraging audio and video formats allows PR companies to create immersive customer experiences. Integrating brands into podcasts, YouTube channels, and other media outlets beyond online and print publications that are tailored to the brand’s target audience's preferences is crucial.Simple brand messaging: In 2024, concise, catchy, and authentic brand messaging is important. Short, attention-grabbing messages resonate well on social media, reaching diverse audiences across channels.Flexibility is key: PR professionals must adapt swiftly to evolving news stories and changing client expectations. You can craft an excellent pitch and research the reporters you wish to contact, and still not get a response. Moreover, crises can escalate rapidly, necessitating swift and strategic crisis management approaches to protect brand reputation. Having multiple alternative strategies proactively and being responsive to shifting circumstances and the latest evolving stories helps ensure that the right message and angle are conveyed.Artificial Intelligence: AI is being increasingly integrated into PR efforts, automating tasks like media monitoring, social listening, content creation and data-driven targeting. Early adoption of AI tools provides a competitive edge and frees up time for growth-focused projects. As AI continues to advance, PR professionals should explore its potential for enhancing efficiency and effectiveness in their campaigns.<img src='\e98fd6a9e312543b1556363087dff360.png' class='content_image'>Similarly, Injeel Moti, Founder and Managing Director of Catch Communications, includes digital transformation, adoption of AI, purpose driven-PR and content marketing integration as top five trends.According to Natasha Hatherall, Founder &CEO, TishTash Communications, integrated, 360 marketing and PR agencies are definitely growing in response to client and market demand for a full-suite of communications services, especially in content creation.Regarding the changes in the PR industry in the last couple of years, Anastasiya Golovatenk observes that a prominent change is the emphasis on purpose-driven PR.<img src='\a8ccad7b3b77624d0e6057b39621fc15.png' class='content_image'>According to Golovatenk, companies are increasingly aligning their PR efforts with societal and environmental causes driven by changing consumer expectations, with people valuing businesses that demonstrate a commitment to social responsibility.“We have seen a huge influx of interest in companies to expand to the KSA, with launches, partnerships, and joint ventures being announced by UAE-based companies in the KSA as the nation’s government strengthens and diversifies its economy. However, a one-size-fits-all communication strategy doesn't work in the diverse Arab world. The strategy for the UAE will not work in Saudi Arabia or other countries in the region. Understanding of the local market will be crucial for PR agencies to perform,” adds Golovatenk.Injeel Moti observes that the PR industry has been increasingly embracing digital platforms and tools. This included using social media for real-time communication, data analytics to measure the impact of PR campaigns, and the adoption of AI and automation for tasks like media monitoring, content generation, and chatbot-driven customer engagement.A look into the futureDubai's evolution into a hub for PR companies is a testament to its commitment to excellence, innovation, and global connectivity. As the city continues to grow and diversify, the PR industry is likely to play an even more pivotal role in shaping the narratives of businesses operating in the region.On the future, Injeel Moti said: “There is a whole lot of opportunity in the region; not just Dubai, but the UAE and other GCC markets opening up has meant increased opportunity for brands to penetrate a new market and subsequently opening up space for professionals in the comms / PR space to execute campaigns.”<img src='\f40828fc8db1990a6f4d7557ff881ddd.png' class='content_image'>Concurring with Moti, Alex Malouf, Executive Director, Corporate Communications and PR expert, said: “What I would like to see is more investment and more growth in other markets. I’ve learned that it’s very difficult to do good communications remotely; you have to be on the ground if you want to have a real impact. I do believe that there’s a fallacy that we need to correct, which is the region is uniform due to the Arabic language and culture. Look at the UAE. Abu Dhabi, which is one hour’s drive away from Dubai, is a completely different place, with different demographics. So yes, Dubai is a wonderful hub, but if you’re only in Dubai and not in Cairo or Riyadh or Beirut or Doha, then I wouldn’t call you a Middle Eastern agency.”A word of cautionAnastasiya Golovatenk is optimistic about the future which appears promising for PR companies looking to establish a presence in Dubai.She, however, is giving a word of caution.“I would like to emphasize once again that only those who are willing to adapt, learn about this market, and consistently offer a professional approach will thrive. We observe numerous instances of businesses and individuals entering this market with half-baked or unprofessional approaches. Such approaches do not receive support from either businesses or the local PR community. Our goal is to build a high-level network of PR professionals here, and shortcuts will not last.”<img src='\277937f67e57d5693f50bd386a323265.png' class='content_image'>Well, Dubai's state-of-the-art media infrastructure and commitment to digital communication have fueled a thriving PR industry. AI integration, purpose-driven PR, and content marketing are rising trends, while understanding local market nuances across the diverse Arab world remains crucial. Despite Dubai's leading role, untapped potential abounds in other Middle Eastern markets, offering exciting opportunities for savvy PR professionals willing to adapt and embrace cultural differences. The future of PR in the region looks vibrant, promising dynamic campaigns and brand stories that resonate across borders.Tanu Chopra "In my 15 years of experience in the UAE and Middle East public relations sector, I've witnessed Dubai's significant transformation into a global PR hub. The UAE's leadership has played an important role in this shift, particularly in their steadfast support for digital innovation. This commitment has catalysed a paradigm shift within the public relations industry, fostering the integration of cutting-edge digital tools and methodologies that improve communication efficacy while encouraging new levels of creativity and involvement. Dubai's strategic geographical location, a cosmopolitan atmosphere, business-friendly regulations, and a luxurious lifestyle solidifies its position as a flourishing hub for global public relations firms. Dubai's relentless pursuit of innovation, seamlessly aligned with fundamental PR principles, positions it as an exemplar for achieving global success in the realm of public relations. The emirate stands as a testament to the harmonious fusion of innovation, strategic thinking, and a commitment to excellence, setting the standard for the future of the PR industry worldwide."<img src='\f06f3d69651634788826d6167912e74a.png' class='content_image'>

