Qatar’s coming of age

Qatar is emerging from the shadows of its Gulf neighbours to prove there is more to its media industry than Al Jazeera, writes Richard Abbott

  • E-Mail
By  Richard Abbott Published  January 29, 2006

Qatar’s coming of age|~|qatarcorniche200.jpg|~|Locals enjoy the Doha view|~|Qatar is one of the wealthiest countries in the world but it is only now that its media and advertising industry is emerging from the backwaters. With a population of less than a million, the peninsula has traditionally been a secondary consideration for agencies and advertisers, with ads being created and traded in nearby Dubai or Riyadh. But times are changing. The selection of Doha as host for the Asian Games in December this year has provided a catalyst for wholesale changes in the city’s infastructure. The wider media world has taken notice, and multinationals are eyeing up office space. “It is the fastest growing economy in the world. It’s going to be the richest country on earth within two years,” says Anthony Ryman, managing director of branding agency Grow. “There is a real commitment from everyone you meet to put Qatar on the world map — a vision from above to do wonders here. There is huge growth potential and a willingness to do whatever it takes to make things happen.” Ravi Raman, general manager of Oryx Publishing — which publishes Qatar’s only English language monthlies, Qatar Today and Woman Today — agrees. “The country has changed a lot. It is no longer oil and gas,” he says. “It is a wealthy country but investments are being made in the right area, like education. That will bring results over the years — a better knowledge economy.” A trip around Doha confirms that the city is in a serious growth phase. Roads are being upgraded and construction has been stepped up to cater for an increased demand for offices and hotels. The airport is being expanded to cater for the rapid growth of the country’s national airline, Qatar Airways. A new airport, to the east of the city, is scheduled to be ready for 2009. The airport used to handle about 3.5 million passengers a year, with 75% passing through in transit. Now Doha has seven million passengers and 60% are staying in Doha. “It is an incredible time to be here. It is a golden age in Qatar. We have an extremely visionary government,” says Nigel Parsons, managing director of Al Jazeera International. Parsons has been busy recruiting, and has found a willingness from staff to move to a city that has traditionally been seen as the poor cousin of Middle East hubs like Dubai and Beirut. Despite the relative lack of attractions when compared to nearby Dubai, the expat community is steadily growing. “A lot of people said it would be very difficult to attract staff here. But it is not a hardship posting,” says Parsons. Multinational agencies are gradually coming into the region having previously relied on the Dubai office for local support. “They are all looking at Qatar but just waiting for the right time,” says Raman. Grey Worldwide opened an office in Doha in late 2005 and already has more than 20 people working there, on accounts including the Asian Games and telecoms operator Q-tel. Rebecca Bouchebel, country PR manager for Grey Worldwide, says the Games — heralded by the organisers as the world’s biggest multi-sports event after the Olympics — have triggered a boom that has been on the cards for more than a decade. “Qatar is not trying to compete with Dubai or look like Dubai. They are more interested in sport and education. That is why the Asian Games are so important. Everything is based around it.” And clients are getting in on the act too. “I can detect a lot more bravery from clients,” she says. The Asian Games are just the opportunity Qatar has been waiting for. The organisers say the long-term benefits will include “national and international recognition of the host city through extensive media exposure; and community benefits including sharpening the skills of the locals and an opportunity to enhance the cultural exchange with Asia”. Ryman says: “It is the second largest sporting event in the world. For a country like Qatar that is a tremendous challenge to deliver. “If you look historically at games per se, they deliver on infastructure and a fast track training and education programme. Experts come in from abroad and transfer skills.” Raman agrees: “There is a buoyancy in the market. It has become a target for a lot of people. Because of that, a lot is happening and a lot of companies are getting their act together sooner,” he says. “The only way it can go is up. Everyone is building right now.” But there is a problem — few individuals beyond Qatar know about this boom. Raman says: “Unfortunately not many people outside Qatar know about the growth that it is experiencing. We, as media, need to spread the message. “Currently, if you talk about Qatar you talk about Al Jazeera, the Asian Games and that’s about it. But there is a lot more to talk about.” A little bit of national PR wouldn’t go amiss. Some advertisers have not got around to the Asian games yet. Ten months is an awfully long time in a country where everything seems to be planned at the eleventh hour and deadlines are pushed to the limit.