Skip to content Skip to Search
Skip navigation

Hacks, flacks and the power of persuasion

Bahri Bar buzz about the regional media scene

The hacks and flacks ensured the conversation flowed freely into the late hours at Dubai's Bahri Bar Shutterstock
The hacks and flacks ensured the conversation flowed freely into the late hours at Dubai's Bahri Bar

The highlight of the week – no, the year – was the biannual “Hacks and Flacks” get-together at the swanky Bahri Bar in Mina A’Salam hotel in Dubai’s Madinat Jumeirah.

An informal gathering of journalists (hacks), PR people (flacks) and general media types, the event was the brainchild of Simeon Kerr, former Financial Times Gulf hack turned Scotland correspondent, whose regional contacts book – roughly the thickness of the Tokyo phone directory – always ensured a monster turnout for a very convivial occasion.

Simeon passed the baton to yours truly on his departure from Dubai earlier this year, but it was with some trepidation that I began belatedly to organise the summer event. Imagine throwing a party and nobody comes?



But thanks to help from Margaret Flanagan, PR doyenne who arranged the venue, and the indefatigable Eithne Treanor, whose people produced a stylish art nouveau flyer, it all went off splendidly.

There was a noticeably higher proportion of PRs than journalists, with minimal representation from newswires, agencies and big international titles. “Shock as journalists give up drinking!” was one headline that sprang to mind.

But the 50 or so who made it represented a fair cross-section of the Dubai media scene, and the conversation flowed freely into the late hours at the Bahri Bar, where the Chatham House Rule rules.

Who was coming and going, up and down, in and out were the main themes, as ever, with catty gossip about rivals and competitors often being exchanged just a few feet away from those same rivals and competitors.

There is much to gossip about at the moment in the UAE media scene, and it was great fun.

The following day – after a slightly later-than-usual rise for me – I was turning the night over in my head, and began to think: how would this gathering in Dubai differ from a similar one in, say, London?

Little difference in the bar bill, I would venture, though the journalists would have probably made a bigger contribution to it in the UK. (Shape up, Dubai hacks.)

But I think the main difference – how do I put this diplomatically? – is that the power equation between the hacks and the flacks would be more evenly balanced in a London environment.

This has been a bugbear of mine ever since I came to the Middle East in 2006, and the feeling has only increased over recent years since I began doing more work on the flack side of the fence.

PRs in the UK – in the West in general – have to work much harder to get their message across. This is not just because Western journalists are more inquisitive and interrogative, if not downright bolshie on occasion.

In the UAE, with its much tighter media regulatory frameworks, there is not so much need for persuasion

It is also because media there is held in a different regard than it is in this region. This is not a criticism, I must underline – merely an observation based on nearly four decades of experience in both places, with their different historical and cultural traditions.

So in the West, the main job of the PR professional is to persuade: to talk a sometimes sceptical journalist or editor round to the way of thinking that the PR’s client wants to get across. To convince him or her that the message is plausible and convincing.

In the UAE, with its much tighter media regulatory frameworks, there is not so much need for persuasion.

Sure, a hack appreciates it when a flack takes the time and trouble to talk through a story angle, or to give a serious and knowledgeable background briefing on an important issue. But we both know that an interrogative, sceptical approach can only go so far.

I often think regional PR firms – especially the big global ones which have operations both in the West and in the Gulf (which is virtually all of them these days) – should make a greater effort to tell their regional clients what counts as communications best practice in their home markets.

OK, I’m off my soapbox now.

But that’s the good thing about Hacks and Flacks. You have a great evening in amiable company, and come away with the grey matter buzzing, in more ways than one. The discussion will be continued at the December gathering.

Frank Kane is Editor-at-Large of AGBI and an award-winning business journalist. He acts as a consultant to the Ministry of Energy of Saudi Arabia and is a media adviser to First Abu Dhabi Bank of the UAE

Latest articles

Mazaya Holding Oman fraud

Al Mazaya reports legal proceedings after alleged fraud

The Omani subsidiary of Al Mazaya Holding has uncovered alleged fraudulent activity by employees of the company, estimated at OR242,000 ($628,000). A criminal complaint has been filed by the Kuwait-based real estate development giant against “some of the company’s employees” regarding collections of the sale and rent of some units, according to filings on Boursa […]

ADQ's holdings include Abu Dhabi National Energy Company (Taqa) and are worth almost $200 billion

ADQ: how Abu Dhabi’s ‘baby’ fund is finding its feet

Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund ADQ may be the younger, smaller sibling of ADIA and Mubadala but there are no signs of an inferiority complex as it executes billion-dollar deals at home and overseas. Most notable was the $35 billion agreement signed with the Egyptian government in February this year to develop Ras El Hekma, […]

Suriname oil

QatarEnergies buys into Suriname oil expansion

The state-owned giant QatarEnergy has signed a deal with US oil company Chevron to acquire a 20 percent interest in a production-sharing contract for an offshore concession in the South American country of Suriname. Chevron will keep a 40 percent interest in Surname’s block 5, as will Paradise Oil, an affiliate of Suriname’s national oil […]

Rakbank

Rakbank plans first bond to fund social projects

The National Bank of Ras Al Khaimah (Rakbank) is planning to launch its first social bond issuance, a news report has said. The Abu Dhabi-listed bank is seeking bids for the five-year benchmark-sized dollar-denominated bond, Reuters reported. The initial price was set at 170 basis points over US Treasuries, with the final pricing expected on confirmed […]