Top tips for practicing Communications in the Gulf

The Gulf – and in particular Doha, Dubai and Riyadh – have been popular destinations for communications professionals from across Europe, including many IABC members, as IABC EMENA Region Vice Chair Alex Malouf explains in our latest Board Blog.


view-over-dubaiWhile the Gulf is often sold as an appealing destination (think no direct taxes, year-round sunshine, and pristine beaches), there’s much more to the region than the image portrayed.

The communications industry here has grown at a remarkable rate over the past decade-and-a-half. Most of the world’s largest and best known agencies are present in Dubai, which has become a hub for the profession. Likewise, the function has become part of the organizational structure of many businesses and government entities in the Gulf.

However, whilst most organizations employ communicators in-house and use agencies, communications still isn’t entrenched as a senior management function. This will change, but the region still has some way to go if it is to be compared with communication practices in locations such as London, Paris or Frankfurt.

Here are a couple of issues to think about when practicing communications in the Gulf which may help if you’re thinking of relocating or are looking for career opportunities in this part of the world.

#1 Relationships are everything

You can pitch all you want, but a good story will get much more traction (and coverage) when you have a strong relationship with a local journalist, particularly within the Arabic language media. Conversely, without strong relationships, even the best pitch may fall on deaf ears.

#2 We’re still Jack-of-all-trades

Much of the communications done in the Gulf, especially on the client side, is a mixture of different communications roles rolled into one. You’ll often find yourself switching between internal comms, media relations and digital work. The region is still maturing, and relatively few firms have people employed for specializations such as internal communications, investor relations and public affairs.

#3 Forget the politics

I’m not referring here to your typical workplace issues, but rather the media. Media coverage in the Gulf practices self-censorship, and coverage of issues such as local politics is always done with a great deal of sensitivity. There’s no tabloid press, and there’s no left- or right-wing media when it comes to political debate. The media focus is mainly on local issues and business.

#4 Engage with Arab culture

Being in a city such as Doha or Dubai, where the majority of residents are expats, it can be easy to overlook the local culture. However, engaging with nationals is the key to success in government relations (where nearly all employees are nationals) and shaping attitudes and behavior among Arabic-speaking publics. Go out there, learn about the local customs, pick up the language, and you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve.

#5 Communications is being localized

Governments across the Gulf are promoting localization, and this includes  communications roles. There’s a rapid push by government and semi-government entities towards bringing in nationals in-house. If you’re a communicator with extensive government experience, you may have to consider an agency-based consultancy role rather than a position in-house.

#6 You have to be social

Usage of social media is widespread among consumers in the region, and they’re a sophisticated bunch. Video consumption among Gulf nationals tops the global charts, as does smartphone usage. The Gulf’s consumers are avid users of services such as Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter and WhatsApp. Equally, the use of social media influencers is widespread. Communications in the Gulf has never been as social as it is today.



Persian Gulf Arab States

  • An exciting development is the recent establishment of the IABC GCC Chapter. If you’re keen to know more about working in an up-and-coming part of the communications world, do reach out to your IABC colleagues here via the president of the Gulf chapter, Gary Hernandez. We’re always happy to help fellow IABCers.


Alex Malouf

About Alex Malouf

Alex  is corporate communications manager for the Arabian Peninsula at Procter & Gamble and has spent the last 10 years in the Middle East. His expertise spans communications for both multinationals in the energy, technology and FMCG space as well as several Gulf-based government institutions. When he’s not putting pen to paper, Alex can be found advocating for the region’s communications industry through not-for-profit organisations, with other like-minded comms professionals.
Follow Alex on Twitter: @alex_malouf