Crossing Jordan

Jordanians are fiercely proud of their country, which has its roots in Arabian tradition but is slowly modernising. The challenge for the media and marketing industry is to get businesses to place their trust in advertising, writes Richard Abbott

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By  Richard Abbott Published  May 21, 2006

Crossing Jordan|~|jordanpaper200.jpg|~|A Jordanaian reads a local newspaper|~|The Four Seasons hotel in Amman is under armed guard. The president of Indonesia is in town and the authorities are taking no risks, deploying armoured tanks and soldiers. Security is reassuringly tight. Last year’s suicide bomb attacks on three hotels in the city centre, which killed dozens of people, set back Jordan’s reputation as one of the safest places in the Middle East. Another such incident would be catastrophic for the economy. The country is slowly emerging as a force in the Arab world. With limited natural resources, it has worked hard to build hospitals and schools that are the envy of the wider region. The country’s advertising industry is also best defined by the word ‘emerging’. There are talented creatives and strong newspapers in Amman, and the number of titles, agencies and employees has been steadily increasing over the last two years. Not before time, according to industry insiders. “I have been here for 11 years. When we used to present to clients we might as well have been talking Chinese,” says Hussein Khader, general manager at sales house Seagulls Communications, one of the largest sellers of outdoor and radio space in Jordan. “Now I can feel the changes. Clients are becoming extremely demanding, and this is good news for everyone. It sharpens your skills — it keeps you on your toes.” It has been a long struggle for Jordan’s media and advertising industry to convince clients that advertising is a worthwhile way of spending their money. The view among bosses in Jordanian companies used to be that advertising is money thrown into the wind — a financial outlay that has no guarantee of a return on the investment. Rania Daniel, associate sales manager at outdoor operator Pikasso, says: “Advertising in Jordan is a new thing. Clients used to see it as an expense rather than an investment. Now budgets are increasing on an annual basis.” Rana Jundi, MD of independent creative agency Mint Advertising and Design Solutions, adds: “It is very active and has been for the last five years. Before then, the big brands weren’t aware of its importance. It is now extremely competitive.” And competition breeds better skills, according to Sharif AbuKhadra, Jordan chairman of The Holding Group, which includes Team Y&R, Intermarkets and Wunderman. “Jordan is one of the toughest markets to work in, whether you work in advertising, banking or retail. People are very demanding. So it is becoming more sophisticated,” he says Iyad Shehadeh, publisher and managing director at magazine publisher Grumpy Gourmet, agrees. “The advertising scene has grown tremendously in the last two years. Clients now believe in advertising and think of it when they are preparing their budgets,” he says. The figures are encouraging. Data from the Pan Arab Research Center suggests that spending on advertising in Jordan rose from US$55 million in 2003; to US$76 million in 2004; and US$108 million last year. Telecoms advertisers have fed much of this growth, with Fastlink and Mobilecom topping the spending table for last year. Jordan Telecom and Nokia are also present in the top 10. Ra’ed Bilbessi, managing director of Promoseven Jordan, says the growth of new sectors like mobile phones has fed this boom: “ The market is becoming very competitive and people are using advertising to distinguish themselves from their competitors,” he says. All areas of the media have benefited from this increase in spending, especially newspaper publishers, but also local outdoor firms. Daniel says: “We have seen 30% growth on average over the last five years. Everyone is looking at Jordan as an emerging market. A lot of multi-national agencies that closed their offices here are coming back.” But there is still a gap to bridge when it comes to clients’ knowledge of what advertising can do for them. Marwan Sharaiha, head of buying at Optimedia, says: “As rapid as the market is growing here, clients are still way behind.” Planners and non-print media owners alike are frustrated at clients’ obsession with print advertising. For many, it is all about having an ad in the biggest circulating Arabic daily, Al Rai. Nothing else matters to them. Accusations of unethical behaviour are also whispered with some clients allegedly reaching agreements with agencies behind closed doors, even when there is a competitive pitch process happening. Jundi says: “There is too much internal politics between agencies. When there is a new business