||**||Qatar’s coming of age|~|ryman,-anthony200.jpg|~|Anthony Ryman of Grow|~|“Qatar is a last minute country. Your reflexes have to be really quick,” says Nishaa Varman, business manager for the Internal Media Services division of Qatar Airways. Her job is to sell the advertising within Doha airport. Varman is the exception to the rule — she has already sold out for the duration of the games. “We have already sold everything during the games,” she says. The reason why Varman has sold out while others are waiting for the big games rush is down to the fact that her clients are multinational brands like perfumes and electronics brands — the kind of products that need to target an international audience. These brands understand the importance of branding as a marketing tool, a mindset that has not yet been fully established in Qatar. Ryman is hoping to change all that. He identified a gap in the local market for a company that offers strategic brand development advice. He is now working with companies in the fields of banking, property, hospitality and leisure, giving them a way of building their business through better branding and clearer communication with their customers and clients. Grow is preparing to move into a new office in the Al Hindassa Building, and is well placed for expansion. “There is an awareness of brand but not necessarily an appreciation of the power of brands,” says Ryman. “The leading companies in the region have invested in their brands and that will be a guiding light for those companies who haven’t grasped the importance of brand as the core of communications. “If you want to be on the world stage, you have to have a world class brand. Those that are very much customer-centric, whose operations need to relate to customers on a daily basis, have appreciated the importance of branding. “There are a lot of very smart people here. It is not just about pretty pictures. It is about growing brands.” Raman agrees, and says his publishing operation has seen a shift from ads that encourage a direct sale to more strategic branding ads. But this will take time — and until then, media owners and agencies alike will remain frustrated by the type of advertising requested by clients. “Consumers respond well to product related advertising. The concept of branding is still vague here,” says Varman. “Some clients want to take a print ad, resize it and use it in the airport. It can be difficult to explain to a client who wants to place an ad, and then wants to hear his phone ring with a sale as soon as it runs. “This is the only country where I have seen a Chanel ad on a random mupi in an industrial area.” Romel Ghosn, media director at Qatar Media Services — the sales house that represents Al Jazeera and also sells the country’s outdoor advertising — goes further. He says there is still work to be done to convince advertisers that advertising is a worthwhile investment. “If you asked a client to advertise on television they used to laugh at you, but this is changing,” he says. “The market is poorly educated regarding production. They think it a waste of money. Even if they spend very little, they think they are getting ripped off,” he says. “As more agencies come to the market, this will change the mentality.” He agrees that clients are too focused on the short-term and joins the call for a more brand-centric approach. “There is a lot of clutter in newspapers. The adverts are everywhere and they are not at all creative,” he says. “They put too much information in their adverts. They are paying for a space and they want to squeeze it for all it is worth. They don’t know anything about how adverts can be negative. It is all about seeing their name but often it can create a bad image. But we are convincing people that this is not the right thing to do. And as bigger companies come to the market they will look at how their image is portrayed.” And this is where companies like Ryman’s Grow hope to capitalise. Qatari consumers are value driven, and they like to receive information that offers them a better quality of lifestyle. “They are hungry for information,” says Raman. “There is so much happening in the country. It is not like the Dubai market, which is mature and expects lots to happen. In Qatar this has only been happening recently.” But he believes the media needs to do more to provide local information. “There is a lack of information. Often, you get to know about an event after it happened,” he says. “The media, right now, is not mature enough. Magazines have a long way to go. We are the only monthly magazines in the country. I believe that the maturity of a market is judged by magazines, not newspapers.” That situation is likely to change very soon. As Qatar develops as a nation, and the Asian Games provides a catalyst for an improved infastructure in Doha, standards of media and advertising are likely to evolve too. It may be small, but in 2006 Qatar is set to make big waves.||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code