x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

M: Communications opens in Dubai

The international financial communications firm based in London has opened its first Middle East office.

Nicholas Lunt (Head of Gulf operations, M Communications) stands against the Emirates Towers, held at The Gate.
Nicholas Lunt (Head of Gulf operations, M Communications) stands against the Emirates Towers, held at The Gate.

M: Communications, the international financial communications firm based in London, has opened its first Middle East office in Dubai, which will be followed by a second office in Abu Dhabi. M:, in partnership with fellow British communications company Bladonmore, was chosen in February to provide corporate communications for Aldar, Abu Dhabi's largest property developer. "Aldar gave us the confidence to believe that we had something to offer here," says Nicholas Lunt, M:'s managing director for the Gulf region. Mr Lunt, whose wide-ranging background in corporate and political communications includes a senior appointment at Ogilvy and a term as the spokesman for NATO in Kabul, was this month appointed to head the Dubai office. The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) offices, which the company will be moving into in a few weeks when building is complete, will also serve as the regional marketing base for M:'s sister companies. M:, founded in 2002, is part of Sage Holdings, along with Taylor-Rafferty, the investor relations company; Capital Precision, the capital markets intelligence specialist; DF King, the stockmarket proxy solicitation firm; and Hallvarson & Hallvarson, the digital communications firm. Mr Lunt sees DIFC as an essential location for a financial communications company looking to grow globally. "In financial communications in particular, no one would pretend that Dubai is yet as sophisticated or demanding as London or New York, but it has aspirations to be that, and it is going go be a financial centre clearly," he said. "And if you've got aspirations to be the world's leading financial communications business, you've got to be here." M: also transferred Robin Haddrill, a consultant from its London office who has been on the team advising Aldar since the winter, to the regional office. The Dubai office will have capacity for 8 to 10 staff members, with others flying in from the London office. An Abu Dhabi office will follow. In the beginning, Mr Lunt acknowledges that communications professionals in this region will have to wear more hats than they might be used to in more developed markets. "You can't come here and just expect to be a pure play hardcore communications and investor relations agency," he said. "There's got to be an acceptance that the demands here are slightly broader. You've got to adapt a bit more." Adaptation, particularly in the region, is something that Mr Lunt has become a specialist in during his 15 years experience in the business. He first came to the Middle East during his 10 years preceding that in the British Army, which assigned him to spend two years working in Oman, an experience he describes as "undoubtedly the two happiest years of my life." "I remember when I went to do the Arabic language course in the UK, the joining instructions had an opening sentence that said, 'If you think you are going out to Oman to relive Lawrence of Arabia dreams, think again'", he said. "Of course Seven Pillars had been under my pillow for years and years. And I was a huge fan of Wilfred Thesiger. I had always been drawn to the region." He went on to a career in corporate communications with Ogilvy and Weber Shandwick. But during the early years of the Iraq war, his Middle East experience was called upon, as he was asked to be part of a team that the British government was putting together to set up a communications office for Ayad Allawi, the country's first interim prime minister. He arrived in 2004, and was charged with recruiting 60 Iraqis within six weeks. "It was a tough environment for an Iraqi living out in wider Baghdad, coming into the Green Zone, knowing that they were seen as working for the Americans ? because there was no distinction [between the Americans and other members of the coalition]," he said. "They would drive through car bombs to get to work. I had people sleeping in my office, sometimes for weeks at a time, because they couldn't go home. So I'd bring food in for them. We forged some fairly special relationships." As a result of his work in Iraq, he was asked by the UK government to go to Afghanistan in 2007 and serve as the NATO spokesman in Kabul. "I talked a lot about the political and social ramifications of those sorts of military activities where things go wrong, and civilians ended up being the victim of NATO actions," he said. 'What I was trying to do was make it clear that at no point did a NATO commander get up in the morning and say, 'I'm going to go whack a village.'" He also did communications work for the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, but in the end decided to return to the corporate world. "While political communications was fascinating, I missed business," he said. "The problem with political work is that it's incredibly difficult to get results, whereas at least in the corporate world, you can come up with a strategy, a plan, and implement that for your client and then all of you can see the results. In politics, its much harder to feel that you are achieving anything." But that doesn't mean he has not used his conflict zone experience in the corporate world. His last assignment before coming to the UAE included helping to arrange the press launch for the Tata Nano, the world's cheapest car, a product received with the same frenzy normally reserved for rock stars. "I was on the stage fighting off journalists that night," he recalled. "They just went mad. Literally I was having to manhandle journalists off the stage. I was on telly, in fact, doing it. People were teasing me the next day." khagey@thenational.ae