Are papers cashing in with condolence ads?

Business and the media in the Middle East have a long tradition of publicly honouring leaders who die, and the sudden death of Dubai leader Sheikh Maktoum just over a week ago was no exception.

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By  Tim Addington Published  January 15, 2006

Business and the media in the Middle East have a long tradition of publicly honouring leaders who die, and the sudden death of Dubai leader Sheikh Maktoum just over a week ago was no exception. Within minutes of the announcement being made, UAE radio stations switched from regular programming to prayers from the Koran, while many television channels also observed the death with rolling news and prayers. Internet sites quickly posted tributes, and even outdoor advertising firms such as Dubai Outdoor Media paid homage to the late leader by quickly printing hoardings and placing them on lampposts along the city’s Airport Road. The UAE’s newspapers also marked the news with black and white editions in the days after the announcement and some produced extra supplements. For businesses and private individuals, newspapers provided the only form of mass communication in which to pay their respects in the form of condolence ads. While the sincerity of the outpouring of grief by companies both large and small is not at issue, questions have been raised about the financial benefits many newspapers derived from condolence ads as a result of the Sheikh’s death, with calls for the extra revenue undoubtedly made by newspapers to be donated to charities in his name. In a letter in this week’s edition of Campaign, Tim Mace, director at Tenzing Business Services, writes: “Our daily press is already heavily criticised for its reporting standards — concerning both news quality and circulation figures — and now we may have to add grossly insensitive profiteering to this list. “As is the custom here, the uptake of condolence message space will have undoubtedly been massive. So, would it not now be a fine and appropriate gesture for all of the major titles voluntarily to donate every dirham of the revenues pledged to place condolence messages to worthy causes in the region?” One multi-national corporation, who asked not to be identified, has told Campaign that it spent in excess of AED130,000 (US$35,000) to place its condolence ads in eight English and Arabic newspapers in the days following Sheikh Maktoum’s death. Although its sentiments were honestly meant, the marketing exec said it would have been very bad business not to make the effort, arguing: “The death of Sheikh Maktoum is a great loss for the country, but from a business point of view it is vital that we are seen to pay tribute to his life.” An e-mail from the marketing department of the Khaleej Times to businesses and media agencies was sent within hours of the announcement being made, providing interested parties with a rate card of how much it would cost to pay their respects. The message stated: “We at the Khaleej Times are offering companies in the UAE who want to place on record their condolence ads a very special rate for this purpose.” It went on to offer a full-page ad at AED12,000 (US$3270), a half-page at AED9000 (US$2454), and a quarter page at AED6000 (US$1635). The Gulf News, which carried the largest number of condolence ads in the English language press, had 90 full-page tributes in its pages on the Thursday and Friday following Sheikh Maktoum’s death. A rough calculation by Campaign of all sized ads for both days based on a media agency rate of AED20,838 (US$5678) a page shows that the newspaper will receive around AED2.5 million (US$675,000) in revenue — more than twice that of a normal day’s edition. Emirates Today, which ran 20 full-page ads on the Thursday, stands to take AED235,000 (US$65,000) based on an agency rate of AED11,775 (US$3200) for a full page. But newspapers rightly claim that businesses are not forced to place condolence ads in papers, and that the money helps to replace revenue lost from regular advertising that was pulled as a mark of respect for the Sheikh, who was prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai. Extra paper and printing costs are also incurred as a result of the expanded editions. “We are providing a service for people that want to show their sadness. They want to pay tribute and give their condolences, so the condolence ads are one of the ways to show it,” claims Abdul Hamid Ahmad, editor-in-chief at Gulf News. “We are not necessarily getting extra revenue. There are very many commercial ads that were cancelled for three or four days.” He adds: “The cost for these editions also goes up, you print more and consume more paper, there are more charges.” Ahmad said that the Gulf News already made significant contributions to charity each year, but said the idea of giving any of the extra revenue newspapers have made from condolence ads to charity was an “idea worth thinking about”.

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