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French Version

Edelman survey shows Arab World’s image improving

The United States, Europe and Asia associate the Arab world less with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and extremism, and more as a growth market than they did two years ago, according to an international survey conducted among C-level executives in the three regions by Edelman, the world’s largest independent PR agency, and its Middle East partner Asda’a.

In a significant twist, the May 2006 survey also found American business leaders the most keen to do business in the Arab world, almost twice as eager as their counterparts from the EU and Asia. The second Arab World image study, conducted among 76 C-level executives including CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, COOs and other senior business leaders around the world, gauged attitudes towards the region and its business, policy and social environment, and explored concerns about conducting business here.

The survey and its findings were presented during a Davos WorkSpace session on “Marketing and Branding the Middle East” at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East. The 3-day forum, was held at the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El Sheikh, from May 20-23, 2006. Session expert David Brain, president and CEO Europe, Edelman, likened the image study to sorely needed illumination in a darkened room. “The study is not only an indicator of sentiment in a relationship often muddled with mixed signals and misunderstandings, but an effective temperature gauge,” Brain said. “The closed door is opening, the darkness lifting, and signs of a much calmer, reasoned and sustainable rapport are slowly emerging. For the Arab world, right now is the right time to reach out.”

Looking ahead, the study provided two concrete recommendations for Arab governments, industry bodies and corporate sectors to improve outreach to the three regions: First, to increase the level of business-specific information available, particularly data related to investment opportunities and fiscal incentives, legal and regulatory framework, governance issues, infrastructure availability and cost implications. Edelman and Asda’a also suggested the best way to address concerns over the political climate and security issues is to do so in a sustained, focused and strategic manner via newspapers, television and the Internet. “What we have here is an unambiguous mandate from American, European and Asian business leaders,” said Asda’a Managing Director Sunil John. “This is a clear indication that the business community in those countries and regions are ready, willing and eager to work in and with the Arab world.

The Arab world must be able to reciprocate with clear, cohesive and pertinent messaging.” The 2006 survey suggests greater nuance and sophistication emerging from the commonly held stereotypes of the Arab world. Responding to the question, “What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word Arabs,” 36 percent of those polled said oil and sand, 24 percent said a growing market, and 21 percent said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Extremism and the war in Iraq registered 11 percent and 9 percent of the vote respectively. The numbers are a significant improvement from the 2004 survey, when 36 percent listed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as their primary association, 20 percent said extremism and 11 percent said the war in Iraq. When asked if they would consider doing business in the region again, 87 percent of American executives replied with a resounding “Yes,” compared to 40 percent of European business leaders and 43 percent Asian leaders.

In other good news, the majority of the business leaders polled—80 percent—see the Arab world as a diverse, heterogeneous region rather than a single homogeneous location or unfamiliar territory. The image study also unearthed its share of bad news and grey areas, chief among them the lack of awareness and information about the Arab world. Less than one in five executives rated their awareness of the region’s business environment as at least good, with 81 percent instead classifying it as either weak or average. The region’s resource base once again ranked as the most positive aspect of the Arab world’s business environment, far outstripping its location, people and size, and suggesting that oil and gas still dominate perceptions of its potential.

Unsurprisingly, security issues and the political climate dominated the list of concerns about doing business here, with 53 percent of American executives listing security as their top concern. European and Asian respondents, on the other hand, listed the political climate as their primary concern. WEF “Marketing and Branding the Middle East” session, drew some of the biggest regional and international names in business, government and the communications industry as participants. The special guests of the session were Mr Zoheir Garranah, Minister of Tourism of Egypt and Mr Munir Nassar, Minister of Tourism and Antiquities of Jordan. Discussion leaders included Muhammad Alshaya, CEO of the Kuwait-based Alshaya Group; Jean-Claude Baumgarten, president of the World Travel and Tourism Council and Farid Chehab, chairman and CCO of H&C Leo Burnett SARL. The facilitator for the session was BBC World presenter Nik Gowing besides David Brain and Sunil John.

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