A few people this week have asked me “why Turkey & why now?” – a question no doubt prompted by the economic and political headlines coming out of the country of late. My response has been pretty emphatic: given our status and ambitions, we can no longer afford not to be in Turkey, currently the fastest-growing market in Europe (according to the Financial Times). Its importance to us, to our clients and to the wider EMEA region has become critical.
That is not to under-estimate the challenges facing Turkey right now. The Syrian crisis has left Ankara at loggerheads with the UN and struggling to prevent the conflict from seeping into its territory. On the economic front, meanwhile, Turkey is dealing with slowing growth (albeit from stellar rates in recent years) and a difficult external environment – largely due to efforts to rebalance its current account, plus the impact of the crisis on key trading partners.
The impact of all these events, and more, cannot be over-stated (and each is far too complex and nuanced for me to discuss here). But in opening in Turkey, Edelman, like a wide range of MNCs and most of our major clients, is betting on the long-term, continued development of this dynamic, increasingly critical market. Turkey is a politically stable, vibrant, cosmopolitan colossus, revelling in its new-found status as a pivotal geo-political player, and operating with something of a swagger at the axis of Europe and the Middle East. While growth has slowed (from a non-sustainable near-10 percent in recent years), Turkey has won plaudits from many for its “soft landing,” has avoided the recession gripping most of Europe and boasts a solid banking sector and public debt half that of the Eurozone average. Even in these volatile times, Turkey is well-placed to deliver a healthy 4-5 percent growth rate over the coming years and destined, most commentators agree, to become a top 10 global economy, fuelled by an 80m-vast population, increasingly digitally-savvy and with a staggeringly young average age of 28.
Undoubtedly Turkey’s jewel in the crown is the stunning metropolis of Istanbul – the only city in the world to straddle two continents, and one where centuries-old Byzantine & Ottoman architecture co-exists with modern ambitions of a cultural, commercial, sporting and industrial nature. Istanbul is one of the “hot” cities in the world right now, with tourist numbers rising exponentially, bids lodged to host the 2020 Olympics and European Football Championships and a major urban transformation programme underway. The latter aims to alleviate the constant pressure on the city’s infrastructure from a population that has risen from 1m in 1950 to beyond 15m today. Istanbul traffic is often cited as its worst feature, which is why those that can travel to work on water, enjoying those breath-taking Bosphorus views as they do so.
An increasing number of MNCs have chosen Istanbul as the location for their MENA (Middle East and North Africa) headquarters, attracted no doubt by the supply of smart, international-minded (and often educated) talent, as well as its strategic location and ease of access to/from these markets. Within Edelman EMEA, we see synergies and joint opportunities with our fast-growing Middle East network, and predict that Turkey will increasingly be seen as a hub or launch-pad into not just MENA but the wider Central Asian states and the Caucuses also.
For now, though, we have a vibrant market of 80 million to focus on, outward from Istanbul, and a terrific start-up team determined to become the leading local consultancy. Edelman is the first truly international PR consultancy to open up organically in Turkey – a deliberate policy that immediately sets us apart from our main competitors, and is consistent with our stated policy of putting “best” before “biggest.” Having been researching the market for a number of years, I am extremely confident in the scale of opportunity for our fully-integrated communications model, and delighted that we have unveiled Edelman’s “office number 66” to the wider world.
Chris Dobson is the managing director of strategic & emerging markets, EMEA
Istanbul image by Andreas Kontokanis