Last week, MarketingMatters concluded the thought- provoking article by Mr. Emeka Oparah, Director, Corporate Communications & CSR, Airtel Nigeria. Entitled ‘Issues with Public Relations in Nigeria’, the article stirred hot debate among PR and Media practitioners. Today, we serve our teeming readers the contrary views of the President, Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN), Mr. John Ehiguese, the Managing Director of MediaCraft, a public relations consultancy outfit.
John Ehiguese’s views
Emeka Oparah’s piece: “Issues In PR Practice In Nigeria” published in the Daily Sun newspaper edition of Wednesday, February 24, 2016 made interesting reading. It was, in essence, a general appraisal of the current state of PR practice in Nigeria. His points were well articulated, and his positions and perspectives boldly canvassed.
It is understandable that one’s perspective on any issue should be influenced by one’s position. I run a PR consultancy practice in Nigeria, and as someone ‘in the trenches’ (in a manner of speaking) I certainly know where the shoe pinches and therefore have a different viewpoint on some of the issues Oparah raised in his piece. I too now feelcompelled to further interrogate (perhaps even challenge) some of his positions and conclusions, in the hope that at the end of the day we can both provoke a robust conversation that will ultimately enrich the profession of PR in Nigeria.
Let me reiterate, for emphasis, that my own positions are largely coloured by where I stand in the PR service matrix – as an external consultant, running a practice, which is also a business.
I will begin with the story about his friend whose MD was disappointed that he could only garner a social media mention for his event (even though expeditiously), as opposed to front page coverage in major newspapers. I’m sure many of my colleagues on the consultancy side can relate to that story.
True, the MD is clearly of the ‘analogue’ era, and you can describe him as ‘ignorant’ all you want, but if you were a consultant working for such an ‘old school’ client, you would do well to keep in mind that he is the Client!Which means that he is paying the bills, and if you want to keep that account, you better know when to listen and when to preach. After all, we allknow the saying about ‘he who pays the piper…’
Now, some people are welcome to pontificate about how the external consultant should be the expert, advising the ignorant client on what is best for his reputation and business, and on how to spend his money. Afterall, isn’t that why he is paying you? But as any smart consultant knows, there is oftentimes a struggle between what the client wants and what you think he needs. It is a struggle you don’t always win. And before anybody brands me a spineless consultant who is not sure of himself and his professional expertise, let me remind you that my consultancy practice is also a business and I operate it in the real world – the world of ever-dwindling revenues, perennial budget cuts, upwardly mobile salary and other bills, taxes – oh that! – diesel costs, morallyand intellectually challenged employees, impossible, and sometimes unreasonable, clients, punishing finance costs (that is when you can find it) …the list goes on and on!
Yes, PR currently appears to suffer an identity crisis, but that is an evolutionary trend, and not necessarily negative. And it stems in the large part from the new paradigm of content-driven PR. Whereas in the past PR was media-driven, that is no longer the case. Today, content (especially story telling) is king!
Now, once content has been designed and created, it can then be propagated through different elements and channels: media relations, events, experiential (activations), video, photography, infographics, digital, social media, word-of-mouth, etc. Indeed one of the key measures of the profundity and (potential) impact of PR content is how amenable it is to expression across as many channels as possible, without losing its core essence and message. That is why today’s large PR consultancy typically tends to be home to a broad and diverse range of competences in-house. And by extension, today’s PR practitioner is a veritable ‘Jack of all trades’. Come on, some PR agencies are now recruiting psychologists!
Clearly therefore, there is a progressive re-convergence of skills and competences under the ‘new’ PR, and it is this dynamic that appears like a crisis of identity. In time, it will all crystallize, and PR will take its rightful place as the lead function in the marketing communication mix. I must add that this trend is already taking root on the global stage. For Nigeria, it’s just a matter of time.
