CAIRO: In the aftermath of a progressive government and a growing economy, Egypt is witnessing the entrance of a slew of multinationals and local businesses with a modern outlook, to the delight of the public relations industry (PR).
The Daily Star Egypt sat down with Loula Zaklama, the founder of PR in Egypt, to talk about the government’s newfound interest in PR, why local companies are now on the industry’s payroll, the ups and downs of the business, the advantages of PR over advertising and what really, in particular, annoys Zaklama.
“There is all this comparison of PR to advertising, which I hate, says Zaklama. “Advertising is advertising and PR is PR. If I were to make the analogy, advertising is talking about how good you are. PR is about other people talking about how good you are, which is why it has more credibility.
As the president and managing director of RadaReasearch and Public Relations, the first of its kind founded in Egypt in 1982, it takes no stretch of the imagination to understand why Zaklama is irked by the comparison.
“The most difficult challenge I’m facing and am still facing in after 20 years, is that of people confusing PR for advertising, she says. “You cannot compare PR with advertising. In advertising, you’re buying millions worth of advertising space, while in PR, your buying people’s know-how.
While advertising registered a hit in the country in the early ’80’s with famous advertising campaigns such as that of “Sir Schweppes, featuring actor Hassan Abdeen, the glory days of the industry is generally on a decline at the same time as PR begins booming, for the simple reason that consumers are now buying into credibility, one of the founding stones of PR.
In fact, when businesses seek justification for how their marketing budget is spent, they have come to realize that PR has several advantages over advertising, such as a flexible strategy that can be re-shaped in mid-stream should it be necessary. Also, unlike advertising, PR campaigns have a longer lifecycle, yielding benefits over time, while, by comparison, the lifecycle of advertising is defined by placement schedules which, when extended, show diminished returns.
“Advertising produces results, concedes Zaklama. “But you cannot have these results without a good reputation. If you have a lousy reputation, then who will buy your products?
According to Zaklama, the PR industry in Egypt is still very much in the making.
“The PR industry is evolving, it’s getting there. We are still at the very, very beginning, but I’m happy to say we are on the right track, she says.
Unlike the PR markets in Europe and the United States, which are saturated, PR in Egypt is still young, with many opportunities.
“There are opportunities here for good, solid, sophisticated PR, she says. “As opposed to other countries, people here respond to messages in a positive manner; they are still open-minded.
The industry has witnessed vast growth since the establishment of RadaResearch and PR. From multinationals such as Hill & Knowlton, to Promoseven Weber Shandwick, PR practices have been popping up on the Egyptian map in the last decade.
Unfortunately, not all of them give PR a good name.
“It’s terrible; so many people doing haphazard PR thinking PR begins and ends with a press release, an event, a little conference. PR is a science, it’s a medicine, says Zaklama.
Still one of the few top PR agencies in the country, Zaklama has taken the science of PR to another level. The company has invested a hefty sum into the PR training and education of its employees, which gives evidence to the fact that in the last 25 years, she has not lost a single employee to another PR firm.
RadaReseacrh also has the advantage of in-house market research, something no other PR company has.
“We have the advantage of being able to do research on consumer attitudes and behaviors, to design messages of campaigns and make sure that we have the right messages, she says.
In fact, that is how the company began its PR practice. “It came out of the research that we were doing. From our research findings we found there was a need for PR, she says.
Zaklama’s belief that PR is the difference between success and failure aligns with the government and private sector’s view on the industry.
Also a counsel for GAFI (General Authority for Investment and Free Zones), she worked with the previous government seven years ago, but says that with the new cabinet, more ministries are taking an interest in PR.
“What is happening that is really refreshing for me is the government. Let’s take the example of investment. If you told people, why don’t you invest in Egypt, they will say what’s the advantage? You have to start with communication and PR starts with communication, she says. “The government understands this. They said, we’ve done all these reforms and the people don’t know about it, or even if they do, they need to know more. According to Zaklama, the ministries of tourism, trade and industries, and investment, are doing a great deal of PR. She attributes the government’s newfound interest in PR to the new cabinet that is made up of businessmen who understand the value of the service.
“It’s so wonderful because they are running the government as a company; bottom line is to make a profit and that’s what they are doing, she says. “I want more involvement in the government because it fascinates me; it turns me on much more because I’m doing something for my country. Not only that but there is much to be done and I feel I can play an important role in it to grow the company.
According to Zaklama, with the open economy, habits, people and attitudes toward products are changing, and the government and private sector need PR to tell people that there are better ways of doing things.
In the beginning PR mainly interested multinationals, but now it’s got into the local private sector. According to Zaklama, the number of fully Egyptian clients who understand that they cannot do without PR has grown tremendously, as companies begin to realize that a solid reputation is worth its weight in gold.