Unveiling tomorrow: Natasha Hatherall-Shawe on TishTash's 2024 vision

In an era dominated by digital channels and social media, the role of public relations has evolved significantly. In this interview with Adgully Middle East, Natasha Hatherall-Shawe, the Founder and CEO of TishTash Communications, shares insights into the agency's journey and strategies for embracing new communication technologies by 2024. As the founder of TishTash Communications, Natasha Hatherall-Shawe has been a trailblazer in recognizing the evolving landscape of communications. With a keen eye on the future, Natasha discusses the agency's digital prowess, its foray into new territories, and the strategies in place to navigate the dynamic digital landscape of 2024. Excerpts:With the growing importance of digital channels and social media, how is your PR agency planning to leverage new communication technologies and platforms by 2024?In my opinion, no agency can solely focus on public relations in this current era. Eight years ago, my agency, TishTash Communications, began diversifying its service offerings within the communications space. This strategic decision was driven by a clear understanding of the industry's trajectory and future direction. Today we’re a fully integrated communications agency offering traditional PR, influencer engagement, events, digital marketing, social media and content creation and design/branding under one roof. We pride ourselves on innovating; we’ve won a lot of awards which we’re proud of, and I believe our agency, TishTash Communications, stands out as one of the most robust and comprehensive integrated service providers in the region.Our agency boasts a high level of proficiency in digital and social platforms. Even within the realm of traditional PR, we've formulated a robust digital PR strategy. Constantly, we emphasize the significance of a strong digital footprint to our clients, actively educating them on maximizing these opportunities.In the contemporary landscape, more than 80% of the PR coverage we secure for our clients is online. This strategic shift aligns with the belief that bolstering online presence is paramount. Unlike print coverage, online features tend to endure over time, contributing significantly to a sustained and lasting impact.Next year I’m focusing on creating a strong affiliate offering for our agency, as this goes hand in hand with digital marketing and influencer marketing and our market is very behind compared to other global markets. I’m determined to be at the forefront as our region plays catch up. I’ve hired some brilliant talent from the UK, and we’re working on some pilots as we speak for key brands in the e-commerce space.Also, as traditional media outlets dwindle, we will see more brands and companies launch their own media outlets and content platforms so they can choose to become their own distributors. This is an area we are working on ourselves with the launch of and one we plan to drive forward in 2024.What strategies are in place to enhance client visibility and reputation management in the evolving digital landscape of 2024?Transparency and authenticity are the backbone of all our communication strategies. Social proof is everything, and earned media opportunities are key in reputation management. Proactive reputation management is about clear and consistent storytelling, news and commentary that cement a brands credibility with the public. We advocate this and a strong digital and digital PR strategy with every client we work with to drive positive results. This will come from a blend of communication tactics, including traditional PR, owned social channels and content including LinkedIn and Wikipedia, third party collaborations and also a supporting paid for strategy.With the rise of influencer marketing, how is your PR agency incorporating influencer partnerships into your communication strategies by 2024?Influencer marketing is no longer new as it’s been a part of our ecosystem for a while now, gaining in appeal after the launch of Instagram in 2010. Whilst we’ve seen its popularity explode, for our agency I’d say it’s accounted for 60% of the work we do for clients for the last 7 years. If anything, I’d say there is some movement away from influencers now after a bumpy few years with trust and ethics in this sector and I am interested to see what the next 2-3 years has in store in this area as I expect a lot of changes globally and regionally.How and what brands use influencers for is definitely changing and it will continue to evolve. As ‘influencer fatigue’ sets in, genuine customer content (User Generated Content – UGC) is a vital preponement and endorsement for social media campaigns with consumers wanting and demanding authenticity. I expect to see a lot of development and interest in this area, as I’m already having a lot more conversation about this with clients.What metrics do you prioritize to measure the impact of influencer collaborations on brand perception and audience engagement in 2024?Measurement and impact of influencer campaigns (and PR/comms as a whole being honest) is always a hot topic and one of much debate. The lack of agreed reporting and ability to assess ROI has always been one of the biggest sticking points our industry has faced and the metrics our clients required varied greatly and were largely dependent on whether a paid or barter campaign.Finally clients are looking at and listening to advice over and above follower numbers alone. We have tools and the degree of insight we are able to provide clients with today is significant and we find more want this degree of detail and want to look at engagement levels, audience insights and more.We’ve believed in the power of the micro and nano influencer for a long time and we truly are getting the best results from those with 3,000 – 30,000 followers. When it comes to the large macro influencers not only are they expensive to work with, but there is a lot of wastage in their audience in terms of hitting your target audience and their engagement levels are typically lower than that we see with the highly bought in audiences micro and nano influencers have.For many clients now it’s not about numbers at all. Unique content is what they need as it costs a lot of money to create content for them to utilize across their channels, as well as to support their messaging being out there with their target audience, and working with influencers can be a cheap way to create content. Hence, this explains the rise in User-Generated Content (UGC) we’re seeing and will continue to in the year ahead. Aligning with those who create content that represents a brand in the way it wishes to be seen is extremely important.

