Newsletter No 10 13 December 2005
Advertising & Marketing:
Lack of Credible Figures is the Biggest Challenge Facing Arab Media

Are Arab media getting more freedom? How do editors choose front-page headlines? What are the reasons for the advertising underinvestment in the Middle East? More than 1000 participants from 56 countries gathered in Dubai to discuss these questions at the "Arab and World Media" conference organized by the Arab Thought Foundation on 5-6 December.

"The first mission of the media is to spread the truth," said Prince Khalid Al Faisal, president of the Arab Thought Foundation, during the opening ceremony. "Many media outlets conceal the truth to serve political purposes. When they do that they turn from being truth revealers into truth killers.

Lack of Credible Figures is the Biggest Challenge Facing Arab Media
The breakout session "Modern Advertising Challenges" stressed the need for credible audience research in the Middle East. "The region is underinvested in terms of advertising. The reason is that investors want to know their return of investment," said Mohammed Al Mulhem, the Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC) director for marketing, commercial and public relations.

Mike Gillam, Chief Media Buyer in the Middle East for Unilever said it very clearly: "We need numbers, it is as simple as that. If we do not have information about our customers, we will not spend."

Trying to answer why publishers and broadcasters are resisting audience research, panelists agreed that there is no methodology among media owners and that newspapers are afraid of taking the first step without procedures set in advance.

However, Gillam said that the recently created Gulf Cooperation Council Advertisers Association (GCCAA), which includes some of the biggest media buyers in the region, has come together to undertake audience research standards, but they are still waiting for the Dubai Chamber of Commerce to grant them legal status.

"We have financial and technical support from big organizations but we cannot even open a bank account as we are not legally recognized," said Gillam. When asked about the reasons for this administrative delay he could not give an answer.

Prince Faisal Bin Salman, Chairman of the SRPC said he agreed with the initiative saying that there is resistance to measuring audiences. He asked for a conference to bring together advertisers and media owners where concrete steps could be taken.

Prince Faisal said newspaper segmentation is another issue challenging advertising in the region. "We must cater to different audiences," he said. He considered that newspapers are trying to give a little bit of everything to their readers. "Local newspapers are more successful than regional or pan Arab," he said.

As an example he talked about one of the group's publications, The Al Eqtisadiah business newspaper. He said audiences are much more sophisticated now and are looking for news dealing with concrete concerns. "While revenues from sales are growing, more income is being generated by advertisers. And these are demanding targeted audiences," he said.