What new initiatives is UNO currently involved in?

AL-HARTHY: The very first company of the group was established in 1997. It was an out-of-home media company. We were probably one of the first established in the sultanate. We were the first company to bring full color digital LED screens to Oman and most likely to the rest of the GCC. That is how we began back in 1997. Since then, we have been pioneers by introducing different forms of out-of-home media to the country. It has been quite the journey over the past 15 years. We have greatly increased the amount of signage not only in Muscat, but also throughout the rest of the country. As a result, we are now one of the leading companies in Oman. We are presently trying to incorporate the latest technology into our out-of-home media products. We are working with the government to introduce state of the art bus shelters in cities outside of Muscat. We are starting with the Al Batinah region and then, if that goes well, we will expand from there.

How would you describe the current state of competition throughout the OOH (Out-of-Home) segment of Oman’s marketing industry? What is your market share?

AL-HARTHY: It is fairly competitive. However, it is less competitive than other well established markets throughout the region such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The industry in Oman is not well organized or regulated. We need more regulations on the players that are allowed to enter the market and the standards that need to be followed. In general, there are no statistics when it comes to media in Oman. However, we do have our own internal figures. We feel that the out-of-home media spend in Oman is roughly $12m-$15m per annum and that our market share is about 12%-15% of that.

What are the benefits of OOH (Out-of-Home) marketing compared to that of other mediums being used throughout the industry?

AL-HARTHY: We feel that every medium complements the other. It is important to have a presence in all forms of media. You must be in publications, on TV, out-of-home, and of course online. People are no longer sitting in one place. They are driving all of the time and commuting from one place to the other. It is important that you reinforce your message when people are outside of their home. Out-of-home media is not just signage on top of roofs, poles, or next to roads. Out-of-home media includes signage inside shopping centers, malls, airports, bus stations, and so forth. A message must be reinforced so that people are reminded of it wherever they go.

What are the biggest challenges that you are currently facing in the marketplace? How has this affected UNO’s ability to expand its reach and penetration into other markets throughout Oman?

AL-HARTHY: The market size is the biggest challenge that we are facing. We are in a very small market but there are still a lot of challenges. There are different international players who are coming into the marketplace. For example, the government has signed a 20-year exclusive deal for the city of Muscat with an international media company. As a result, we are blocked off from any street furniture for 20 years. We have to be creative with our out-of-home media when introducing it to other areas. This is a major challenge that we have and regulation is needed. There have been many players who are working out of their apartments. It is very difficult to deal with a company that has low overheads and sub par standards. With regards to market penetration, we have always been the leaders outside of Muscat. We are in the process of developing bus shelters in the Al-Batinah Governorate of Oman. This region is the second highest populated area in the country. This area is very important because its roads connect to Dubai and Abu Dhabi as well as serves the entire Governorates. We are also developing different types of media. We are looking at niche areas in Muscat because most of the street furniture has been granted to the international company.

In the recent WEF Global Competitiveness report Oman received a ranking of 64th in the realm of business sophistication in extent of marketing. What actions or programs are being put into place to improve Oman’s extent of marketing and to bring more exposure to business opportunities throughout the country?

AL-HARTHY: Extent of marketing has always been a challenge for Oman. When we first started, most of the major companies in Oman did not have marketing departments or marketing budgets. We have come a long way since then but we are still behind in the global benchmarks. The entire region is facing this same problem. Ad spend per capita in this region is roughly $40. This is extremely low compared to the US, Japan, and Germany. Ad Spend per capita in the US is about $495. In Japan it is roughly $395 and in Germany it is about $312. The highest ad spend per capita in the region is in the UAE, which just reaches $200. Ad Spend per capita in Oman is about $42-$78. This is still low and I think we need to do more. We have spent the past 15 years educating advertisers and stressing the importance of out-of-home media.

GCC consumers traditionally have been slow to adopt e-commerce primarily due to a lack of faith in the security of online transactions. What implications does this have for the OOH marketing industry? How is the Omani consumer becoming more sophisticated?

AL-HARTHY: Everything is interlinked. Online retail is huge in certain countries. In the US, many people are buying from online sites. This is not the case in Oman. I believe that Oman’s economy will benefit from the growth of online media. A large number of companies in developed markets use out-of-home marketing campaigns to promote their online stores. The development of online media will help the out-of-home segment of marketing in Oman as well as the web providers. Online ad spend in this region is extremely low. Online ad spend in the UAE is the highest in the region at about 4% of total ad spend. Out of their ad spend budget, only 4% goes towards online. Contrary to this, in the US 22% of the budget is allocated towards online marketing. Oman is still lagging in this area. Right now, less than 1% of total ad spend in Oman goes towards online marketing.

What are your future plans for growth and expansion? Which segments or niches in the industry present the best opportunities for marketing services?

AL-HARTHY: We are continuing to look for opportunities within out-of-home media. There is a lot of room for growth in Oman. We are looking to get into different forms of media. We are entertaining the idea of developing online digital media, which I believe is the future. We have to see where and what to do online. This will become a lot clearer when things become more organized. Right now, I think that online users are fragmented between different international sites and social sites. As a result, we have to see where we fit in and where we can add value to the users throughout the region.