U.S.-based corporate information distribution service PR Newswire is celebrating its 60th anniversary with a desire to expand further in the Middle East, where the market still needs to be “educated” about its services, its CEO told Al Arabiya News in an interview on Monday.
CEO Ninan Chacko said PR Newswire is seeking to “adapt an approach on how to grow business in this region,” noting the client base in the region is “cautious” and not fully aware of the company’s services.
“Dubai is very external facing and very commercial; Qatar is following behind, but the rest of the region is in a stage of transiting. There are large opportunities in Saudi Arabia but it is very inward facing,” Chacko said.
The PR company stepped its foot in the region when it opened its Dubai office in 2007. The Emirate now takes the lion’s share of the company’s 90 percent MENA market operations.
“Other areas require different approach, there are a lot of complexities to grow business in this region,” the company’s CEO said.
He said the main task for the company now is to “educate” the market about its services. “Then the focus will come back to business, it will help our businesses over time,” he said. “It is about educating the corporate sector.”
Chacko shared PR Newswire’s story in China to explain the situation in the MENA.
“The journalism industry in China was not very well developed. Over the years, we educated these websites, we met with them. Then we had understanding and awareness and business started growing,” he said.
“So we are still in the phase of educating the broader market [in MENA], I think Dubai is decent but outside, there needs to be a lot to be done,” he said, noting that each region or country whether MENA, China or Europe is different.
PR Newswire which distributes to more than 200,000 media points and 10,000 websites worldwide covers almost 100 websites in the region in Arabic and 150 in English.
“We launched in India domestically a couple of years ago, we are up to 100 website in India, mostly leading major publication. If you compare with the UAE alone, 150 English websites, that is very positive.”
However, for Chacko sky is the limit.
“Ideally I like to see a couple of thousand websites, in the next two years. I think part of the challenge, it is a new business model, not a lot of companies do what we do.”
Q&A with Ninan Chacko, Chief Executive Office of PR Newswire.
Q: What are the future plans for the MENA region?
A: For us, it is about expanding our presence that means growing our team here in Dubai. To give you an idea, business is fundamentally the function of a team led by Sales Manager Louise Bennett focusing on business development while PR and Marketing Manager Jenan al-Mussawi, who is building relationships with the media and growing our presence.
Historically our business was about taking content from our customers and distributing it to the media, that business has grown beyond that narrow definition. Of course our primary business is about establishing relationships with media outlets all over the region, so we are connected to a number of different journalists, and various outlets. We also had journalists coming to us. I think there are about 700 journalists in the MENA region, who actually come to us, because they believe we are an integral part on how they get their news. They come for our portal PR Newswire for journalists to get what interests them or feed their coverage. They can customize what to receive from us. We also send content to a broader segment to about 15 or 16 hundred journalists.
Q: So is the market picking up?
A: Clearly the run-up for 2008 was very powerful. I think from the point of being an excellent business category in the region with Dubai being obviously the center, the recovery feels more cautious. It feels more of the participants in the PR and marketing industry exited the region, there is now a good number of comeback but we are not back to the same level of activity yet to pre-2008.
Q: Why do people continue to be cautious?
A: The whole idea of the economic downturn was a surprise to everybody and was not expected to take its course like the way it did in Dubai. That is why it is what is probably injecting the caution at least in Dubai.
Also, there seems to be a lot of things happening in the region, it feels like the region has a lot of challenges, which has nothing to do with business and commerce, and I think that is dominating.
Q: How about profits for 2014?
A: We do not publically break out such figures but in this region and possibly all over the world over what we do, our growth in this region has over 22 percent of possibilities, so roughly speaking in new regions like MENA, we are still growing our business. Our profit level in growing markets tends to be lower, because we are investing heavily till the market is established.
Q: Any acquisitions lined up?
A: So we have been relatively opportunistic in looking at acquisitions. Like most entities we do not advertise what we are looking. We had nine acquisitions in the past 4- 5 years. But we have favored technology driven acquisitions.
Global Chief Executive Officer
Ninan Chacko is Global Chief Executive Officer of PR Newswire, the global leader in innovative communications and marketing services that enable organizations to connect and engage with their target audiences worldwide. As CEO, Ninan oversees PR Newswire's business across the Americas, Europe, Asia, the Middle East & Africa.
Prior to joining PR Newswire, Chacko served as Chief Commercial Officer of Worldspan, the worldwide travel information, e-commerce and technology service provider to travel agencies, travel service providers and corporations.
As Chief Commercial Officer, Chacko was responsible for sales, marketing, customer operations, service and support activities for traditional and online travel agencies, travel suppliers and corporate customers in over 60 countries. Chacko was a founding member of the buyout consortium management team that acquired Worldspan in 2003 from Delta Air Lines, North West Airlines and American Airlines, and served in the role of Chief Commercial Officer until its $1.4 billion sale to Travelport in 2007.
Prior to Worldspan, Chacko spent more than 13 years with Sabre Holdings, a leading supplier of distribution and technology solutions to the travel industry and Sabre’s former owner, AMR Corp. As Senior Vice President, Chacko led the development, launch and operation of the company's hotel merchant business in the travel agency channel. Prior to that, he served in a variety of leadership roles at Sabre, including Senior Vice President of Marketing for Sabre Travel Network and Senior Vice President of Global Services. Mr Chacko began his career with System One Corporation before joining American Airlines' Decision Technologies group in 1990.