Bridging the gap between a government and its people, for decades, remains a challenge. For most citizens, government activities and updates can be difficult to comprehend and confusing to navigate. Zeina Akkawi, Managing Director at PAZ Marketing Management, discusses with Communicate the scope of doing effective PR for the government.
“The pandemic initiated a seismic shift in the political situation across the globe. I saw the opportunity in the growing demands for effective public relations and communications strategies among governments not only in the GCC but worldwide,” explained Zeina Akkawi, PR Specialist and Consultant based out of the Middle East.
With over a decade’s experience in working with luxury brands, advertising agencies, and political PR, Akkawi took a step further and launched her own Marketing consultancy – PAZ Marketing. In her leadership, the consultancy caters to various government diplomats and brands across the spectrum.
Communicate sat down with Akkawi to further understand her shift to government and diplomacy PR along with her approach to building an effective communications strategy to bridge the gap between government and people.
Your work experience in PR varies across various industries, from the agency side to working for brands. What made you shift back to government and diplomacy PR?
I initially worked with a government entity in Dubai, managing the Hamid Excellence Awards and organizing forums for the prime minister's office. I then transitioned to political journalism during Iraq's war, where I focused on promoting democracy campaigns. Following this, I joined Bentley Motors as the Head of Marketing for the regional office, venturing into luxury and lifestyle marketing. Although it was interesting, I always had a strong desire to be independent and started my own agency in 2007, specializing in consulting for CEOs and helping them enhance their media presence. I later got involved in diplomatic and governmental work, facilitating meetings between ministers and diplomats to foster international relationships. I have collaborated with various organizations such as the Australian Trade Office, Swiss Business Council, and Polish Business Council, and today, I am working on expanding my work to the US and potentially India. As the world is embracing sustainable initiatives, I also plan to work for COP28 this year. As someone who’s worked extensively across the UAE and KSA, I believe that this region has so many new opportunities, it is the new Europe of the world.
In what ways is public diplomacy different from public relations?
I have found myself becoming a perfectionist over years of working in this field. When I worked with Expo 2020 and the EU forum, I became a witness to the extensive level of organization these events require. It really charmed me. I had established a strong network of industry connections. As a woman, I was determined to face the challenges of working in this industry and contribute to enhancing their communication and relationship strategies. One notable distinction I observed between handling public relations for luxury brands and advertising agencies versus public diplomacy is the approach to maintaining relationships. While brand and agency environments openly discuss and communicate new appointments and promotions, such transparency is not as prevalent in government affairs. This poses a strong challenge for communications professionals like myself, and one needs to really work on relationship management to succeed.
Another challenge is the lack of being able to work with the younger generation. I’m someone who loves interacting with the youth and we don’t see many young faces in governments or as diplomats. As someone who’s been working in this industry for years now, I’ve worked with authorities internationally to action programs for this generation. The outcome has been very rewarding, while the youth seem like they don’t want to discuss politics and religion they have a lot of potential to mold our future and instill change. However, we’re witnessing progress with governments restructuring and trying to come up with new strategies that put the youth and their demands on the spot.
Have you noticed any differences in the power dynamics of the Middle East as compared to other markets when it comes to government and PR diplomacy?
The Middle East and I will stress more on UAE, is open to working with different cultures. You see people of different nationalities - European, Indians, Arabs, and many more working under the same roof. Most countries are still not there. While the KSA is getting there in terms of being open to more cultures contributing, outside the GCC, I haven’t seen countries open to this concept.
But, I will say that the Arab culture is still very male-dominated. Although we’ve come a long way and we do see a lot of women taking charge in the boardroom, but there’s a lot of work that still needs to be put in to bring men and women to the same level in this field of work. This region respects women in C-suite positions and I see that this has become a driver, empowering more women to pursue their professional goals.