Interview: Alexander McNabb, About PR & Arabia

For anyone who is into the Public Relations scene in UAE in general, and Dubai in particular, Alexander McNabb will be a familiar name. He is so active on social media channels, many PR companies mention him on their Twitter accounts. Dubai Radios will have him as a guest or call him for a comment. He also consults for Spot On PR agency as well as other clients. It was time to hear straight from Alexander McNabb on Wajeez. Prepare to be amazed with some PR informed tips and opinions.

Q: Alexander McNabb, please tell the readers more about yourself.

I never really studied as such, I just fell out of school into college and then rolled into a job. I worked in a factory which made the boxes electronics go in, in the production control office with a load of old men. They introduced computers, one day we had desks the next day we had desks with terminals on. They were all horrified at this new beast which had arrived to disrupt and ruin their lives.

I was thrilled to bits. I never looked back, it was all about computers from that moment on-wards. I went on to work for a pioneering startup involved in sound sampling, then into computer sales which eventually took me to Riyadh in 1986. Because stuff just works out like that, really…

Q: What are the 3 major changes between Dubai in 1987 when you first arrived, and Dubai today?

Dubai in 1988. Well, it was tiny. The Sheikh Zayed Road (SZR) was a two-lane road with no camel fencing, so nobody would drive it at night. Camels are curious, attracted by headlights and weigh a tonne. If the body doesn’t get you, the head will.

There was Shindagha and Maktoum bridge. If you got lost, the Dubai World Trade Centre Tower was your landmark. You could see it from anywhere in the city. Which ended at Defence Roundabout.

That was it, just scrub-land until you got up to the Emirates Golf Club. HSBC was the British Bank of the Middle East and had two Bedouin guards with rifles at the front door.

??Q: ?Tell us about some the funniest, bizarre, and totally unexpected situations you faced with your clients in any day of PR work.

Oh, where do you start? Organising a private jet for Lauryn Hill and her entourage with two days’ notice? The rapper who’s clearly psychotic – getting through the press conference was a miracle and yet I felt dirty for even helping his label carry on with a tour that should have been canned so the guy could get treatment. He went on to rip his own eye out in London the week after.

Alexander McNabb (Courtesy of Spot On)

Alexander McNabb (Courtesy of Spot On)

I can’t even tell you the Max Clifford story. Or the press conference in Beirut that slowly filled up with sewage, a truly crap event. The big global product launch where the presenter had a heart attack.

And sitting on a beach overlooking the Dead Sea at midnight, wasted and playing an electronic drum kit. I’ve spent a lot more time laughing than crying, let’s put it that way.

Q: Based on your experience, what marketing tactics work easily with the Arab consumers? Say a startup company has a new App and they want users in UAE to buy / download it – how should they market their App?

Look, the only thing that works in the Arab World is people. Direct connection, touching people, talking to them, word of mouth. You can get coverage until you’re up to your armpits in it, but it won’t change one heart or mind. Do events, meet people, recruit them and send them out to meet other people. That’s it in a nutshell.

Q: Is the Press Release still relevant in getting the word out in the time of the internet and social media? Can you share some actual cases you have witnessed where the press release benefited your client in tangible / measurable ways?

Nine times out of ten, a press release is not the solution. In the past, I’ve had clients calling for a press release and you ask ’em ‘Why?’ and they look all baffled and say, ‘Because we need a press release!’ and you say, ‘Yes, but why?’ and they just dive bomb themselves in iterations of ‘because’, precisely because they haven’t thought it through and are just grabbing at tactics.

You want to communicate? Great. Why? With whom? To achieve what? Think about it, and likely a press release isn’t the way to go.

Q: If you were to recommend 3 PR agencies in Dubai, ? (Apart from Spot On)?, what would they be??

I couldn’t, really. I think if you’re going to recommend an agency, you’d have to have worked with it and really got a feel for the agency, its people and the way they work. Let’s put it this way, I’ve come across a thousand examples of woeful, witless media relations over the past couple of decades and a handful of moments of greatness. So choose carefully.

Q: Based on your experience, which is more rewarding in terms of: reach, boosting sales, enhancing brand image – Arabic or English media? Why so?

For Dubai, English is the medium. For the region, Arabic. That’s no great insight. But it depends on your product. Mainframe asset life-cycle management software doesn’t really fly in Arabic media. Or, come to think of it, pretty much any media.

Q: Online or Print – which one would you recommend more for your clients? And why?

Really? Seriously? Is that still a question? Print is dead, baby. Like the monkey that fell out of the tree. Dead.

Q: In your opinion, what are the most important Online websites / Print publications in Dubai, based on your current experience with your clients, Arabic and English, and reason to that choice.

Expatwoman.com and Kharabeesh.com They both serve communities with great content and have clout because of it.

Video interview with Alexander McNabb by: SmartMonkeyTV