The US firm APCO Worldwide plans to open offices in Abu Dhabi and beyond following acquisition of JiWin Public Relations
Global PR giant unveils Middle East plans
The communications consultancy Apco Worldwide, based in Washington, plans to expand its operations across the Middle East.
Apco, which has operations in public relations, advocacy and reputation management, says it will launch offices in several new markets following its acquisition in November of JiWin Public Relations, based in Dubai.
The company's international clients include Mars and Dow Corning, with which it says it will also be working in the Middle East market. It has also won new business, such as with Masdar, the Abu Dhabi Government's renewable energy initiative.
"We will be aggressive in establishing a presence across the Arab world," said Brad Staples, the chief executive of Apco Europe, Middle East, Africa and India.
"We are establishing a presence in Abu Dhabi. We already have a team on the ground working on an important project for Masdar. Beyond that, there are a number of other markets in the GCC and beyond.
"We'll look at other markets - there are a lot of exciting destinations in this region: Qatar is very interesting; Bahrain also offers some opportunities; Saudi Arabia is clearly very important. We will establish other operations or affiliate relationships wherever they need to be."
Apco purchased JiWin, which was previously part of Tecom Investments, a member of Dubai Holding, for an undisclosed sum late last year.
JiWin's client base includes the likes of Dubai Media City, Johnson & Johnson and Nasdaq Dubai.
Mr Staples said that while the JiWin name was still being used, the company would eventually be branded Apco across the region. Part of the aim of the expansion was to "bring leading global businesses to the Gulf".
The acquisition of JiWin was partly because of the PR consultancy's ties with Arab companies and key executives, Mr Staples added.
"It's got Arab leadership and it's got a strong multi-country Arab reach," he said. "And so the local understanding, appreciation for the market, cultural connectivity with clients was very impressive.
"Our strategy for Dubai has always been to think about it as a future global hub for the firm.
"Globally, our business is increasingly moving eastwards. Increasingly, our clients are coming from the emerging markets. We felt there was a gap and that there was a business community that we don't know about here."
There have been a handful of mergers and acquisitions in the Middle East's public relations industry in recent years.
In 2009, the London agency Huntsworth acquired its PR affiliate Momentum. The previous year, the global public relations firm Burson-Marsteller merged with Asda'a Public Relations, based in Dubai.
Rebecca Hill, the executive director of the Middle East Public Relations Association, said she expected more activity in this area.
"There are over 120 agencies operating in this market," she said. "It would be surprising if there wasn't more consolidation over time. There are different drivers for this."
Ms Hill said a recent survey of the association's members found that most expect growth this year, but that this could be inhibited by the difficulty of recruiting.
"The response from the survey was that there is a very positive outlook for 2011. Around 95 per cent of respondents are expecting some growth," she said.
"The main markets are Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Saudi Arabia in terms of growth and demand. One of the great challenges we have in this market is finding staff."