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A tale of transformation – insights from the Global Communication Partners 2018 AGMby Susie Bell

The theme of this year’s Global Communication Partners (GCP) Annual General Meeting, held in Dubai, was transformation.

In recent decades Dubai has sought to transform itself from a dusty desert trading post to a sprawling global metropolis. For a city that didn’t have a single sky scraper 40 to 50 years ago, Dubai now hosts the Middle Eastern headquarters of some of the world’s leading companies.

Now in its 23rd year, GCP brings together 17 talented boutique communications firms from around the world.

The two-day conference offered a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the evolving United Arab Emirates region, as well as how we, as independently owned companies, can share best practice experiences and adapt to constantly changing market conditions.

Host agency Borouj Consulting pulled together an impressive line-up of expert speakers from the region’s thriving start-up and tech scene, together with more traditional financial services and measurement research firms.

While each had their own tale of transformation to tell—from navigating the region’s complex tax structures and regulation to the opportunities and challenges that come in the lead up to Dubai hosting Expo2020—they mostly all had a similar conclusion: This city is very much open for business.

ICOs and crypto

A common thread to come out of the agency discussions and debates focused on fintech and more specifically on the rise of cryptocurrencies and assessing the various risks and rewards around managing ICOs.

While regulation around ICOs is still largely being ironed out, there is no doubt that this emerging sector, or, at the very least, the disruptive blockchain technology behind it, will significantly transform the way the financial services industry, and society more broadly, operates.

Reputation management in the digital age

Another timely area of conversation was around reputation management in the digital age. It just so happened that the timing of the conference coincided with the Facebook/ Cambridge Analytica data story unravelling, so there was much to discuss around brand and reputation vulnerability. Much of this reinforced the importance of monitoring and tracking conversations online, but not letting the online noise dictate your approach or response.

Pages one and two of Google were described as the battleground of reputation – the modern-day version of a company’s brochure and reputation.  If firms do not invest in managing their digital footprint and organising their digital assets, then they are leaving their brand and reputation in the hands of others. 

When considering how we should approach strategic planning in the digital age, the best summation was that “You don’t need a digital strategy - you need a business strategy that’s relevant in the digital age.”

Measuring impact in a world of transformation

Of course, as most seasoned communications professionals will tell you, “If you are not measuring what you are doing, then how can you manage it?” One of the final sessions of the conference examined past, current and future trends in PR measurement and covered how the industry is shifting from pure metrics and basic output reporting to tracking meaning and business impact.

The session also touched on measurement in a post-truth world. While scandal and mistrust have always existed, the sheer rate and scale around how this is now communicated is rapidly accelerating through social and digital media. All of which highlights the necessity of measuring trust and credibility.

We’re also seeing a global shift in stakeholder groups—and nowhere more profoundly than in the Middle East where social media has given a generation a new voice. Emerging audiences, or Modern Tribes, no longer consist of traditional, predictable and lasting stakeholder groups. They are more temporary, unorthodox and unpredictable. The Modern Tribes are bound and defined by new metrics such as issue affiliation, social contract, mobility and communal values rather than the traditional metrics such as gender, age and location.

Measuring Modern Tribes means refining stakeholder mapping and a big re-alignment in audience measurement. Only by understanding the engagement and messages that will foster trust with these ‘tribes’, will communications professionals be able to transform the PR and communications campaigns of the future.

Looking ahead

I left Dubai feeling inspired by the discussions with global agency peers and the insights that can be applied in Australia.

The 2019 GCP AGM will be held in a post-Brexit Brussels so the theme of transformation will likely continue!

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