2024 Middle East PR Consultancies of the Year | PRovoke Media

2024 Middle East Consultancies of the Year

The 2024 EMEA PR Consultancies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 200 submissions and meetings with the best PR firms across the UK, Europe the Middle East and Africa. Analysis of each of the Winners and finalists across 20 geographic and specialist categories can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or below. Winners are unveiled at the 2024 EMEA SABRE Awards, which take place in London on 17 April. Tickets and tables are available here.

You can find the 2024 SABRE Awards EMEA finalists here.

Finalists

APCO (Independent)

aoy-backstory-iconBackstory

Washington, DC, headquartered APCO has been operating in Europe (London and Brussels) since 1995, and launched its Dubai office in 2006, acquiring regional network JiWin Public Relations in 2010 to establish a multi-market footprint in the region. Its ability to help clients solve their thorniest public policy and stakeholder relations challenges is one of the things that sets the firm apart from anyone else of its size and scale. And more recently, it has also been on the cutting edge of using digital and social media to achieve those goals. The acquisition in May of Dubai-based public policy, government affairs and regulatory affairs firm NGC International Advisory provided added depth in those areas and provided an ideal complement to APCO’s existing media relations expertise.

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APCO has a team of 220 consultants in the Middle East, across offices in Abu Dhabi; Amann, Jordan: Dubai; Manama, Bahrain; and Riyadh. They are supplemented by additional NGC operations in Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan and by the firm’s extensive global network.

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Overall, 2023 was a terrific year for APCO around the world, with fees up by  23% to $229 million, and the Middle East accounts for about 20% of the firm’s global revenues, more than $44 million—up by 28% last year. The acquisition of NGC International Advisory was a contributor to that growth, with new clients in the region including Samsung, Rebound, Gilead and Align. They joined a roster that includes international logistics giant DP World, and another new addition, Hevolution Foundation, which convened the first Global Healthspan Summit in Riyadh in November. But probably the biggest momentum boost came from the work APCO did around COP 28, where its team represented more than 25 different clients with a stake in the outcome of the larger climate-related gathering of the year.

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

APCO’s strong Middle East leadership team features president, Middle East & North Africa, Mamoon Sbeih and Imad Lahad, who serves as managing director of the Dubai office, global digital lead, and head of the firm’s AI Comms Lab. New last year was NGC managing partner Mohamed Bahaa who now serves as APCO’s managing director of public affairs in the MENA region, as well as Christophe Guibeleguiet, senior director head of climate & sustainability, who joined from Brunswick; Nawied Jabarkhyl, head of international media relations, formerly a news anchor at CGTN Europe; and Mark Aurbon Lamb, managing director of Riyadh. Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2024, APCO has come a long way from the one-woman shop launched by Margery Kraus in 1984, with AI tools that help identify the right talent within the agency for specific assignments and an expanded commitment to diversity and inclusion. 

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Imad Lahad has been leading the development of APCO’s artificial intelligence capabilities from Dubai, including real-time issues management tool Margy, which can handle everything from LLM-powered data analysis to visualization to content generation. APCO’s Live Studio is another unique capability, providing the firm with the ability to build a large-scale broadcast studio in the field at events like COP28. The giant climate gathering was a highlight of the firm’s year, with more than 25 clients drawing on its sustainability and media relations capabilities to ensure clear communications during the event. 
Paul Holmes

Edelman (DJE Holdings)

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Edelman turned 70 two years ago but—despite becoming the PR industry’s first billion-dollar business—shows no sign of losing its independent, entrepreneurial spirit. The firm is still the global go-to agency for clients looking for everything from crisis support to brand building, and its offer ranges from corporate reputation management ad employee engagement to digital and social media strategy and insights-led creative campaigns, across every industry sector. When Edelman acquired fast-growing independent Dabo & Co in 2015, the deal created a strong regional presence, a market leader in the making. But amid a regional downturn, Dabo’s founders and managing director departed and Edelman’s reputation in the region took a hit as a result. The past few years have seen a steady rebuild, and 2023 was the year when the comeback seemed complete.

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Edelman has 1,200 people in 17 offices in 12 markets across EMEA. In the Middle Rast, there are 150 people in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Riyadh.

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While Edelman struggled in North America, which dragged down its global numbers for 2023, EMEA was the brightest spot in the overall story, with fee income up by about 8.1% to $228.6 million. The Middle East was once again a star performer, with close to 25% revenue growth and a 40% increase in headcount over the year—all driven by a doubling of the firm’s digital, creative and research work. New business came from some of the biggest names in the region: most notably, Edelman was selected to establish a  50-person press office managing 5,000 onsite media at COP28, but there were also assignments from the Abu Dhabi Department for Economic Development, ADNOC, • Masdar, PepsiCo, PureHealth, Tabreed, Tadweer, and  TAQA. In addition, the expansion of the Edelman Smithfield financial brand into the Middle East has grown into a $5 million business on its own, with clients such as BlackRock, Capital Markets Authority, Hassana and Rothschilds joining in the past year.

