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Letter from Oman

by Effiong Henshaw

As a Nigerian working in Sultanate of Oman, the first thing that struck me about the practice of public relations here was how closely bonded it is to the Omani culture. Surprisingly, Omanis see themselves as different from most of the Arab world and are proud of that uniqueness.

For one, the Ibadi strand of Islam is the dominant form of the religion practised here. Working in Oman, I've found that understanding the many aspects of this uniqueness and highlighting it is usually seen as a positive.

As part of an in-house communications team in an energy company, I find that while news regarding business itself has a similar tone as back home with regard to information on processes and deliverables, an understanding of how the business has impacted on the Omani culture and vice-versa, puts your communication at an advantage.

Government is the main driver in almost every sphere of Omani life and most of the issues revolve around the actions of the government. It's important to read as much as you can about the government and network widely to get people's own side of the story. Is there a new infrastructure being planned for the country? Is there a new policy about business operations? Tying these to your communication and public relations practice and identifying how these may affect people is important in getting your message across.

New to the country? It's absolutely important to understand a little Arabic and if you don't, do find a translator. While English is widely spoken, especially in Muscat, which is becoming more and more cosmopolitan, you get a better understanding of how the country operates from the locals. A question asked in English could elicit a ten-word response, but the same question asked in Arabic could receive a ten-paragraph answer and will throw up so many other interesting angles to the story.

It's easy to mistake the love for Omani tradition and culture, and a lukewarm attitude to happenings in other parts of the world to mean lack of interest in world issues. But this is not so. The question to ask and answer like in all cases of the public relations is: "How relevant is this to the country? The locals? The business?"

Public relations and communications professionals should as much as possible, find ways to get in touch with the "real" people, who by the way are generally nice and willing to provide you with honest information about their perception of the society. It is okay to politely ask a total stranger about his/her views on recent developments. Just remember to have your translator close by, in case the stranger speaks only Arabic. I find these the best sources for stories.

Media in Oman is mainly divided into Arabic and English speaking. Some newspapers have both the English and Arabic arms, for example the Arabic version of the Tribune is Al Watan, the Oman Daily Observer has the Oman Arabic, Times of Oman is Al Shabiba and The Week has the Al Isboua. This does not necessarily mean you find the same stories in both translations. Your best chance to score coverage is to write the same stories in both English and Arabic.

Understandably there are also more Arabic radio channels but one still finds a couple of English radio channels that operate according to a western format with adherence to the sensitivities of the Omani society. Like all journalists, reporters are interested when there's an angle that's relevant to their readers. An interesting phrase one hears when you ring an editor or reporter about your story is: "Tell me." In other words, get straight to the point/ relevance of your story. A good lesson for us all!