Mediating divergent views

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Incisive analysis, impartiality and value have helped Mediate to establish itself as a credible intelligence tool on the media industry, says Eihab A Abutaha, CEO Communications, SABCO Group.

The media industry in Oman has largely been cagey about putting itself under the arc light but all that changed one fine day in 2010 with Mediate – a publication from the SABCO group which analysed the media, listed media and related companies and gave a 360 degree view of the industry. Over the last three years Mediate has established itself as an intelligence tool on the media and communications industry.

Eihab A Abutaha, CEO Communications, SABCO Group and the man who conceived the idea of Mediate gives an insight into the reasons for launching such a product, “There were three things that inspired Mediate, one was my love for the media world as I grew up in Oman at a time when the media was not well developed. Second was the sheer frustration with the constant comparisons regarding advertising standards in Dubai and Oman. People who had no clue about advertising preached about it. Oman has a far more developed media market than people credit it for and it is unfair to compare two countries because creativity is rooted in the local culture of a country and something that appeals to a foreign sensibility may not work here. Third and probably the most important point was that I am a true believer that commercial success is a by product of the service that one delivers and I felt that the time had come to develop a product like Mediate.”

In layman’s terms, Mediate is a roadmap to the media landscape. The catchy name sounds apt and natural today, but it was the result of much deliberation and thought. The germ behind the name was the fact that the media industry was constantly mediating between various sides, be it clients and customers or readers and advertisers.

The idea of Mediate elicited strong reactions. On the one hand there were a large number of people who were sceptical about its prospects, while there were others who encouraged such an idea. Says Eihab, “I am happy to state that in a short span of time the product has established its credibility in the market.” Mediate started with a diversified reflection of the industry and brought honest quotes and opinions from various quarters like leading newspapers, advertisers and agencies. “I still remember a controversial but interesting quote from Ahmed Al Zadjali, CEO, Muscat Press and Publishing House in the first edition venting his frustration when he said – ‘Agencies are bloodsuckers and zombies, they do not invest in media planners or media buyers, they do not have a database of research support, moreover they do not do their homework, if a company wants to launch a campaign they simply put all the publications in the media plan by the agencies.’ This was countered by Mohammad al Farei, managing director of the Zeenah Group, who felt that this was an unfair criticism of advertising agencies.”. Mediate has consistently striven to reflect a polarity of views in the publication.

Evolutionary process
The 2013 edition of Mediate marks its fourth edition and it has evolved with each new iteration. The product has been enhanced by strengthening the analytical section on a number of emerging media and communication channels including radio, outdoors, social media and public relations. It has also evolved physically becoming more user friendly and with a sharper design sensibility. The strength of Mediate is underscored by the fact that requests for copies come from all across the world. “We get requests for hundreds of copies from a large number of countries including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, France, UAE, India, Qatar, Thailand and China. These requests come from investment houses, media associations, industrial chambers etc, which show their interest in Oman and they are referring to Mediate as a source of information and guidance.”

Coming from an established media house, a few people raised queries about the impartiality of such an effort. Eihab counters this vehemently, “Who else is going to do it, any media house that has journalists would be able to apply impartiality and talk about the industry in an unbiased manner. We see CNN and BBC talking about each other and their views are respected. Mediate is a product by the industry and for the industry. Credibility can be measured overtime and if the product was not credible it would have failed by now.” Mediate is a platform that cherishes its integrity and provides a rational and analytical tool backed by statistics and research. Ironically, a number of media and research agencies use Mediate to verify their numbers.

Moreover, the product does not distinguish between large or small organisations, with every company getting the same space and design treatment. The publication uses a predefined set of criteria to write media companies. “What we make sure is that Mediate does not pass judgement on any particular company. We do not judge another media and neither is it their role to judge us, as that is the responsibility of a media planner. The analysis brings out the changing media landscape in Oman.”

As the media industry is too busy promoting clients, products and writing about other things, it usually misses out on the opportunity to reflect upon itself. Mediate allows the media to train the spotlight on itself once a year. “It allows them to see as to who they are, what they do and to write their profile. In today’s day and age it is important for both companies and individuals to see as to how they define themselves.”

The model followed by Mediate integrates various media that are relevant to audience like clients and media, with dedicated sections on each one of them. Key contacts and information on companies is listed in a reader-friendly format. “Imagine you are a new media house or client in town, Mediate helps you understand the entire media landscape in minutes, which would otherwise have taken you years.”

High on business
Realising the value of Mediate a number of clients from outside the media industry have started advertising in Mediate. These include high-end luxury products, banks, cars, automotive companies, telecom players, FMCG, industrial, government associations and family owned conglomerates. “Mediate reaches out to every single organisation in Oman and is used by two kinds of people – the CEOs and people handling communications. So it makes sense to advertise in Mediate, moreover our clients have stayed with us over the years.”

While a lot has been achieved by Mediate in the last three years, the 2013 edition promises to be bigger and better. “We are looking at enhancing the product by bringing in a number of innovations. For example, we are working on creating an android based application for Mediate. This will help people to access the publication on their phone and tablets, giving them a chance to access the product through different avenues.” Mediate 2013 will also focus on companies specialised in new media such as social media, online and smartphone application development. The product is expected to hit the market in February 2013.

SABCO Media offers multimedia platforms like radio, outdoors and print. The company is in the process of integrating its multiple offerings. The construction of new roads in strategic areas like Al Ansab and Amerat has opened up new opportunities and possibilities for outdoors, and the company plans to build on them. “In radio we are upgrading our broadcast capacity. Our differentiator and success factor in radio is the fact that we are sensitive to market demands.” The company is currently running one of the largest readership surveys for its weekly magazine Y. The feedback will be used to understand as to what people feel about its content, design, distribution look and feel. A finger on the pulse of its readers and clients is what differentiates a media product and looking back one can confidently state that Mediate has struck that right balance.


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