According to 2016 research by PwC, 85% of businesses in the Middle East reported they were victims of attacks with 18% saying they experienced more than 5000 attacks. As a consequence, security is close to the top, if not at the top of every CIOs priority list. However, with close to 300 IT security providers—including vendors, distributors, resellers and system integrators—in the Middle East, many offering over-lapping solutions and most claiming to be ‘best-in-class’, gaining a customers’ trust (and business) takes more than just having the right technology. While you may well have the industry’s leading solution, the technological edge alone may not be enough to set you apart from the crowd in this highly competitive market. Enter Public Relations!
A well-executed PR campaign can help you gain a competitive advantage—build the profile of your organization with your target audience, carve out a niche as an industry thought leader and firmly establish your organization as a leading IT security solution provider in the region. In parallel to building the organizations’ brand awareness, raising the profile and visibility of your regional executives, gives them a much-needed foot in the door, leading to easier introductory pitches and engagements with prospective customers.
With its many nuances and idiosyncrasies, the Middle East is indeed a peculiar market. In line with its geographic position, its culture too lies somewhere between the East and the West. With the need to play catch-up, there is a strong desire to adopt the very latest and greatest technologies. Yet, the region faces an acute shortage of technical resources and appealing stories aren’t those that focus heavily on outlining technical advancements and innovation, but rather those that accurately demonstrate the business benefits of a solution. With this in mind, let’s now dive into the four critical success factors when crafting a successful PR campaign in the Middle East.
Think Global, Act Local
Far too often, businesses tend to overlook the fact that the Middle East is very different from many of the other western markets that they operate in. As such, yes, content is King, but I would take it a step further and highlight that localized content is king.
Take a corporate release announcing the launch of a new security solution, for example. Distributed in region, as is, without any edits, will result in almost no coverage. A piece that talks about the Middle East in general, might see good pick up in the UAE but in all likelihood, won’t get picked up by press in Saudi. So, if you really want to see good coverage in Saudi or Bahrain or one of the other markets for that matter, you will need to localize the piece not just for the Middle East but more specifically for the target market. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself “How is this news/product launch/etc relevant for (enter specific Middle East country here)”!
One of the best ways to ensure the content is country relevant is by conducting surveys. While a lot of security companies do surveys, very rarely do they analyse the Middle East market specifically. Yes, getting data in the Middle East is hard but if you really want to have an impact, you need to find a way to get good local data, for each country you are focusing on. The flip side is that once you have the data, it serves as a platform for several PR campaigns. You can curate press releases, use the data as a hook for interviews, weave the results into thought leadership pieces, condense sections into blogs, create compelling social posts and so on.
Hosting local events in the region is another option. Again, most vendors have global events but there is definitely a need for more local events, roadshows, CEO round table, and expert days. If budget constraints are a challenge, you could opt to participate in an industry event hosted by the large regional publishing houses like CPI and ITP. This could not only act as a direct source for leads, but would go a long way in helping you build relationships with these publishing houses (more on that later).
What are you Tech-ing about?
You have all heard the saying, if a tree falls in the woods, does anyone hear it. Let me extrapolate that for the purposes of our discussion. If all we do is talk about ourselves—how our technology is best in class, how our solutions have these cool features, we, we, we (you get the idea!)—does anyone care? I would submit to you that the answer to that is no, particularly when you consider that there are over 300 security players in region all claiming the exact same thing!
Customers and particularly the media, are not so technically inclined, something that is reflected in the magazines. In fact, I can’t think of a single magazine that is solely technical. Editors and readers alike are more interested in business outcomes. How is a specific security technology going to help businesses improve their security posture?
To that end, there are three areas I would suggest you focus on from a PR perspective:
- Thought leadership articles: These are vendor neutral, 800-1000 word pieces that talk about industry trends and the business impact of security technology
- Case studies: I know it’s hard to get customers to talk about the security solutions they’ve deployed, but there is simply no better vehicle to build credibility (not to mention provide sales with a nice sales tool) than a good customer success story
- Rapid responses: Not many regional executives are prompt or feel comfortable enough to comment on security developments as and when they happen. So with a little initiative and some guidelines around what you would/wouldn’t want to comment on, you can easily position your spokesperson as the defacto industry expert
Look Who’s Talking!
In addition to having good content, it is vital to have a good local spokesperson. I acknowledge that having a local spokesperson in place can be tough, especially for new entrants, but their value is undeniable. With the right media training, a regional spokesperson can help add the necessary local ‘flavour’ to your communications and help distill corporate communications such as product road maps and corporate strategy.
Also, the Middle East is all about relationships. A spokesperson that is affable can build a good rapport with journalists and get you a ton of mileage! It’s worth noting that while Arabic speaking capabilities aren’t essential, there are times, such as around GITEX, when the broader pool of Arabic media turn their attention to the regional technology industry. Securing interviews with these journalists will require a qualified Arabic spokesperson.
Taking it to Market(ing)
If you have strong regional content, speak business more than tech and have a good spokesperson to re-enforce the message, you’re already doing better than most of your peers and I can guarantee that you will see great results from your PR campaign. But (there always is a but, isn’t there!!) I would be remiss and quite honestly, a lousy PR professional, if I didn’t mention that marketing and PR are like two sides of the coin and the success of PR does depend, to an extent, on marketing and specifically the marketing spend with regional publishing houses.
There isn’t a way to sugar coat it but it really is an unspoken rule that you do need to support the magazines and publishing houses. I say support rather than advertise with because the good news is that you can be creative about how you go about spending the money. You don’t just need to take out a full page ad like most folks did a few years ago. You could choose to spend on digital – an EDM for example, or sponsor an event, or even participate in a CIO roundtable. There are a myriad of options, but the message I am trying to get across is that if you are thinking about investing in PR and are running the numbers, please make sure to build these marketing costs in to any calculation before kicking-off a PR campaign.
With these building blocks in place, you will no doubt be on the path to PR success! Just one last thought – while you can do a two to three month PR campaign around a product launch or an event such as GISEC or GITEX, if you really want to see results from PR, you need to make a long term commitment. Even if you have small budgets, work with the agency to craft a plan that will stretch the budget and ensure that you have a share of voice month over month rather than just a flash in the pan! For purposes of this blog, when I refer to the ‘Middle East’, I am talking about the – Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.