Natasha Hatherall: Empowering women and redefining PR in the heart of Dubai

TishTash Communications, an award-winning specialist communications and public relation agency focusing on beauty, health, and wellness, is a well-established name and a prominent player in the field of public relations in Dubai. Founded in 2012 by Natasha Hatherall and Managing Director & Partner Polly Williams, the brand has gained recognition for its commitment to advocating for women in the workplace and supporting working mothers. TishTash stands out as a workplace that is exclusively tailored to meet the needs of women. The founders believe in showcasing the impact of addressing women's needs and emphasize that when women's requirements are fulfilled, they not only thrive but also stand on equal footing with their male counterparts.Natasha Hatherall, referring to herself as an 'accidental entrepreneur,' serves as the Founder and CEO of TishTash Communications. She sheds light on the brand's journey and its success as a leading independent PR and integrated marketing agency in the region. With a team of over 60 members and offices in Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and the UK, TishTash has firmly established itself as a key player in the industry. Excerpts:Can you share your journey, starting as a PR professional, leading to your role as the Founder of TishTash Communications?Born and educated in the UK, I spent the first part of my career in academia, studying firstly for a degree in Psychology, followed by a Masters in Marketing, before combining my love of both into a PhD in Management with a focus on consumer behaviour. Whilst working as a graduate, teaching in the university and after a lot of soul searching, I decided I didn’t wish to pursue an academic career. I made my first turn into the marketing, media and PR world in the UK working at agencies including Havas and McCann Worldwide and client side for major global brands such as L’Oreal, and I never really looked back. The corporate world was definitely for me.I had always wanted to live and work abroad and this is what brought me to Dubai in 2010. I worked in a brilliant marketing and comms role at Abu Dhabi Media Group for 2 years, before leaving to freelance for a while with the aim of having more work/life balance, practicing yoga and seeing more of the world.Life had other plans though and TishTash Communications was born. 12 years on we are going very strong as one of the leading independent PR and integrated marketing agencies in the region with over 60 team members and offices in Dubai, Saudi Arabia and the UK. We’ve won lots of great awards, been recognized formally as a “Great Place to Work” this year and I’m proud of the brilliant work we produce for our clients every day.Not bad for the girl who planned to freelance and go to yoga!What motivated you to establish TishTash Communications? What is your vision for the organisation and where do you see it five years from now?I definitely consider myself an ‘accidental entrepreneur’ – someone who literally never intended to start a traditional business, and by traditional I mean with a group of employees, office space and differing streams of income. It’s very different to being a ‘solopreneur’ – which is really what I intended for myself when I left my last full time role.That said, I also believe that everything happens for a reason and clearly this is where I was meant to be and perhaps I am more of an entrepreneur and business leader than I ever gave myself credit for. My business is 12 years old now and it’s far bigger than anything I could have imagined or planned, but I very much feel like I’ve found my purpose and passion in life during this time.Going solo and working for myself, followed by the quick establishment of TishTash, always came from a desire to do quality good work, to provide the best of big brand and agency experience at more affordable rates to those who could not afford big agency prices and ultimately to raise the standards of communications that I saw at that time. That is something that very much remains at the heart of all we do today.Also very accidentally due to the nature of the work we do and the fact we ended up employing women only, myself and my MD and partner Polly Williams became advocates in this area and voices for women at work and working mothers. To support our workforce, we celebrated our differences and designed a workplace catered purely to women’s needs to demonstrate the power in doing this and how when women’s needs are met, that they flourish and stand very equally with their male counterparts.As for the future, I can’t say for sure, but we’re committed to leading the way for women in the workforce as well as for communications and we’re known for being agile, keeping it fresh and doing new and innovative things as an agency, so definitely expect more of that as there is lots I still want to do and achieve.We’re part of an industry that can’t sit still and we’ve had such monumental changes in the past 5 years, that I expect this development to continue in the years ahead, but I hope that we have truly consolidated our learnings and rapid recent expansion into continuing to offer a mature, fully integrated multimedia communications offering to our global clients.Could you provide insights into the brands that have collaborated with TishTash?We have the pleasure of working with some of the most renowned names