LAU pushes to strengthen public relations in the MENA region
LAU’s Institute for Media Training and Research collaborates with a PR agency to organize the first Beirut Public Relations Forum.
Ayla Damé, director of Customer Services and Advertising at MEA; Mohamed Al Ayed, CEO of TRACCS; and Ramzi El Hafez, publisher and editor-in-chief of Lebanon Opportunities, discuss the value of PR in the current financial situation.
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When dining in a Wendy’s fast food restaurant in San José, California, about four years ago, a woman was “shocked” to find a human finger in the bowl of chili she had ordered.
Once this story hit the news, Wendy’s faced a wave of negative publicity. Although the story proved to be a hoax — as the woman had in fact planted the finger in the bowl herself — it had already taken its toll on the company’s image.
Ayla Damé, director of Customer Services and Advertising at the Middle Eastern Airlines, gave this example during the inaugural Beirut Public Relations Forum on May 28 to “illustrate how bad PR can deteriorate a company’s value.”
Had Wendy’s been stronger and faster to respond, it might not have been as affected as it was, Damé explained.
The forum, entitled “Creating the Strategic Value,” was held at the Phoenicia Intercontinental Hotel, Beirut, under the patronage of Minister of Information Tarek Mitri and the PR agency Trans-Arabian Creative Communications in collaboration with LAU’s Institute for Media Training and Research.
It was part of a TRACCS initiative called Communications Outreach Program, which aims to enhance the public relations industry in the Middle East and North Africa.
“Historically our part of the world has underestimated the value of public relations,” says Dr. Ramez Maluf, LAU associate professor of communication and IMTR director.
LAU supported the event because PR “is a very significant industry which we should appreciate more,” Maluf adds.
According to Mitri, the event is “yet another indication that there are many fellow Arabs that believe in the role of Lebanon and Beirut as a place of encounter, dialogue and innovation.”
The forum, which attracted representatives of various Lebanese companies, tackled such issues as the value of PR in the current financial situation, the role of stakeholders in developing the industry, and the importance of strategic thinking in PR.
Damé highlighted how customer loyalty and company goodwill could help companies maintain a strong image and come out of financial or other kinds of crises. “Retaining a customer is five times less costly than acquiring a new one,” she said.
To build its customer support, MEA sends regular emails and text messages, Damé explained.
What’s important, according to her, is to look for ways to grow even in the direst circumstances. “In any form of crisis we all know that one can always search for an opportunity,” she added.
But PR is not always positive. “As part of a society we have to be attentive to the good and bad [aspects] of public relations,” Maluf explained. PR is needed “to reach out and tell people about something that you are doing.” But it “might advantage those who have the better business savvy, not necessarily the better product,” he added.
Mohamed Al Ayed, president and CEO of TRACCS, was satisfied with the initiative. “You can feel it in the air; it has been a great start,” he said. He hopes to build upon the forum and increase awareness about the various aspects of PR in the coming years.