After living through the 1980s, local entrepreneurs and consumers are not to be blamed for being prejudiced against the ‘Made in Malta’ product. After all, for a good decade, many foreign consumables were only available on the island in smuggled form, and although these were sold at obscene prices, they were still no match in value for money when compared to their locally produced cheap-quality counterparts.
At the onset of free trade followed by Malta’s entry into the EU, Maltese producers were confronted with massive competition as foreign products started coming in legitimately and at far lower prices. We are now also seeing a great deal of offshore services and human resources coming in at very reasonable rates.
As the playing field has drastically changed, local businesses had very little time to get their act together and remain competitive, and many failed or are still struggling to remain afloat. But those local firms or even entire sectors which have been successful in updating their approach now offer a reasonably competitive product, so much so that many Maltese firms are now selling their services to a number of foreign companies.
It is indeed ironic to learn that the marketing communications industry in Malta – a highly talented sector that has made quantum leaps in its product offer over the years – has not so much been appreciated by the local enterprise as it has been by foreigners. A number of foreign companies have started to express interest in contracting local marketing communications agencies to produce TV adverts, develop websites or re-brand product or entire corporate identities. One assumes that if agencies from tiny Malta are proving to be successful in this area, it is only because they offer a better value product than their foreign counterparts.
Sadly, many local corporations with big enough budgets to demand high-end productions will go looking abroad, and more often than not, they will be happy to pay double for a similar quality product to what they would get in Malta.
This situation is very comparable to the local wine industry – whose sales are mostly generated by tourism. Many Maltese consumers on the other hand, still favour cheap supermarket wines from the new world selling at the same prices of a quality local wine – only because they have not yet forgiven the local industry for the dreaded 1980s.
The government is responsible for many of the country’s ills, but it just cannot be blamed for everything. There will be a time when the Maltese product becomes appreciated again, no doubt, but this can only happen with a culture change that can only be instigated by the industry itself. We are after all operating in a free market, and if becoming more competitive means that every effort must be made to change the way clients perceive a specific product, then let it be done.
The process has begun, and sure enough, the pioneers form an integral part of the communications industry itself. Two major players in public relations, advertising and communication have recently joined forces and invested several thousands of euros to setup a five-day event in which 85 Maltese entrepreneurs are invited to an exhibition of local talent in media production. One only hopes that Business Malta not only becomes convinced with what the local communications sector may offer, but also that the local manufacturing industry starts investing in marketing agencies for a turnaround in how ‘Made in Malta’ is perceived by the Maltese themselves.