pitch everyone in the market knows that ‘x’ will get the business.” Unadventurous clients can also stifle creativity, and this is one of the biggest bugbears for the Jordanian advertising scene. “It is a mix. Some of it is disastrous,” says Jundi. “There is room for development. Clients can be restricting. They need to test their agencies a bit more. “It is a battle with them because you have to make them understand that they are paying for advice. We should be listening to the client, of course, but there is this grey area where they have to stop.” There are also restrictions over what can be shown in advertising. Tobacco advertising is banned, and only magazines are allowed to carry ads for alcohol. Every campaign must pass through the Municipality before it gets printed or broadcast. Mint Advertising recently came up with an ad for an Islamic radio station that questioned the stereotypical views of Muslims. It disappeared soon after publication. “There is a ceiling but I don’t know how high it is,” admits Jundi. Seagulls’ Hussein Khader paints a more optimistic perspective of the country’s creative ability. “There is an adequate amount of talent in town,” he says. “And there is an acceptance of creative people in the advertising community. There is also an appreciation of creative fees from clients.” AbuKhadra says creatives are just as good in Amman as they are in Dubai or Jeddah. “We are now working on regional and international standards,” he says. “We have invested time and money in developing our creative products.” AbuKhadra has a special interest in the development of the Jordanian market. Not only does he run a handful of agencies, he is also president of the International Advertising Association (IAA) Jordan chapter. And last month he was named as the IAA’s world vice president for communications and public relations by new world president and CEO of The Holding Group, Joseph Ghossoub. Maya Mufti, communications manager at Leo Burnett Amman, says creative levels are not yet reaching the standards set by nearby Beirut, but she insists that the real measure of how well Jordan is doing is in the implementation of campaigns. “The way of judging a campaign now is not just about its creativity. It is about integration — how well it can be used across different media,” she argues. But Jawad Abbassi, founder and president of the Arab Advisors Group, a research company specialising in media and telecoms, has a warning for the industry. He believes business is too concentrated. He says: “It is a very thriving advertising scene. Banking and telecoms account for 70%. But if you are dependent on two economic sectors this is dangerous. What if they decide to direct their spending away from advertising?” Thankfully, there is plenty of work to go around, and most of the international advertising and media networks have a presence in Amman. The issue of agency selection, however, can be a thorny one. Jundi’s Mint Advertising is an independent agency, which she describes as ‘boutique’. Its clients include Mastercard and the Four Seasons hotel in Amman, which are both reputable pieces of business for any portfolio. But she thinks there is a bias towards the larger agencies. “Most clients have a kind of blind trust with an international agency name. It is tough for us,” she says. “We get clients who are fed up with the big agencies and they feel the service is impersonal. I think we can provide better creative work because we are not like a factory. “Business can be very cliquey here. The same companies get the same old accounts. It is difficult for people who just want to be creative.” Promoseven’s Bilbessi says that it makes sense for clients to use an agency with pan-Arab links. He argues: “Clients prefer to work with a large agency because they know they have the resources. The regional presence is also good if they are planning to operate outside Jordan.” If clients are steadily being convinced that advertising is a worthwhile way of spending their money, PR practitioners still have more work to do. While a sales uplift following an advertising campaign is relatively simple to track, the effects of PR are much more difficult to measure. Bashir Mraish, PR director of Action PR, says: “Some people want to see something tangible when they spend their money. “But it is not like that. You have to see PR as a long-term strategy. “Local companies are slowly understanding what PR does. It is an educational process from the agency to the client. When we do a presentation to a potential client we have to explain that media is direct marketing to the people but PR is much more complex. “We do feel that there is light at the end of the tunnel.” AbuKhadra, whose network also includes Asda’a and Polaris PR, says: “Clients have already realised that they have to invest in their brands. Clients are also understanding the