Digital and Social Media:
Which brings me to the issue of how social media has completely disrupted the traditional media experience and given birth to new information consumption paradigms and media forms that are themselves still evolving and perennially fractionalizing. I totally agree with Emeka that given the pervasiveness and ubiquity of social media, driven largely by the twin factors of rapidly rising rates of internet penetration and a predominantly youthful population, digital and social media have become an indispensable part of any ‘purposive’ (to use his own words) communication project today.
But we all know that old habits die hard, and a good number of the older generation, some of whom have the ultimate responsibility to sign off on the PR budgets appear slow in their uptake of social media, and so it must be ‘sold’ to them with tact and patience – plus a healthy dose of facts and figures too! I have encountered quite a few clients who have not yet completely embraced the ‘social media craze’, and I know better than to just write them off as ignorant ‘old school’ fools. They are client – remember?
With the on-going proliferation of Digital Marketing agencies, some clients have even gone as far as delineating traditional and digital media functions and sharing them between so-called ‘specialist’ agencies. My candid personal opinion is that such a practice is disingenuous – in this age and time, PR delivers best when it is integrated.
Truth is, good old media relations still has its place in the hearts of many clients, and as an external consultant you write off such clients completely at your own peril.
The Nigerian PR Report:
I agree with Emeka that ‘Ayeni The Great’ of Black House Media did a great job (pun intended )with his recently published Nigerian PR Report. I must make it clear though, that his was not exactly the first such report. PRCAN under the leadership of ex-President Chido Nwakanma, conducted a survey and shared the very first Nigerian PR report with our members in 2014. The only difference is that the PRCAN report was not ‘published’ publicly. But I’m sure Ayeni himself would readily concede that he actually built on the PRCAN report of 2014. And that was the major reason PRCAN agreed to support his project.
Whatever we might want to speculate about his true motives, and whatever misgivings we may have about the overall quality of the work, we cannot take away the fact that he saw a gap and did his best to fill it. It is a bold effort,that should be commended and built upon, for the benefit of Nigerian PR in general.
The Future of Nigerian PR:
The Holmes Report (arguably the world’s leading and most authoritative report on the global PR industry) in its 2014 report stated that PR grew globally by about 13% in that year. We do not have the statistics for Nigeria (obviously!), but I would not be surprised to find that PR is also growing here. I agree that it is imperative for us to begin to gather, index and process data on Nigerian PR, so that we can measure the performance of the industry, and therefore be able to take advantage of trends and insights elicited, and to plan for the future.
There’s a lot to be done, especially in the areas of training (capacity building) and standards of practice. There is clearly the need for a PR campaign for Nigerian PR. And we the practitioners must be at the forefront of this project. We must begin to look at the big picture and work collectively towards building a profession that we can all be proud of, and that can enable us to command respectable fees for our services.
I admit that this is easier said than done. The challenges of survival, especially for businesses in this environment, are daunting. But we must trudge on, each doing and contributing his bit. As our economy stabilizes and the volume of Foreign Direct Investment ramps up, I foresee an imminent regime of Mergers & Acquisitions in the Nigerian PR consultancy business, such that agencies can build scale and be able to pool together the resources needed to service big multinational clients and brands.
As in all things Nigerian, we may start slowly, but we ultimately get there – and in style! That’s the Nigerian way, and you have to be one to understand it!
Postscript: The problems with Nigerian PR are like the problems with Nigeria – complex and multi-faceted. Everybody seems to know what the problems are and what needs to be done, but then nothing gets done! There is a cacophony of talk and analyses about these problems, often to the point of analysis-paralysis.
What we need is less of talkers and more of doers. Let us begin with what each one of us can do within our own spheres of influence, to improve the PR profession. To paraphrase the lyrics in one of the songs of the immortal Michael Jackson: “if we truly want change, it must begin with the man in the mirror…”. But then I also concede that talking is a good starting point.
So now let’s talk some more about the issues in PR in Nigeria.
John Ehiguese is the Group CEO of Mediacraft Associates, and President of the Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN).