The Art of Differentiation


As channels and media consumption models evolve, so does the role of the communications consultant.  Gone are the days of a PR rep churning out press release after press release in a quest to produce the thickest coverage books. The media landscape has undergone a sea change and a self-correction of sorts. Regardless of size, it is all in the niche now, the niche that you have to often wedge your way into by speaking to the right mix of people in the right tone and in the right ‘volume’.  The age of tactless media tsunamis may no longer hold ground.

Yes, it is a lot like tight-rope walking, but brands nowadays have to fight tooth and nail to get cozy with the influencers and story-tellers of our times. The pressure to elevate oneself from increasing levels of noise often decides a brand’s standing against competitors, making it even more difficult for the influencer to make your message his or her very own. Money may or may not buy us happiness. But it certainly helps. It might just help at a time when there is gaping gap in the industry that needs to be fulfilled by innovation.

Often perceived to be a rather dark area of the PR business, paid media, and one that often is considered the credibility buster of the industry is what just might be the next best thing. Commonly clubbed under the sponsorship umbrella, in this paid milieu, smaller players in the same sector get edged out and the value of hard-earned media becomes sacrosanct. The bottom line is that if you don’t adapt you are left cold in the dust. So, what is sponsorship, what is an advertorial and what is paid media?

Just before you mistake my musings for an apocalyptic prophecy for the media industry, I must draw your attention to a brand from our very region who is completely refreshing and redefining the lens through which we creative minds ought to increasingly look through to stay current and relevant. They are ‘simply reimagining it’ as their stylish brand ambassador Nicole Kidman puts it.

It seems all so logical for a brand like Etihad to embrace fashion like it has. Already synonymous with luxury, with first-class suites in the swankiest airplanes and an Oscar-winner for a brand ambassador, Etihad Airways recently announced its decision to partner with WME | IMG to become a major long-term partner to the fashion industry by supporting 17 fashion week events globally. Under the agreement, the airline will become the official airline of fashion week events in New York, London, Milan, Berlin, Sydney and Mumbai. This also extends to the pool of seven airlines in which it holds minority equity stakes.

The sponsorship obviously provides Etihad the leverage to develop relationships with designers, fashion media, supermodels, and high-brow brands themselves by becoming both the du jour and the de facto modes of international travel. Due to fashion’s welcomingly porous borders, it is likely that there will be some spillover into Hollywood and music universe.  The social media followership from this universe itself is a stuff of dreams, with many celebrities and designers celebrated as demi-gods.

This followership is true of Etihad’s existing sponsorship portfolio that already covers premium sporting events spanning Formula One, cricket, golf, tennis and football (and now even gourmet food). As the sponsor of Manchester City, Etihad sponsors more than 100 sports and cultural events around the world, some of which enjoy cult following.

Not the first to burst into the lifestyle scene and certainly not its first foray in lifestyle, Etihad is probably the first to make a commitment to the industry outside its core business at such a level. A New York Times analysis calls out Abu Dhabi as a hub between East and West, which is true given its geographic location, now also acting as a lifeline of global events. It compares the move to the other sovereign wealth fund investments in luxury from the region.

Etihad will soon be in the consciousness of not just frequent fliers but a diversifying mix of people who would at least aspire to fly with the airline.  Well if consistent financial success is a measure of this, then Etihad is certainly winning at the innovation game.  In April this year, Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, announced its strongest annual financial results to date, with a net profit of US$ 103 million on total revenues of US$ 9.02 billion, also marked the airline’s fifth consecutive year of net profitability.


Anand George Zachariah is a content manager and strategist at FleishmanHillard UAE