Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It’s time to hear the good news from Dubai

Not many businesses are making more money in the present global climate, but for a few lucky professionals, this is clean-up time. Insolvency lawyers, administrators and corporate investigators, for example, are almost turning down jobs, or having to hastily recruit staff to deal with the wrecks that have been left exposed by the falling economic tide.


Add to these one other class – the communications industry. When times are tough, the spin doctors really get going, because even relatively impoverished bankers and financiers need to think about their image, with an eye to the post-recession jobs market. When your reputation is all important, you have to be sure it remains as unsullied as possible by association with the disasters taking place all around you. As the saying goes: “A good reputation is more valuable than money.”

The decision makers of Dubai obviously agree. I hear that a senior delegation of the emirate’s financial and economic elite made a trip to London last week to consult some of the biggest names in the world communications business. Their mission was to find out why Dubai seems to have been getting a rough ride in the international press, and what can be done to put it right.

Apparently they met some of the top names in the western public relations industry, including Bell-Pottinger, the group headed by Lord Bell of Belgravia, the communications adviser to the former British prime minister, Lady Thatcher; and M Communications, the firm run by the slick duo of Nick Miles and Hugh Morrison, which recently won the mandate to handle communications for Abu Dhabi’s Aldar.

There may have been others pitching too – Finsbury, the London firm run by Roland Rudd, a friend of the British business minister, Lord Mandelson, was also whispered – but in any case we shall know the lucky winner in the near future. A shortlist of candidate firms is to present their credentials again in Dubai later this week, from which one will be chosen to present the case for Dubai Inc.

On a scale of difficulty, it is not the hardest job any of these firms will have landed. Dubai is a great success story, rising from the sands in just a few decades to become the leading commercial and business hub of the Gulf. If Dubai Inc had a quoted share price, it would have shown 20 years of rocket-fuelled growth, with only a little blip in the past six months. But then, what stock has not fallen steeply in this crisis of world capitalism?

Dubai can tell the world about the sophisticated and advanced infrastructure in place in the emirate; the growing financial hub that is the Dubai International Financial Centre; and the tolerant and encompassing cultural environments that make it a good place to live and work. Perhaps more than any other city in the world, Dubai has shown how Islamic society can live and interact with other religions, cultures and peoples to their mutual benefit.

It can also point to the resilience and cohesion of the federal structure of the UAE, as most recently demonstrated by the backing from the Central Bank for Dubai’s recession-busting US$20 billion (Dh73.46bn) bond. There is no need to get a spin-doctor to work on the synergies that come from a union of energy-rich Abu Dhabi and commercially dynamic Dubai – it is self-evident. But retelling this story forcefully and persuasively would do no harm.

Dubai can, finally, highlight the vision and leadership of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who has carried on the diversification work of his brother and father before him to make the emirate what it is today. His name, held in such high international regard, should be linked inextricably with Dubai Inc.

The spin-doctors will single out the need for transparency and openness in economic and business matters, and the Dubai delegation probably will point out politely that this has been a developing trend in the emirate’s business affairs over the past few years. Dubai will, of course, reserve the right to determine the speed of the development of that trend.

The consultants, with one eye on their contacts in the international media, will also present the case for greater openness in dealings with the media. Dubai should take all this advice on board and act as it thinks appropriate. After all, that is why you pay for advice – so you can reject and select according to your own criteria.

But it is not the most difficult thing in the world to be an advocate for Dubai. Compared with all those bankers and financial corporations spending millions to rehabilitate their shattered reputations, it is easy money for the communications industry. Dubai is still a good news story, even if the telling requires a little more ingenuity.

by Frank Kane

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