RSS

Focus on Iraq

VitalStatistics

Population: 31,129,225
Monetary unit: Dinar
Capital city: Baghdad
Major languages: Arabic, Kurdish, Turkmen and Assyrian
Major religions: Muslim 97% (Shia 60-65%, Sunni 32-37%), Christian or other 3%
Ethnic composition: Arab 75-80%, Kurdish 15-20%, Turkmen, Assyrian or other 5%
Age breakdown: 0-14 38%, 15-64 58.9%, 65+ 3.1%
Life expectancy: Male 69.41, Female 72.35
Education: N/A
Urban/Rural split: Urban 66%, Rural 34%
Income per household (USD): -
Broadband internet users (%): -

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica

Introduction

Nearly a decade after the US and its allies began dropping bombs on Baghdad, Iraq's economy is finally showing signs of life, but it appears as though it will be many years yet before the country is ready for a PR industry of any note. The International Monetary Fund forecasts Iraq's economy will grow 11.1% this year to about $144 billion. According to Dunia Frontier Consultants, last year, Iraq attracted $55.67 billion in foreign investment and other commercial activity, a 40% increase from the previous year.

 


A remarkable 21.5% of that foreign investment came from South Korea, and a trip to oil-rich Wasit in the south of the country where China's Shanghai Electric has a $1 billion deal to expand a power plant there, is enough to convince most visitors that future growth is likely to come from Asian rather than European or American investment.

 


Security remains a key issue. Suggest the idea of expansion into Iraq to boardrooms in Western Europe or North America and you will most likely be greeted with blanching faces and mutterings that it might be more sensible to start Middle East operations in Dubai. It is difficult to find staff who are willing to leave safe jobs in Frankfurt, Aberdeen or Houston, and persuade them to live in fortified compounds in Basra.

 

This affects those brave few who are prepared to enter Iraq's nascent PR industry. As a director of one of the few agencies to operate in Iraq says: “Planning a visit to an Iraqi client remains a little more complex than grabbing a cab or even, God forbid for City PR types, a five-stop tube ride. Five checkpoints, manned by various branches of Iraq's security forces, lie between Baghdad airport and the centre of the city. At around US$1,000 each way for the 15km journey it must be the most expensive airport transfer in the world.”

 


Another industry insider reports that security typically accounts for around 25% of a campaign budget. Yet it is not only these costs that hinder the development of the Iraqi PR industry. One industry insider who has worked in Iraqi media for several years but declined to be identified says: “Business in Iraq is all done on personal relationships. You do business with people in your family, your tribe, or your sect. Iraqis are locked into their existing perceptions, and there is little evidence that media campaigns can change them.”

 


Dr. Saad Al Hasani, Media & PR Senior Manager at Zain Telecom says: “Since 2003 there have been some noticeable developments in the Iraqi PR industry. These have mostly been in response to increased foreign investment in the country. Until recently the PR industry has been somewhat primitive, but I expect this to change rapidly as companies like Zain introduce new global concepts of PR , CSR and social sustainability. What was once a low profile PR department is fast changing into a very active department that is vital for the success of the company.”

Things are changing, but very slowly. For example, at the end of 2011 Zain, which with over 12 million subscribers is the country’s number one telco company, hired M:Communications to assist with its planned IPO on the Iraqi Stock Exchange. While it may come as a surprise to many overseas that Iraq even has a stock exchange, this is just one of a few financial PR deals in which we might see the tentative first steps of the Iraqi PR industry. 

 


 

Media

There are around 40 newspapers of note, and all are closely affiliated to a political party. Important newspapers include Al Sabah, Al Mada, Al Sharq Al Awsat, and Al Bayyna. The two leading magazines are Al Shabaka and Al Esboyia.


Sumer FM and Digila are two important radio stations, but as in much of the Arab world, television is the most important medium. Iraqis watch local TV stations for domestic news but also watch overseas channels such as Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera and BBC Arabic. They watch CNBC and other similar satellite channels for films and entertainment.

 


The main TV stations in the country are: Al Iraqiya, the government-financed television station; Al Sharqiya, Iraq's first privately owned satellite TV station; Al Sumaria, an independent Iraqi satellite TV network; Nawa TV, an Iraqi TV station broadcasting in Arabic and Kurdish; Al-Baghdadia TV, an Arab nationalist channel; Al Forat, the SIIC TV station; Ashur TV; Biladi; Baghdad TV; Al-Ifaq TV, the channel of Nuri al-Maliki the Prime Minister; Al-Rasheed TV; Ahlulbayt TV; Al Masar; Al Fayha; and Ishtar TV, an Assyrian & Chaldean station.

However, domestic electricity supply is a major problem with many houses in Baghdad receiving only 4 hours of electricity a day from the grid.  Private generators make up the shortfall but clearly this has an impact on television viewing.


This also affects the ability of Iraqis to get online. One industry insider says: “In my experience young Iraqis are on Facebook but they only go on it once or twice a day. They’re not on it 24/7 like their counterparts in Western Europe or North America.”

Major Brands

Oil is central to Iraq's economy so we might expect the oil industry to lead the way on PR. It is certainly leading its economic recovery. In 2002 Iraq was producing around 2.5 million barrels of oil a day; it now produces Iraq 3 million barrels a day. Much of that has been achieved with the help of international oil companies. Yet those companies are reluctant to discuss their PR activities.


Global consumer brands such as Pepsi and Coca-Cola are doing the most public work to build brands, alongside local consumer brands such as those from the Al Mara'ee Dairy Industry. Banks such as the Trade Bank of Iraq and HSBC partner, Darrusalam Bank, are also building names for themselves. However, all these companies are looking first to advertising rather than PR to build their brands.  


Financial PR is most prevalent. Asiacell and Korek Telecom have both taken steps in this direction, but it is Zain Telecom which has put together the campaign which bears the closest resemblance to a sophisticated Western PR campaign.

Zain’s message around its IPO – which is now scheduled for early 2013 - is that as well as being able to use the country’s best mobile phone network, all Iraqis will have a chance to own some of Zain Iraq themselves. M:Comms recently lined up two days of media interviews for Zain CEO which gave him a chance to reinforce the company’s dominant market position with representatives of the Iraqi print media as well as with the local correspondents of international wire services.  

Agencies

Albany Associates has worked with the Iraqi Government, Coalition Forces, and the Trade Bank of Iraq.

Two consultancies that operate outside of Iraq but have experience of working there are: M:Comms,  which is based in Dubai; and Forbes Associates, which has offices in Doha and Tripoli, and  recently conducted a communications audit for USAID.

Have we missed something? Click here to send us an update

PRWeek Global Thinktank sponsors