Last week, MarketingMatters published a part of a thought- provoking article titled ‘Issues with Public Relations in Nigeria’ by Mr. Emeka Oparah, Director, Corporate Communications & CSR, Airtel Nigeria. The article attracted hot debate amongst some PR and Media Practitioners. Today the other half of Oparah’s article is published side by side with 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. Please read their varying views.
Emeka Oparah’s views
(Continued from last week)
Today, a customer with access to data will share the experience plus photos on social media and allow the manufacturer to do the chasing. I should know this!
I must hasten to add that most of the traditional media, including television and radio stations have also established online presence, with varying degrees of perfection. So, there you have it; some extra opportunities for telling your stories and driving your narrative. Have you checked the volume of feedback that comes with online stories, especially with the traditional media, say The Punch, ThisDay, The Guardian, Vanguard, Channels TV and AIT? Massive! And massive communication opportunities too! It is such a conundrum that a platform which gives us so much opportunity to tell our story and sell our products is equally a veritable weapon of mass destruction. Talk about the law of unity and conflict of opposites!
PR as a Management Function: Most definitions of Public Relations enthusiastically claim it is a Management Function. Perhaps, this is only practiced in the breach. But for a few organizations like mine, the Public Relations functions are sequestered in either the Legal or Human Resources or Marketing Departments. Let me share a personal story: When GSM was launched back in 2001, I hoped and prayed to be part of the revolution. So, it was with open hands I accepted invitations to interview at both MTN and Econet, as it used to be known then. When I checked, the PR department at MTN was a part of the Marketing function, while that of Econet was part of the Executive (CEO’s). I prayed more for the latter-for two reasons. That was the model I was used to from Cadbury Nigeria, where I worked, and, secondly, it was in synch with the textbook definition of PR as a management function. You cannot be a management function, when you are not part of senior management or executive management, as the case may be.
Thankfully, my prayer was answered. MTN rejected me (in a manner of speaking) and Econet hired me, and the rest, as they say, is now history. Today, as Director of Corporate Communications & CSR, I sit in the Executive Management of the organization, where I participate actively in the leadership roles and responsibilities-looking after Public Relations (including online PR), Internal Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Now, that is the classical model and indeed the way it should be. Here, like other leaders in the organization, you get a helicopter view of the business and contribute from your perspective as a business executive managing communication and reputation.
Budgets: Corollary to being a management function is having a budget line strictly dedicated to Public Relations. In most organizations, the budget still sits elsewhere leaving the function at the mercy or whims and caprices of the budget owner. As a matter of fact, most organizations see Public Relations as a cost centre and not revenue centre-understandably. I say understandably because PR doesn’t generate funds directly. Even in our line of business, we struggle to bring in customers, even if we try. However, the impact of what we do helps to not only retain the customer we have but also encourage new ones to come on board. This is what most PR practitioners have failed woefully to demonstrate to their employers or clients. How do we justify the meager budget we get? And indeed the budgets are meager compared to Marketing, for instance. After all, they will tell you, PR is prayed for and not paid for. Well, that is not exactly the case in reality. Many things are certainly paid for in PR but not news-and that is a subject I want to deal with presently.
Data and Measurement: I call him “Ayeni The Great” and indeed Adekunle Ayeni is a great man. He is bold and courageous, and regardless of the limitations and imperfections of his Nigeria PR Report, he has clearly set the agenda for record-keeping, data collection and impact assessment of PR activities. This has been a huge lacuna in the industry. How do we justify our budget? How do we even justify our work and the attendant pay? How do we demonstrate the impact of our work? How do we measure our work? The first lesson in Research Methodology is: What cannot be measured should not be done. One of the banes of PR practice globally is the proclivity to compare its work and effect with marketing. That is clearly defeatist, firstly, and downright laziness, secondly. Public Relations must do away with comparing its output with advertising column inches. In fact, it must move from output to outcome. Several research methodologies are available to serious-minded professional to demonstrate outcome and impact. Additionally, Public Relations practitioners should start making informed commentary and intellectual interventions through lectures, presentations and publications to deepen the knowledge base and provide ready resources for reference by professionals and intending practitioners. Ayeni, with his book, has broken the jinx, which, hopefully, will spurn a rack of other similar, even better interventions.
Brown Envelope: As far as I am concerned, this is a most embarrassing topic to discuss, but I will discuss it. An age-long practice of inducing journalists to report an organization or client positively or to use its press releases, it has regrettably defined the relationship between Public Relations practitioners and their friends in the media. So, the question one is compelled to ask is: Where is the love? Where is the so called goodwill which PR practitioners seek to “build and sustain” between their organizations and stakeholders? There are serious ethical issues surrounding this behavior and any dialogue on the legality or illegality of it confers a status of importance to the aberration. My position is NO! It is unprofessional to give an envelope, whether brown or white to a journalist-and I am sad some practitioners stood up to defend or justify it and described it as transport facilitation, etc. NO sir! Even the use of phone recharge cards, airtime or other products, which some of us in the telecommunications industry (and even some outside of it) is unethical, because the objective is to “induce” or “motivate” journalist to report your activity or use your material. Why would I be bothered about whether a journalist made a call or not, sent an email or not or posted a photo or not, if it is not inducement? In the civilized world, samples are returned after the trial period for products like mobile phones, laptops, televisions, cars, etc, or the reporters are made to pay a book value for them. In Nigeria, it is seen as a right, which unfortunately reflects the Entitlement Culture prevalent in Nigeria.
To me, Brown Envelope is ethically, legally and morally wrong. Journalists are paid to do the job they do. I can even tolerate Christmas, wedding, birthday and anniversary gifts (which, inexplicably, disappear once a journalist leaves a relevant beat), but to assure journalists of “transport facilitation” or to encourage the use of a report by any other means than a good copy is reprehensible both for the giver and the taker. This is an issue the Institute should be punishing people for, were it really in existence.
The Future of PR: Regardless of the sustained efforts of charlatans and the inclement economic environment, Public Relations still boast a bright future. The rise in consumerism with the full complement of social media has opened a new vista for PR to flourish. People or organizations, who have products, services or ideas to sell to an increasingly incredulous, highly fastidious and very vocal and technologically empowered population surely need astute public relations people to help them tell their stories and manage their narratives strategically. We have gone past wondering what people were doing with their feedback and opinions before now. They are really dishing them out now, and whether you like it or not, the behavior is fast assuming the attributes of a culture, a culture of social protest, vehemence or retort, if you will. For instance, managing the reputation of the leading opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), will be one hell of a joband very rewarding too-probably not in pecuniary terms, but who knows! The 2015 presidential election clearly illustrates how much public relations can influence social conversation which in turn influences behavioral change-as exemplified by the change of the Buhari narrative from pre-2014 to what it became from late 2014 to the time he was ultimately elected in April 2015.
If there was ever a time public relations should get its mojo back, it is now with the growing social disquiet, confounding economic uncertainty and complicated political manipulations-all needing the professional intervention of PR practitioners, not charlatans.
To be continued next week
Emeka Oparah is Director, Corporate Communications & CSR, Airtel Nigeria