THURSDAY 1 MAR 2018 12:59 PM


Bordered by eight countries and dominating most of the Arabian Peninsula, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is undergoing significant change.

External geopolitical events such as friction with neighbouring country Yemen and internal shifts, including a decline in oil prices, sees the traditionally independent Kingdom adjusting its policy and outlook. This is impacting the country’s public relations sector, which is being affected by rationalised spending budgets. 

A recent study carried out by Jeddah, Saudi Arabia-based communications consultancy W7 Worldwide reveals that the dependence of the Saudi Arabian government sector on global communication agencies will reduce by 45% in the coming months. Based on data collected during November 2017, December 2017 and January 2018 from around 60 local and foreign executives representing large, medium and small agencies and freelance specialists and consultants, findings show that government organisations are turning to local, not global, agencies to fulfil their public relations needs.

The study reveals that 45% of respondents believe lack of uptake in global communications agencies by Saudi government firms is due to a lack of knowledge of global agency availability. This is despite global communications agencies delivering the most growth in the sector in the measured period.

Furthermore, the PR and communications sector in Saudi Arabi is facing a potential reputational crisis driven by a lack of funding and support by the government. “Global public relations and communications agencies targeting the Saudi audience are threatened by the inevitable exit from the market because they face an escalating crisis,” says W7 Communications.

“Their clients do not believe in the manner of managing their reputation and image of the target audience in Saudi Arabia due to their failure to follow the new professional methods and standards,” says the agency. And innovation is key; clients need an open mind in recognising how streamlined communications strategies can help further their ambition. This is corroborated by results of the survey, which indicates that any drastic reduction of budgets for PR and communication experts will have a negative impact on companies in Saudi Arabia. A lack of coverage in local media and an inability to keep pace with the major changes in dealing with new and classic media are just two of the challenges government agencies will potentially face.

So, with a media environment increasingly covering Saudi Arabia’s internal changes, investment in stable public relations structures could be key to securing the country’s future reputation. Another key consideration is recruiting with local customs in mind, being aware of social and geopolitical shifts and how this can impact market segmentation and campaign targeting.

Despite the bleak outlook for the sector currently, however, a shift in thinking could be imminent, with 94.5% of respondents suggesting that new economic variables will lead to further integration and affiliations between the small and medium-sized agencies. If this comes to fruition, it will reduce future pressures on financial resources and equip the public relations sector in Saudi Arabia with the ability to deliver strong, effective campaigns.

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