role of PR and that advertising can’t solve all your problems.” Whether in advertising, media or PR, one thing unites the communications industry in Jordan — the struggle to find staff with the right skills. Jordan has strong educational facilities and some local universities have been given IAA accreditation for their creative and design-led courses. But the influx of local graduates with the right skills is not happening yet. And those that have marketable skills often choose to head for the bright lights of Dubai instead. “Jordan is losing too many people to the Gulf. What those guys don’t realise is that even though the salaries are better, the cost of living means they will be poorer,” says Promoseven’s Bilbessi, who poached his current creative director from a Dubai agency. Rana Jundi is another who struggles to find the right staff. “This is definitely a problem. We have universities giving advertising and design degrees but they are not up to the level we require yet,” she says. “Being a designer is quite a fashionable thing to be now. But we get people who have the technical skills but not the artistic talent.” Shehadeh says the problem lies in the upbringing of some Jordanians, who are spoiled by their parents. “It is extremely hard. Sales is a nightmare. They are too spoiled. They live on daddy and mummy’s allowance. They don’t take it seriously. Loyalty doesn’t exist,” he says. AbuKhadra says it will not be long before Jordanians are filling senior positions in Amman-based agencies. “Jordanians have got potential but they don’t have the right training and education,” he says. “Department heads are mainly ex-pats but hopefully their successors will be local. We have already got to the point where Dubai-based multi-nationals are hiring people from Jordan.” He says the IAA accreditation scheme should give the industry graduates who meet their job requirements. Producing a steady influx of talented people sounds like a recipe for success. If only it were that easy. The next challenge for Jordan is to learn how to keep them.||**||Newspaper nation|~|Sharaiha,-marwan200.jpg|~|Marwan Sharaiha, head of buying at Optimedia|~|Amman is a divided city. The luxurious villas of West Amman contrast sharply with the dilapidated apartment blocks in the East; shiny 4x4s from the West jostle for road space with decaying bangers from the East. The medium that unites the entire population is newspapers, although geographic, economic and political differences decide who reads what. TV viewing is focused on satellite channels that are too expensive for local advertisers, while outdoor is pushing forward as rival media suffer from fragmentation. The big problem, however, is research — or the lack of it. Jawad Abbassi, president of the Amman-based Arab Advisors Group, says: “There is no consensus on ratings that advertisers, agencies and clients agree on.” Ipsos-Stat is widely used, but newspapers and magazines are free to claim whatever circulation figure they see fit. Marwan Sharaiha, head of buying at Optimedia, is sceptical about the claimed circulations for Jordanian newspapers. “Put it this way,” he says. “If Al Rai’s printing machine broke down for a day, we wouldn’t know about it.” Iyad Shehadeh, publisher and managing director at Grumpy Gourmet, is damning in his verdict: “Research is absolutely irrelevant. It is poorly conducted and in the wrong area,” he says. “Everyone increases their numbers. We have called for a body to come to Jordan to audit everyone. You can’t just keep multiplying your circulation. That is just misleading clients.” NEWSPAPERS Al Rai is the newspaper of choice in the East, while the two-year-old Al Ghad has made inroads into the more affluent West. Newspapers account for more than 70% of the US$108 million invested in advertising in Jordan in 2005. So it comes as no surprise that some advertisers look no further than the press. “If you want to know what is going on in Jordan, you have to buy Al Rai. It is like the newsletter of the nation. It is read by at least one person in every household,” says Abbassi. Sharaiha says Al Rai’s success is self-reciprocating. “If someone dies everyone puts a condolence ad in Al Rai. Because of that everyone advertises in it. Every media plan features Al Rai,” he says. Al Rai’s publisher, the Jordan Press Foundation, claims a circulation of 100,000. Its nearest rival, Al Dustour, claims 80,000. Emphasis in both cases should be placed on the word ‘claims’. All of Jordan’s Arabic dailies have the same rate cards but Al Rai is understood to have the smallest discounts. Al Ghad, launched two years ago by the Jordan United Press Company, is attempting to break Al Rai’s grip on the market by using heavily discounted subscriptions. Currently it claims a circulation of 25,000. Mohamed Alayyan, publisher and chairman at Al Ghad, says: “Before Al Ghad came along 