Monetary unit: Lebanese pound (LBP)
Capital city: Beirut
Major languages: Arabic
Major religions: Muslim c. 56%, of which Shi(i c. 28%, Sunni c. 28%; Maronite (Eastern-rite Roman Catholic) c. 22%; Greek Orthodox c. 8%; Druze c. 5%; Greek Catholic c. 4%; other c. 5%
Ethnic composition: Arab 84.5%, of which Lebanese 71.2%, Palestinian 12.1%; Armenian 6.8%; Kurd 6.1%; other 2.6%
Age breakdown: under 15, 27.6%; 15–29, 27.1%; 30–44, 21.7%; 45–59, 13.6%; 60–74, 7.7%; 75–84, 2.0%; 85 and over, 0.3%
Life expectancy: male 69.9 years; female 74.2 years
Education: Percentage of population age 4 and over hav- ing: no formal education or unknown 13.7%; incomplete primary education 3.2%; primary 54.2%; secondary/vocational 15.5%; upper vocational 1.7%; higher 11.7%. Literacy (2005): total population age 15 and over literate 88.3%; males literate 93.6%; females literate 83.4%
Urban/Rural split: urban 86.6%; rural 13.4%
Income per household (USD): $7,970
Broadband internet users (%): -
Source: Encyclopedia Britannica
With a population of just over 4 million, Lebanon is a small country with a difficult recent history. During the country’s bitter, drawn-out civil war between 1975 and 1990, its capital Beirut became a synonym for the ravages of war, and, after 16 years of peace, stability and reconstruction, in 2006 conflict returned with the month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah.
These factors have combined to make Lebanon a less attractive prospect for foreign companies than other more settled countries in the region. Lama Kabbani is currently Corporate Communications Manager at Visa Middle East and was previously Cisco’s PR Manager in Lebanon. She says: “In recent years fear of unrest has held the Lebanese economy back.”
Yet, despite this, in the past year or two the economy has in fact bounced back. The country has a long tradition of tourism – before the civil war Beirut was known as ‘the Paris of the East’ – and despite a dent in its reputation in 2006, that industry has enjoyed a renaissance. Furthermore, its strict regulations on the banking sector to a very great extent insulated it from the worst of the 2008 global financial crisis.
According to the World Bank, Lebanon’s economy grew by 7% in 2010, and this has been reflected in an increasingly confident media and PR sector. Hannah Naji, marketing director for Jaguar Land Rover in the Middle East & North Africa, says: “Although PR has been a misunderstood industry in the past, often mistaken for advertising or marketing, the practice has gained real weight recently in the local market. This has been reflected in the emergence of new independent PR agencies as well as large shifts of budgets from ad groups to PR agencies.”
According to press freedom body, Reporters Without Borders, the media have more freedom in Lebanon than in any other Arab country.
Kabbani at Visa reports that there is also a close and constructive relationship between companies and the media. “The media frequently come to us for data,” she says. “We provide them with information on consumer spending, Internet penetration and so on.”
It comes as little surprise that when asked which sectors and brands dominate editorial coverage in Lebanon most experts point immediately to the tourism sector. Other sectors that achieve notable coverage include fashion retailers – both local and international designers – banks such as BankMed, Byblos and BLOM, real estate companies and developers such as Group Plus and Solidere, and multi-brand distributors such as Fattal and Tawtal.
Naji at Jaguar Land Rover
points out that these agencies have been involved in increasingly sophisticated PR activities. “We’ve found that events have been the most successful aspect of our public relations work,” she says.
“We’ve been creating a buzz amongst the public while also directly involving the media. In addition, sponsorship and corporate social responsibility is playing an ever more important role.”