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In May, Edelman promoted Ed Williams to lead its international operations (everything outside the US) and upped longtime COO AJ Hesselink to CEO in EMEA. In the Middle East, the firm had appointed senior Emirati business leader Tariq Bin Hendi as its Middle East chairman in 2022, and last year elevated regional CEO Omar Qierem to an additional role as deputy chair of corporate affairs for EMEA. New hires, meanwhile, added to the depth of the firm’s creative capabilities, with Marie-Claire Maalouf joining from BBDO as chief creative Officer for UAE and KSA. Edelman has an EMEA DE&I council that oversees activity and report into local and regional leadership.

aoy-leadership-iconThought Leadership & Work

Edelman continues to evolve its industry-leading Trust Barometer thought leadership platform, adding new markets (most recently in Africa) and ensuring that it serves as a diagnostic and consultative tool with the introduction of the Edelman Trust Management Platform. The firm also continues to build on its Action Method, a creative process that enables teams to find action-oriented solutions to clients’ business problems. In the Middle East, meanwhile, the firm has demonstrated its ability to tackle some of the biggest communications challenges, particularly in its work for COP28, creating a press center with a staff of more than 50 that provided services to more than 5,000 onsite media. The firm also created an “Investing in Global Solutions” campaign promoting Mubadala’s track record on responsible Investing, in high impact sectors such as clean energy, life sciences and technology,

Paul Holmes

Hanover (Avenir Global)

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Hanover opened its first Middle East office in Dubai in 2017 with a team of six, who became 20 overnight when the agency bought Bell Pottinger’s Middle East operations after the firm’s collapse the same year. Since then, under the leadership of affable, astute Middle East managing director Jonty Summers, Hanover has become one of the most impressive PR agencies in the region. It has developed specialist expertise in supporting mega projects in the region, from working on the new Neom giga-city around treatment of migrant workers, to Saudi Airlines business transformation and a programme of rebranding and digital comms for retail giant Cenomi. The firm has been worked in Saudi Arabia since 2019, and earlier this year demonstrated its commitment to the region by opening a new office in Riyadh. The agency works with leading public and private sector organisations across the region, offering strategy development, reputation management, corporate and financial communications, crisis and issues advisory and leadership coaching. 

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Hanover operates three offices in the Middle East, in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and opened its new office in Riyadh at the start of this year. The firm is headquartered in London and also has offices in Brussels and Dublin.  

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Hanover’s Middle East team – now at 30 people across the three offices – more than doubled revenues last year from £2.3m to £4.8m, thanks to regional expansion and its focus on serving clients in the area, including NEOM, Saudia Airlines and Cenomi. The Middle East operation now represents nearly 19% of the agency’s global income. 

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On opening its Riyadh office, Hanover appointed Mohammed AlMaskati as Saudi managing director. He joins a team with 14 different nationalities, 79% of whom are women. Summers has been specific from the start about the kind of workplace he wanted to create, based on open and transparent communications, collaboration, automony, trust, where talent is nurtured and there is plenty of sharing and celebrating of achievements. The agency works flexibly, with two days a week from home, extra days off for birthdays and a personal day once a year, and time off on Fridays during the summer. Ramadan hours are observed by all staff as directed by the UAE government.  The agency has several initiatives to help with cost of living – with inflation averaging 12% per year in the region since 2022 – including monthly team lunches, paid parking, housing loads, settling in allowances for those moving to the region. Hanover offers one of the best medical aid insurance packages in the market, including cover for dependents and makes period products available for female staff. The agency organises fun ‘power hours’ including celebrating different cultural days, yoga and bowling, and there is always lots of cake in the office. 


aoy-leadership-iconThought Leadership & Work

Thought leadership work over the year included commentary from the leadership team on topics from Saudi Arabia’s ambitions, to COP28, to AI to the IPO boom in the Middle East. Standout work for 2023 included advising Saudi Airlines on its entry to into Formula 1 and its rebrand; communications advisory for Neom on the establishment of its pioneering worker welfare programme, supports its commitment to the health, safety, welfare, and dignity of workers and requiring organisations supporting the delivery of the giga-city project to share this commitment by making Worker Welfare an integral component of their own operations. Hanover also ran crisis comms on site for the COP28 event as advisors to Expo City – the legacy of Dubai Expo, which was previously a major client. 

Maja Pawinska Sims

Hill & Knowlton (WPP)

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It was the fifth record year in a row for Hill & Knowlton in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The firm’s success in the region – where it is now the largest player – is not least down to the eight-year leadership of CEO Bashar AlKadhi, whose remit covers the Middle East, Turkey, India, Africa, Continental Europe and the Nordics. Under AlKadhi’s leadership, H&K has become a truly integrated agency in the Middle East, with client work incorporating specialisms such as behavioural science, paid media, training, data and analytics, investor relations, sponsorship and advertising creative. Last year it added two new practices, dedicated to arts & culture, and mobility & transport, which together have already contributed around $4m in fees. As well as its strengths in corporate, healthcare, sports and brand communications, the agency’s Innovation & Creative Hub now accounts for around 25% of its business; regional director of innovation Kirsty O’Connor was recognised in PRovoke’s Innovator 25 for EMEA in 2023. Last year, H&K invested in its content and publishing and data and analytics teams, in data technology and creative strategy, and its Studio grew by 30%, with around 50 creators now delivering graphic design, branding, animation and video production. 