in beauty, health and wellness from across the globe alongside inspirational homegrown brands and powerful founders and entrepreneurs. We currently work with over 100 companies and brands at TishTash, with some of our key agency clients including: LUSH, ASICS, The Body Shop, Victoria's Secret, Boots The Pharmacy, Eucerin, Kibsons and DrinkDry. Many more work with us on all facets of comms campaigning, from traditional PR through to event design and activation, influencer strategy, exhibitions and own brand events to social media content and execution via our own TishTash Studios. I’m especially proud of the long term relationships we form with clients and we still have clients we started out with 12 years ago and many more who have been with us 8 or 9 years.What are the five major trends you have observed in the PR industry?Digital-first - Over 80% at least of your earned media coverage will be online. It is no longer ‘secondary’ and basing all campaign planning around that is vital.Visual assets - No longer simply an image to accompany an article, a video in itself is a campaign - like digital first, think visual first, as a storytelling strategy and not just a pretty picture.Affiliates and e-commerce–These go hand in hand and many outlets only work with affiliates for product placement now and this will become even more common in the months and years ahead as our market plays catch up in this area.Own media outlets - As traditional ones dwindle, we will see more and more verticals from agencies and other businesses who choose to become their own distributors.Do you think the PR sector tends to attract more women, and if so, what might be the reasons behind this trend?There is a cliche in the old ‘PR Girl’ trope and certainly there are many women in our industry, but there are also a lot of men working in the industry too.PR is accepted as one of the most stressful industries to work in globally, so it certainly should never be seen as an ‘easy’ or glamorous option for anyone.In the Middle East, we certainly see many big agencies led and staffed by men, but equally, it does attract and retain many women at a junior and entry level.Longer working hours and unpredictable or seasonal workloads are not particularly friendly for those who have caring responsibilities, so we do absolutely see a drop off across the industry for women at different life stages and as such we’re lacking women in comms at a senior and board level, as are the majority of industries.Equality and diversification in skill set at leadership level certainly needs to see more women in major roles in the PR sector. Women do tend to hold a higher level of ‘soft skills’ quite naturally, and PR certainly demands a high level of emotional intelligence and social skills that women are naturally adept at.You have been a great supporter of female entrepreneurs. In what ways are you helping in female entrepreneurship in the Middle East? How do you view women's empowerment in the region?There is nowhere like the Middle East for women’s empowerment in my opinion. The federal and governmental support is brilliant, and there are learning, networking and support opportunities available daily. TishTash Communications is powered by women - our entire staff are female and we are now at over 60 employees.As a female entrepreneur myself, I understand intrinsically the opportunities and challenges of starting and running a business in the Middle East. Representation is important, and of course, visibility of others doing the same, especially those in the start up phase, and I will always do my utmost to support and promote them. I am vocal in my support via my own media work and social media, and many of our agency clients are female founders and their brands. This was most necessary for us during the months of the pandemic where businesses needed this support more than ever, and TishTash offered a number of formal initiatives to address their needs.Globally, women essentially receive less opportunities and funding than men, so we owe it to the greater good to help each other. Aside from the facets of business, I strongly believe that we have to address some fundamental basics in the workplace to allow women to fulfill their potential, and we can no longer ignore lifestyle constraints that influence our productivity and wellbeing.What advice would you offer to individuals, both men and women, aspiring to become leaders in the PR sector?Put people first: This works two ways - client services and employee wellbeing. Know them and understand their challenges and strengths as this leads to better engagement and retention all around - and better work.Stay agile: The market is changing almost daily at the moment, staying on top of it will help you navigate both the media and consumer landscape.Put collaboration over competition: Keep a clear vision and mission for your business and stay on that path. Every agency has their own USP’s and there are plenty of clients and specialisms to go ‘round. Keeping friendly and approachable to your peers means that you always have allies who will be keen to support you if you need it.Lead by example not by ego: Never expect anyone to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself if the job needed doing.User-generated content: As ‘influencer fatigue’ sets in, genuine customer content is a vital preponement and endorsement for social media campaigns - consumers want and demand authenticity.