90% of sales were done at the point of sale. We saw this as an opportunity to build a subscription based model. Seventy percent of our sales are by subs,” he says. This is a long-term game. Al Ghad is targeting young people, using subscriptions to build loyalty. Alayyan says Al Ghad will eventually overtake Al Rai as his readers get older. However, some advertisers have issues with the quality of newspaper advertising. Sharaiha says: “You can get lost in Jordan’s newspapers. Some of them put four quarter page ads on the same page.” And Ra’ed Bilbessi, managing director of Promoseven Jordan, says he has started using inserts because of poor print quality in some newspapers. “We really value creativity and this gets lost if you have lousy print,” he says. Many in the advertising industry are getting frustrated about the lack of flexibility from clients, who refuse to look at any other option than newspapers, and Al Rai in particular. Hussein Khader, general manager at media sales house Seagulls Communications, says: “Media planners lack initiative. The client is used to using press. Whenever the client says ‘I want to do press’, the agency just lets them have it.” Sharaiha argues that clients are not fully educated about the media options available in Jordan. “They know Al Rai is number one so they stick to that. They never go for emerging media,” he says. Abbassi, who has conducted research on this subject, says that media fragmentation has made the young population harder to target. “This is why outdoor is becoming more popular,” he says. OUTDOOR Outdoor has traditionally been used heavily by fast food companies and banks, but the last few years have seen its overall market share increase thanks to the boom in the Jordan telecoms market. The main outdoor operators in Jordan are Pikasso, which offers 1000 yellow-framed panels in 21 cities, and Seagulls Communications, which has 1100 faces. A relatively new addition to Amman’s outdoor industry is Spot Sign, which has large format billboards next to busy Amman road junctions. “It is all about visibility,” says Sharaiha. There is a lot of outdoor advertising in Amman city centre, prompting some to call for better regulation. Rana Jundi, founder of Mint Advertising, says: “Wherever there is a space there is a sign. “It is horrible. You don’t feel there is a sense of planning. Every space is taken. It is a bit crammed” All new advertising sites must be approved by the government before they are made available to advertisers. “There has been some limitations from the government but now more walls are available,” says Rania Daniel associate sales manager at Pikasso. “They have opened up some breathing space for us. “Because we have very rigid rules, it is tough to innovate. Advertising agencies are trying to introduce new designs but they are stopped by the Municipality. They are worried that they will lose control of the infastructure of the city.” Daniel insists clutter is not an issue. “No, it can take much more. It is not yet saturated,” she says. If outdoor is to increase its market share into double digits, better audience research will be needed. But Hussein Khader, general manager at Seagulls, admits: “If you want to do a traffic count, it is a massive investment and no-one is prepared to fund it.” Television TV is a dilemma for agencies and advertisers in Jordan. Most homes have a satellite dish and watch pan-Arab channels like MBC and LBC. However, many local advertisers simply cannot afford the high rates. Optimedia’s Sharaiha, sums up the problem with TV: “Most households in West Amman have a satellite dish, which means that advertisers need to use pan-Arab channels like MBC or LBC to reach them. The cost of doing this, however, is prohibitive for most local advertisers.” Bilbessi adds: “How do you know who is watching MBC? In a media plan, getting 10% of an audience as your target is no good.” Arab Advisors’ Abbassi says the average revenue per user (ARPU) for satellite TV providers is higher in West Amman but their total revenue is higher in East Amman because of the dense population. “The per capita consumption is lower but you can make a lot of money there,” he says. The state-run Jordan TV network is the only local offering, but all this will change when the Jordan United Press Company launches the family-oriented news and entertainment channel ATV this summer (see box, top right). Sharif AbuKhadra, chairman of The Holding Group in Jordan, is upbeat about the prospects for ATV. “These days it is all about programming. The viewer doesn’t care where the signal is coming from,” he says. “We have a very weak terrestrial TV offer. But we are still convinced that people want to watch something with a local flavour.” Alayyan has high hopes for ATV, and expects it to eventually command up to 50% of advertising share, but he argues that this does not mean