Located at the crossroads of the major international capital markets of New York, Frankfurt and London, in the West - as well as Hong Kong and Tokyo in the East -, Dubai is an emerging financial hub of global significance.
The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) is a 110 acre business hub providing legal, physical and business infrastructure benchmarked with international standards for six sectors of financial activity: banking and brokerage, capital markets, wealth management, reinsurance and captives, Islamic finance and ancillary services. Moreover, in September 2005, the stock exchange NASDAQ Dubai (formerly known as the "Dubai International Financial Exchange" or "DIFX"), opened in the DIFC.
Creating the DIFC was conceived part of the Dubai government's overall strategy of moving away from solely relying on oil supplies towards an economical diversification, based on the objective of sustaining an environment for growth, progress and economic development in the UAE and the wider region.
Since its opening in September 2004, the DIFC has attracted high calibre firms from around the globe. However, when the DIFC approached bridge:media in 2005, very little was known abroad about the business cluster and only a small number of financial institutions from the German-speaking countries (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) had applied for licences. Therefore, the DIFC chose bridge:media in order to raise the level of awareness in the German-speaking parts of Europe, ultimately aiming at attracting financial institutions, banks and insurance companies to Dubai.
Much of the reporting on Dubai in German media was focused on the spectacular rise of the Emirate and was at times somewhat perfunctory. Consequently, in Germany, Dubai was known as an almost surreal city which, thanks to the gushing oil revenues, was able to build vast man-made islands, seven-star hotels and some of the world's tallest towers. If anything, the city had by then earned itself a reputation as a tourism and entertainment hub.
This image was not conducive to DIFC's communication targets and therefore represented a major challenge to public relations. This was also linked to the German mentality, often characterised by a certain wariness. The DIFC set itself an ambitious objective by aiming to advance into the league of well established financial centres of global significance, such as New York, Frankfurt, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong. The stock exchanges in these hubs are considerably larger and look back at traditions of over 100 years, in the case of Frankfurt more than 400 years. The DIFC's very idea was likely to trigger caution, and inevitably raise suspicions, among German banking circles.
Therefore, bridge:media's main challenge was on the one hand to convince the German media to report on the DIFC and on the other hand to counteract preconceptions about the planned cluster.
Based on the challenges outlined above, bridge:media developed and executed a long-term communications strategy to raise awareness of the DIFC. Moreover, the adopted strategic approach aimed to create an appealing image for the German-speaking target group, mainly comprising of decision makers in German, Austrian and Swiss financial institutions. In order to counteract scepticism and build up confidence, bridge:media decided to stress the DIFC's attributes that underline the centre's durability, sustainability, trustworthiness and conceptual integrity.
Accordingly, bridge:media emphasised Dubai's experience and expertise with business clusters, which the Emirate draws from building a large number of knowledge-based clusters like Dubai Media City and Jebel Ali Free Zone. Similar to the other clusters, the DIFC offers its participants a highly attractive investment environment: Not only is it equipped with ultra modern office accommodation, high-tech technology and sophisticated infrastructure, but it also offers benefits to its investors due to its geographic location as a hub between East and West as well as its straightforward administrative procedures. Moreover, bridge:media's strategic approach underlines DIFC's reliability and transparency that is guaranteed by strict supervision and enforcement of money laundering laws as well as its transparent operating environment with some of the world's highest standards of regulation.
In addition, a description of the unique economic benefits provided by Dubai's financial centre was employed to address the German media. In this regard, the communication strategy promoted, amongst other things, the DIFC's zero percent tax rate on income and profits as well as Germany's double taxation treaty with the UAE.
Finally, it was underlined that Steffen Schubert, the DIFX's CEO, was a veteran German banker with decades of experience in finance. This element was likely to cement trust in the DIFC's integrity amongst the target audience.
After the strategic selection of the key messages to be adopted in the campaign, bridge: media developed a comprehensive media relations plan, ranging from an intensive PR campaign to the organisation of high-profile media events featuring the participation of major personalities and dignitaries from the UAE.
The extensive communications campaign included the conceptualisation of news releases aimed at the German-speaking markets and other press material. The releases were subsequently disseminated to a tailor-made list of German media outlets, including newspapers, periodicals, Internet, television and radio.
In line with this, bridge:media accompanied various key activities in Europe during the DIFC's formative years: in the run-up to and during the UAE - Germany Economic Partnership Forum 2005, the European Banking and Insurance Fair in late 2005 and the Emirates - Germany Business Summit 2007 in Frankfurt. bridge:media's strategy coupled pre-announcement messaging for journalists with on-the-ground execution essentials, such as interview arrangements and multiplier management. Moreover, bridge:media's multi-lingual employees provided individual support for the journalists during the events.
Furthermore, bridge:media was entrusted with the planning, organisation and execution of a press conference in Frankfurt on the opening day of the DIFX in September 2005. To raise the profile of the press conference and thus generate a lot of media attention, a live video transmission between Dubai and Frankfurt, with Steffen Schubert (DIFX's CEO at that time) was organised. On the same day, bridge:media arranged a business 'get-together' with decision makers in German financial institutions aiming at building closer ties between the DIFC/DIFX and the companies.
Starting from a nearly non-existent coverage about the DIFC, the intense communications campaign using a variety of media channels raised awareness of the financial centre in Europe's German-speaking parts significantly.
The media coverage was extensive. A lasting perception of sustainability and trustworthiness was created through a consistent level of media presence over a period of several years. A large number of articles were published in a variety of renowned German, Swiss and Austrian newspapers, magazines and web pages mainly focusing on business, finance and investment. A key achievement was to reach the target audience by broadcasting on TV. Several interviews with DIFC officials were aired on news channels that are known to address decision makers in German, Austrian and Swiss financial institutions. One of the major successes during the campaign was a live interview at New York prime time with the DIFC's Managing Director on the leading TV station specialised in finance and investment.
Overall, it can be concluded that bridge:media's diversified communication activities focusing on the benefits of settling in the DIFC not only allowed to raise awareness of the hub, but also to extend significantly the reach of DIFC's image as a reliable and trustworthy centre. Ultimately, by fostering profound media coverage, bridge:media's consultancy contributed to the DIFC's popularity amongst financial institutions and their decision makers throughout Europe's German-speaking parts. Today, most of the major German financial institutions have branches in the DIFC.