Interview with Loretta Ahmed – Middle East market insights

In December 2016 ICCO announced the appointment of 5 Regional Presidents, who represent the recently formed Regional Groups covering Europe, Americas, Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific. 

We chat to Loretta Ahmed, CEO of Middle East, Turkey & Africa for Grayling, and ICCO’s Regional President for the Middle East, about the Middle East PR market.


1)    What is the current state of the public relations market in the Middle East?

The Middle East PR market continues to grow – with sustained market entry by global players and a relentless number of new start-ups.  The latter come from agency breakaway teams as well as home grown startups by regional entrepreneurs.  Across the region agencies are innovating and many of the rising stars are the new order firms – rooted in digital, storytelling and influencer marketing.  However, while the new kids on the block excite and delight in pitches, most clients here have a need for deep strategic counsel, CEO/expert profiling and global outreach. There is room in the market for this diverse line-up if agency heads are sensible and don’t discount to win, thereby driving down all our budgets and margins.


2)    What challenges do communicators face in the Middle East region?

Talent is the greatest challenge right across the region.  Strong, local, experienced talent is what all agencies are looking for – with Arabic language and writing a key part of all client work.  It is good to see most agencies now getting the balance right and relying less on expat hires.


3)    What are the opportunities for communications agencies operating in the Middle East?

New markets continue to provide opportunity so agencies need to look beyond Riyadh, Jeddah, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha and consider the strength of their regional footprint and their ability to grow out strong local businesses across the wider region.   After four years here, I can safely say that clients in this region are prepared to take risks like no others I’ve worked with elsewhere in the world.  If something has never been done before there is a greater appetite to try it – nirvana for leaders looking to build out new agency models and offerings, and a reason why the pace is furious and changes comes fast.


4)    What are your main priorities as ICCO Regional President – Middle East?

Raising the profile of the incredible work being undertaken in this region is my main goal.  There is a tendency for some to peer across at the Middle East and think we are all a few years behind when the opposite is true.  Here agencies have leapfrogged – unencumbered by outdated models and out of the line of sight of the head office.  Moulds are being broken daily and campaigns are being delivered that are truly world class.


5) For you, what is the most rewarding thing about working in PR?

The people I have worked with in my career have been humbling and inspiring.  What we all do every day is incredible when you stop to think about it.  Influencing business leaders and bringing about huge changes in opinions.  That ability to come together to land on a brilliant creative that will genuinely change the way people act or think is addictive.

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