Alex Malouf: We Need To Better Prove Our Worth

November 13, 2016

We first met Alex in Jordan in 2014. Since then he has been a regular speaker at our Global PR Summits around the world and one of our biggest suporters. He recently contributed to our Little Black Book on PR with a chapter on PR in emerging markets.

Alex is the first communications innovator in the MEA region by the Holmes Report. He is a marketing communications executive who has spent the last ten years in the Middle East and lived across the region, in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. He holds the position of corporate communications manager for the Arabian Peninsula at Procter & Gamble. A journalist by training and with a cultural mix that is both European and Arabic, Alex’s expertise spans communications and media, public relations and marketing for both multinationals in the energy, technology and FMCG space as well as several Gulf-based government institutions. His experience spans corporate communications, media relations and outreach, content development, crisis/reputation management, and digital and social media.

Shortly after the US elections, we asked Alex to share with us his thoughts on the role of PR in the elections, his contribution to the Little Black Book of PR, as well as the challenges PR professionals are facing in today's fast changing business world.

You are one of the contributors of the Little Black Book of PR. What was your motivation to get involved in this project?

I've been fortunate in my PR career, in that I've done well and worked for some amazing brands and with remarkable people. I wanted to give back, to share these experiences with others, and to promote best practices. I couldn't pass up the opportunity that you gave me and others, which was to write up these learnings and put them in a format that is easy to share and which would be be a fun, enjoyable read.
How different is PR in emerging markets compared to more mature markets?

There's both opportunity and challenge when it comes to PR in emerging markets. Firstly, PR isn't as well understood, particularly by organizational leaders. For many, PR is still viewed as a press release. We have to change this understanding of what PR is. As it's seen as a relatively new discipline, there's less rigidity in terms of how the profession should practice. In emerging markets, the pace of change can often be overwhelming, particularly when it comes to technology adoption or consumer sentiment. These factors can make working in PR in an emerging market both exciting as well as frustrating. 
What are the challenges of today’s PR professionals?

The pace of change is relentless. Today a PR professional has to master a host of competencies, such as content creation, content aggregation, the digital space, measurement, and, increasingly, psychology. To give you an example, ten years ago, no one had ever used social media. Now, it's the most important medium for disseminating information and promoting engagement.

There's also the issue of how the function is viewed. PR used to be looked at as tactical by many organizations. This is changing, and PR is shifting to a strategic role. In my opinion, the shift isn't happening fast enough. We need to be boardroom advisers. We need to better prove our worth, particularly when it comes to reputation and organizational performance. 
Question of the day: who should own social media? Marketing or PR?

For me, social media is primarily about engagement and dialogue. This is where PR professionals excel. Both functions have a role to play, but we need to stop viewing social media as a monologue, as another advertising opportunity. Our stakeholders want to talk with us and our organizations online and engage in honest, authentic conversations, so what are we waiting for? PR people, get on with it! 
Let's talk a bit about the US elections. Donald Trump has pretty much broken all PR rules. Do you think it is time these rules change?

The election of Donald Trump, and the vote on Brexit before it is a lesson that we need to listen better and put away our biases. We also need to better understand human psychology to shape how we communicate with our stakeholders. Whether you like him or not, Donald Trump knew his audience, he said what they wanted to hear, and he constantly repeated his simple but effective messaging. These are PR basics. What was new was how controversial Trump was in terms of what he said. His supporters believed him no matter what thanks to his position as an outsider, and they refused to vote for his opponent, who they didn't trust. 
If you were on Hillary’s team, what would be your PR advice to her?
Hilary failed to communicate her message as well as Donald. For all of the criticism leveled at him, no one will forget his "make America great again message." Who remembers Hilary's core message? She was also harmed by her inability to communicate during key moments, for example when she pneumonia. She was sick, but denied it until there was video evidence. Such instances impacted trust in her. Hilary devoted her life to public service, and she can still play a role pushing the issues that she cares about the most, such as diversity and inclusion, and women's rights. Just like Al Gore, Hilary can redefine herself into a champion of issues that Donald and his presidency may ignore or not view as a priority over the coming four years.
How do you envision the future of PR?
If I knew this I'd be a rich man! PR needs to be at the heart of the organization. PR needs to be the protector of reputation, and the voice of conscience. PR needs to lead stakeholder discussion, and bring those views into the organization, to help shape strategy and engagement. We'll need to be masters of the digital world. And we'll also need to better understand business, so that we can align what we do with our organization's goals and vision and prove our worth through measurement of outcomes. These are all major challenges, but I'm confident that PR will grow in importance as a discipline. If you're looking for an exciting, original career where no day is the same, get into PR. You can thank me later! 

Alex is speaking next at our Global PR Summit Istanbul 4 from 16-17 February in Istanbul.


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