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H+K has nine offices across MENAT, with a total headcount of 360. As well as its Dubai headquarters, it has a presence in Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia (Riyadh and Jeddah), Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt, Turkey and Bahrain.

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H&K MENA remains the fastest growing region of the global network, accounting for 17% of global revenue, and has the highest growth in dollar terms of all WPP operating companies in the region. After income growth of 30% in 2022, the agency grew by almost 7% last year, on healthy double-digit margins. The corporate and brand practice grew by more than 60% to become the agency’s biggest practice, followed by the energy and industrials practice. The agency picked up more than $12m in new business: a mix of government agencies and departments, major regional clients and multinationals, including PwC, Amazon, Mubadala, Etihad Rail and the Saudi Tennis Association, Dubai Holding Asset Management, the Saudi eSports Federation. The firm continued long-term partnerships with clients including LG, Lenovo and Emirates (more than 10 years) and Visa, Google, Sotheby’s, Oracle and GSK, for which it has worked for more than five years. The agency has more than 120 retained clients, of which around 10% are seven-figure accounts. 

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H&K MENA has a progressive, people-first culture, and in the latest employee survey, 91% of people in the region said they were proud to work for the agency. The senior leadership team held town-halls in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and the agency continued the H&K Vibe programme it introduced in 2022, designed to strengthen connections between its people and give them the opportunity to have fun, celebrate and grow together. H&K’s commitment to diversity looks different in different markets, but in the Middle East it takes the form of an international workforce (more than 40 nationalities), a commitment to advancing women (including local women) in senior management roles, local representation on the global DE&I council, and zero tolerance of discrimination, bullying or aggression. The firm embraces flexible working and remote work, and last year it invested more than US$200,000 in training. It’s also one of the few agencies to prioritise young local Arab, Saudi and Emirati talent. 

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H&K’s stand-out work in the Middle East included a SABRE shortlisting for its Arabian Leopard Day campaign for the Royal Commission for AlUla, spotlighting the plight of this critically-endangered species with a day official recognised by the UN, rallying the worlds of conservation, governance, and business. The agency also earned a SABRE shortlisting for The Good Store, an innovative retail initiative for TECOM Group during Ramadan, which aimed to raise donations to the Emirates Red Crescent charity. The Good Store hijacked business districts across Dubai, mimicking the look of a real supermarket, but with white-painted goods featuring a QR code that enabled people to easily donate. The campaign reached 8.9m people and led to 7,500 people donating, raising more than US$27,000 for people in need, in just two weeks. 

Maja Pawinska Sims

Weber Shandwick (Interpublic Group)

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With nearly 300 employees across the region, Weber Shandwick has grown into a premier force across MENAT, demonstrating specific strength across such sectors such as consumer, corporate, financial services and technology. Under regional CEO Ziad Hasbani, Weber Shandwick’s focus on growth from UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar has paid off handsomely in recent years, also incorporating the recent launch of the Current Global subsidiary brand. 

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Headquartered in Dubai, Weber Shandwick operates in several major markets such as the UAE, Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Oman, Bahrain, Lebanon, and Jordan. 

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Estimated growth of 30% reflects Weber Shandwick’s impressive progress across MENAT, coming off a relatively high base as one of the region’s biggest PR firms. The client roster includes significant names such as Mastercard, General Motors, IBM, Ericsson, MSD, Netflix, and First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB), while there was new business from EWAA (Abu Dhabi Center for Sheltering and Humanitarian Care), Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Texas A&M University in Qatar, Biban (Saudi Arabia's largest SME conference) and Property Finder to name a few, underpinned by a 70% win ratio.

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Hasbani’s leadership team also features Ghalen Zeidan (promoted to regional MD), who focuses on culture, learning and development, and Anna Varley-Jones, who joined last year as director of strategic planning. The firm’s ‘people-first culture’ includes mental health first aid training, a commitment to a highly diverse workforce across the region, and a significant increase in the proportion of female leadership. Weber Shandwick is also an official partner of Think Equal by The Marketing Society to help drive acceleration of women in leadership across the marcomms landscape in MENA.

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The firm’s thought leadership highlights include a workshop on female leadership as part of its Think Equal partnership, and a dedicated insights-based offering for companies considering how to engage with COP 28. There were impressive campaigns too, such as the 'Hayat Organ Donation Campaign' for the Department of Health Abu Dhabi, and the groundbreaking 'Navigating Freedom with AI' initiative for Ewaa.

Arun Sudhaman