newspapers will fall by the wayside. “The overall market will grow and newspapers’ share might go down but they will still make money,” he says. RADIO Jordan’s airwaves have become a lot more diverse in the last three years following the decision to allow private media owners to broadcast. The first station to take advantage of this, in 2003, was Radio Fann. Since then, competition for ears has reached fever pitch with a whole glut of stations launching in both Arabic and English language. Popular new music stations include Beat FM and Mood FM, which are both owned by Hussein Khader’s Seagulls Communications; the Arab Media Network’s Mazaj FM; and Modern Media’s Play 99.6. However, Optimedia’s Sharaiha is unconvinced of radio advertising’s appeal. “You only have time to listen to the radio when you are in the car,” he says. “And when advertising breaks come in, you switch. They should all agree that their ads will run at the same time.” Khader is as good a salesman for radio as a medium as he is for his own stations. And he disagrees with Sharaiha over how people listen. “Radio listenership has gone up because of private ownership,” he says. “More people listen to the radio in their homes than in their cars. Young people spend more time in the house than in the car. “Radio is now part of every media plan but we still feel it is undervalued. With time, it will increase drastically.” MAGAZINES Magazines are the poor cousins of newspapers in Jordan. They simply cannot compete with the frequency and circulation. In terms of advertising, latest figures from the Pan Arab Research Center put magazines’ share at about 5%, behind newspapers, TV and outdoor. The last few years have seen a glut of new titles launched into the market, with best known titles including Al Farida’s Jordanian version of society magazine Layalina; and Grumpy Gourmet’s English language Jordan Business Monthly. But quantity doesn’t necessarily equate to quality. Iyad Shehadeh of Grumpy Gourmet, says: “We don’t copy and paste from the internet like 99% of publications in Jordan. “None of the publications are specialist. It’s a copycat world.” And Mint’s Rana Jundi is critical too. “In the past year there has been a magazine coming out every month, but 70% of them have no content at all,” she says. Shehadeh says that publishers who invest in homegrown editorial should charge more for their advertising and calls for an agreed rack rate that publishers should never go below. “In Jordan, we have the cheapest media that can be bought in the Middle East,” he says. INTERNET According to online source Internet WorldStats, Jordan has an online population of 600,000 people, which is a penetration of 11.4%. And with just over one in ten people using the internet, it comes as no surprise that businesses are yet to log on to the medium’s potential as an advertising vehicle. But most expect a breakthrough soon. Sharaiha believes there is potential for advertisers to use tools like MSN Messenger to reach young Jordanians, who come into contact with the internet throughout their working day. “This is the next boom,” he says. Internet businesses based in Jordan include Maktoob, home of the world’s largest Arab online community, and Jeeran, which offers the latest web technologies, such as blogs, to users across the Arab world. Omar Koudsi, president of Jeeran, says: “People are really beginning to understand the potential of online. People aged 12 to 21 don’t spend much time in front of the TV anymore. They are online. Media campaigns are starting to reflect that. But we have to break down years of tradition. “Most of the campaigns that we get are because people are looking for the cool factor. Very few companies pursue online as a real medium. “Some people just want to do what is comfortable, and when they hear the technological terms associated with online, they don’t understand.” From a publishing perspective, newspapers and magazines are also starting to embrace the net. Al Ghad has an award-winning website that is accessed by Jordanians across the planet. Grumpy Gourmet’s Shehadeh says: “You can’t live without the internet. Definitely I would like to make my website more profitable. IT in Jordan is much stronger than anywhere else in the Arab world.” Direct marketing DM is yet to be tested as a medium in Jordan. Old fashioned leafleting is commonplace but the potential of bulk SMS and e-mail campaigns is a relatively unexplored area. Optimedia’s Sharaiha says: “I would say bulk e-mail is a very good idea but no-one does it. It is cheaper and I know that everyone who receives it is going to read it.” AbuKhadra, whose business includes direct marketing arm Wunderman, says that DM suffers from the poor quality of consumer databases that are available. “The database has to be highly targeted,” he says.||**||

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