Saudi Report 2021: New behaviours for a new environment, by W7Worldwide’s Abdullah Inayat

From CSR to creativity, Covid-19 has helped drive the rise of corporate communications in Saudi Arabia, writes W7Worldwide’s Abdullah Inayat.

While public relations was traditionally a one-way tool for governments and organisations in the kingdom to announce their news, now corporate communications is gaining ground and importance among organisations and companies looking to engage with today’s digitally empowered stakeholders at all levels. The Covid-19 pandemic played a significant role in pushing companies in Saudi Arabia towards accepting corporate communications and strategic PR as a key function to meet the ongoing challenges of the crisis. 

To understand Saudi Arabia’s public relations practice, it is important to know how cultural factors influence the country’s unique audience preferences, habits and influences. Communications strategies and PR campaigns need to consider the strong interrelationship between knowledge, culture and public communication. In addition, the new environment we live in requires new behaviour, a new way of life
and authentic interactions between people and organisations.

Companies have had to consider how to maintain a solid reputation in a fast-moving situation, from external to internal communications, Covid-19 crisis management and CSR initiatives. Business leaders have been expected to engage frequently with their internal and external audiences and the communications function has taken on a whole new strategic importance with the C-suite to protect corporate reputations. Everyone needed to review and adapt their communications and be much more sensitive to public and employee sentiment.

Employee engagement really came into its own last year and I expect this change is here to stay as companies are continuing to manage remote workforces, ongoing health and safety messaging, return-to-work policies and business recovery efforts. More than ever, Saudi organisations rely on the energy, commitment and engagement of their employees to survive.

In the drive for economic diversification and development under its Vision 2030 programme, Saudi Arabia had already undergone a rapid technology transformation to achieve the digital readiness required to respond to the pandemic. Online conversations and media consumption across all generations are at an all-time high in the kingdom, so brands have had to adapt to this new behaviour. We seized the opportunity of the growth of digital PR to achieve media coverage and engagement for our clients with quality content, creativity, relevance, and humanity as critical campaign elements.

Covid-19 has changed everything around corporate social responsibility (CSR). People are looking at the companies they do business with, and will support organisations that share values and beliefs similar to theirs. CSR is the strong arm that will help overcome the short- and long-term impact of Covid-19. Often considered as a ‘nice-to-have’ in the past, CSR is now a core element of the corporate communications strategies we formulate for our Saudi clients.

There is a greater need for localisation of communications that aligns with accurate and most up-to-date in-country public policy, economic circumstances and messaging. Right now, companies need to hit the ground running again and proactively reach out to their customers. This is where Saudi communications agencies and brands need to be bold and creative, from strategic creativity to content creation, to responding to the news agenda creativity, to campaign creativity. 

With the evolution of the communications industry in the kingdom, there is the acceptance that in-house departments and agencies no longer need to prove their value to senior management. The function of corporate communications is better understood and increasingly taken seriously as critical to long-term business survival. The point has been reached where the PR industry in Saudi Arabia is fast aligning with the standards of the global industry, and this development is set to continue against the backdrop of the country’s ambitious Vision 2030 development plans.

If we have learned anything from 2020 and the pandemic, it is the value of the corporate communications function as a strategic discipline. It is important to maintain this momentum and, as communicators, we must support business, governments and organisations by coming up with solutions and helping drive them forwards. There has never been a better opportunity for the PR and communications profession to come into its own in the kingdom to join corporate decision-makers and play an active role in determining the new strategies companies and organisations adopt to grow and prosper.