x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Hill & Knowlton targets demand in Africa

Hill & Knowlton plans to launch an additional office in Africa, and says there is greater demand for public research in the wake of the Arab uprisings.

Jack Martin, the global chief executive of Hill & Knowlton. Pawan Singh / The National
Jack Martin, the global chief executive of Hill & Knowlton. Pawan Singh / The National

The public relations company Hill & Knowlton plans to launch an additional office in Africa, and says there is greater demand for research in the wake of unrest in parts of the region.

It said the move would bolster the amount of public opinion research it conducts in the Middle East and Africa.

"I see an increase in the amount of research we do in this region as people are trying to better understand what public sentiment is," said Jack Martin, the global chief executive of Hill & Knowlton, who is based in New York where the company is headquartered.

Following his appointment at the beginning of the year, Mr Martin's first official overseas visit was to the UAE, as the company reported "strong growth" in the region.

He said public relations firms had a role to play given the "explosion of information and access to data" in the internet age.

"What we're seeing around the world is the democratisation of almost everything. The global population has more access to information than they ever had before," he said. "There is going to be ever-changing highways between the public and our clients."

Hill & Knowlton launched in the Gulf 26 years ago and its clients in the region include Yahoo, twofour54, Saudi Aramco and Mashreq.

It has been expanding its Africa business, and said it was "bullish" about public relations work in the continent.

"We're looking to enter another market in Africa with an owned presence later this year," said Dave Robinson, the chief executive for Hill & Knowlton in the Middle East, Turkey and Africa.

The firm has offices in markets such as Cairo, Uganda and Kenya, and its clients in Africa include the Indian telecommunications company Bharti Airtel's African operations.

"We cover in the region of 25 out of 54 markets in Africa," said Mr Robinson. "We're very bullish on Africa."

While the firm's operations had been affected by the uprising in Egypt, Mr Robinson said the east African business was growing. "We've had double-digit growth in our east Africa business for the first two years. And we're forecasting a very high double-digit growth again this year," he said.

Hill & Knowlton is part of the global communications firm WPP, and competes heavily with Asda'a Burson-Marsteller, which is also part of the group.

Mr Robinson said there were no plans for the WPP stablemates to merge.

"Between us we're number one and number two in this marketplace," he said.

bflanagan@thenational.ae