Join the PRty

In Communicate, Public relations, Published journalism on November 24, 2010 at 3:52 pm

As a network of independent PR agencies, the APRN is a new concept for the region. Can the alliance of local consultancies face up to international giants?

Originally published in Communicate, December 2009

Last month three PR agencies – Active PR from Dubai, 4PR from Cairo, and MPR from Riyadh – came together to form the Arabian Public Relations Network (APRN). The agencies, which have worked together in the past through “a loose set of affiliations and memorandums of understanding,” according to Active PR’s joint managing director and freshly elected chairman of APRN, Louay Al Samarrai, hope that formalizing those relationships will allow their network to take root and grow.

“We believe that by having an independent network we’re getting best-of-breed agencies that are able to respond creatively and dynamically, and are able to provide the products and solutions that clients are looking for in those markets,” says Al Samarrai.

The founders of the APRN hope that it will be able to compete with regional and international networks, by providing its members’ clients with local insights within new markets. Regular networks, by contrast, often maintain only a token presence in their non-key markets.

“There is no other real independent group of PR consultancies that are passionate, that are well established in their own markets, that have come together under an umbrella of an organization they intend to make work as a network,” says Al Samarrai. “We believe this is a very viable proposition for clients who want to work throughout the region, especially in North Africa, Egypt and the Gulf States.”

Through Active PR’s membership of the Public Relations Organization International (PROI), the APRN is plugged into an international version of itself. PROI is a network of independent agencies spanning around 30 markets around the world, and Jean-Léopold Schuybroek, chairman of the organization’s international development group, acted as a consultant to the APRN founders.

Schuybroek, who also heads up Brussels-based agency Interel, is hopeful that the APRN will give PROI an in to the region. “We need to be in the markets before the markets really start to grow,” he says. “And specifically to identify the markets that will be the champions in the future.”

As well as extending its agencies’ geographical reach, the APRN aims to expand the capabilities of its members. “The most important benefit is we are going to create a resource bank of expertise and best practices,” says Rania Azab, managing director of Cairo-based 4PR and an APRN board member. “If there is a pitch in Morocco [for instance], and there is a need for our insights, or if we have more experience in the sector, we will be flying out to help.”

Such benefits should make the network attractive to prospective member agencies, says Azab. “This kind of benefit is not easy to find,” she says. “I don’t think any agency would say no to such benefits.”

Whether clients can refuse is another matter. Priya Sarma is the regional corporate communication manager for Unilever. Asked how a client such as the FMCG giant might view a network like APRN, she says multinational companies like hers work with its PR agencies in “a very centralized kind of way.” Local expertise is invaluable but, “In terms of deliverables it should definitely be international. That’s the kind of scale and quality you would be looking at.”

To lure big clients away from big networks, APRN will need to prove that it can not only deliver local knowledge, but also an international caliber of client relations. “In terms of a vision, it’s good what they are aiming to do,” says Sarma. “And if they can make it happen it will be interesting.”

For the APRN, picking member agencies will be subject to quality control, and as a profit-making venture the network isn’t open to all. “Ultimately we’d want to expand to cover different markets across the Middle East and North Africa, to be a strong and effective Arabian PR network,” says Sawsan Ghanem, Active’s other joint managing director and the APRN’s treasurer. “But we need to do that carefully in terms of the recruitment process, because we need to have seamless standards and philosophies and visions across the different agencies.”

Al Samarrai says the network is less interested in looking for partners in markets where its agencies already have a reach. (Active, for example, works throughout the Gulf states). “It’s more about going into markets that traditionally have not been accessible,” he says. These include Libya, Palestine, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, and the APRN “would love to find partners in Iran and Syria,” says Al Samarrai. “Absolutely love to.”

The APRN may be a small acorn now, but it hopes to spread its roots wide, to flourish within the forest of the PROI, and grow into a great oak of a regional network. It must be hoping for fertile soil.

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