‘Ethnicity issues, communication gap and public relations’
The Chief Executive Officer of AbsolutePR Limited, Akonte Ekine, in this interview with EDU ABADE, argues that Nigeria is learning virtually everything from its foreign experience and exposure but that ethnicity issues, systemic backwardness and communication gap in the country are fundamental errors in its public relations perception. He advises the government to accord public relations and branding their rightful place among the professions, urging PR and branding practitioners to share global experiences and localise expertise. He also says there is a strong need for governments to connect with the people, insisting that the best public relations is to let the people feel the positive impact of governance.
It is disturbing that the public relations and branding space in Nigeria is still being dominated by offshore interests in terms of the big-ticket consultants, why is this so and what is the way out?
Thanks. First, big multinationals are from outside the country and they have the trust of their parent companies based on mutual understanding and second, is the fact that the big companies better appreciate Public Relations (PR) in Nigeria. Also note that we are a country learning so many things from the professional perspective like all professions. Marketing communications and PR, like the medical profession, are all learning from foreign ones based on experience and exposure, which affects everything we do. So, it is not limited to PR but a general thing.
The way out is to up our game, increase our knowledge and raise our expertise to the extent that your location will not be the reason for the work but your knowledge, not your colour but your expertise and not who you know but your capabilities. The other part is that the decision makers should recognise and encourage businesses with favourable legislations.
We all admire China’s development but the truth is the Chinese legislations are targeted first, towards the survival of Chinese businesses such that even if you are doing something that is new in the system, you must do it with a Chinese company and there are instances where our government did not use such big ticket assignments as opportunities for knowledge development. Thus, we are where we are but the way out is for us to continuously look at global trends, learn new things and improve our practice.
South Africa seems to dominate public relations, branding and media practice on the African continent with the likes of Media 24 and other prominent PR outfits, what can Nigeria’s PR practitioners do to become more outstanding in the sector?
Truth be told, we are behind South Africa in almost everything we can think of not just in communications, manufacturing and tourism, just name it. We are in a major systemic backwardness that affects everything and so, isolating one sub-sector of the economy for a solution will only compound the issue. Our ecosystem as a nation is diluted and malfunctioning, and as such, what you see from medical practice to PR, marketing and education are just symptoms of a major societal malaise.
So, it is not about what PR practitioners can do. It is a case of what the society can do and mind you the society doesn’t exist in isolation, thus everybody in the country is responsible in addressing the issue of backwardness when we compare ourselves with South Africa. We need a situation where actions are put behind policies that are clearly spelt out from education to medicine and the other sectors. Our family values should be reviewed, what makes a man fantastic today is not what made him fantastic years back. There was dignity in labour back then and very visible one. Once the responsibility of a nation to the citizen is not clear, the citizens are left to look for survival and where we are today is a case of people looking for survival and it is not fixed by the kind of PR you are talking about. It is fixed first by family internal behavior, which is a function of other variables in the society and which is majorly affected by what you see and feel, as well as experience with the leaders in the society. Communication, like behavior, is contagious.
It is evident that oil and gas, telecommunications and beverages multinationals continue to outsource their PR and branding needs to international consultants, why is this so and what is the way forward?
This is subjective because we work for multinationals in two of the sectors you mentioned, so, I am not sure your position is correct. However, I also know that it is a mixed bag and I think in some cases it is as a result of global process and the need to share experience, as well as the need to localise expertise. The more important thing to us as a business is to provide strategic solutions to the challenges of partners across borders hence joining thenetworkone.
The multinationals, on the contrary, are engaging PR firms more than they used to do because there is high level of confidence in the capacity of the practitioners and the key performance indices (KPIs) are clearer. Ultimately, the reason for engaging foreign PR firms is better known to the client and if they find it comfortable to engage from anywhere so long as they are on the side of the law, they are okay. But for us, we understand that a company with a foreign origin will not do without its parent partner in various fields, including PR .
What is AbsolutePR’s niche and how does it hope to deepen PR, media relations and brand practice in Nigeria and Africa?
We are a strategic partner to businesses and brands across various sectors and we have always provided strategic solutions to brands development using both conventional and unconventional approaches. We deliver consistently on briefs subject to clients’ requests.
Since inception, we have been associating with brands at various levels and we have contributed to the successes of brands in health/pharmaceutical, manufacturing, telecommunications and oil and gas. We just joined a body of global network with the hope of providing international services to clients across board and borders subject to our clients’ interests.
Our relationship with thenetworkone is such that we share experience and expertise to improve brands’ performance. It is an independent network of agencies in over 100 countries across the globe with the single objective of strategically providing tailored solutions to clients’ needs. In the era of artificial intelligence, among others, we are poised to drive conversation, engagement and relationships such that all stakeholders are at par in both understanding and believability hoping that community of believers and influencers will exist cordially with stronger values.
What PR and brand strategies would your firm like to leverage on with a view to strengthening the profession in the short and long-term practice?
As I said earlier, we are evolving in almost the same way the practice and need of clients and stakeholders are evolving. At this time in the life of the business, our position is to continuously look at the environment and beyond and push the boundaries as a multidisciplinary agency, ensuring that all needed tools and skills are readily available to be deployed for the good of the clients and brands.
Are there policy issues the government and professional bodies could improve upon to enhance PR and branding?
There is the need to first and foremost, review the practice and modify what makes one a practitioner. Second is to separate the trade union arm from the institute and lastly is for the government to put the profession in its rightful place among other professions. It is the inappropriate appreciation of the profession that has made past and present governments to find themselves in various issues of communications with the citizenry. And I dare say that some of the issues of ethnicity here and there in the country are fundamental errors of the nation’s public relations.
What is the future of PR and branding in Nigeria, giving our peculiar infrastructure and environmental challenges?
The future is bright. That is how simple it is but it is full of challenges of new learning and skills. Just like every other thing today we are experiencing a change in thinking and execution. Consumer behaviour is changing daily, there is the technology and the Internet of things, citizen conversation is no longer a one-man show but it is about all for all.
We also have to realise the originality of PR, which is about building relationships across fronts where we both have the power to speak to each other while others watch and if it becomes of greater concern, they just jump into the conversation without any formal invitation because they are part of the family.
Honestly, this is probably one of the best times to be in the game, as it is evolving daily and it is amazing the opportunities that are available. So, again, I say the future is bright and we are playing for that future.
PR measurement is an issue always, how and what do you think is the solution?
I said some of our clients are happy with our performance hence we are still in business. Measurement is relative to clients and the process and methodologies for measurement differ from subject to subject and the brief in question.
Technology is a major enabler in this area and it has solved some of the challenges facing measurement. However, as a business, it is best to start defining the objective of an assignment before starting the assignment, which will help to understand its nature based on the output and input. What we want to measure is subject to the nature of the task at hand and the issues around measurement should always be tied to the beginning of the assignment. What makes a particular campaign successful might not be what is seen, but the action and it could be the other way round based on the brief.
What is your take on government agencies and Public Relations?
I think it is a big question because various agencies of government will probably require different kinds of PR services from technology to health to regulations and even rural communities, so we can’t pontificate about government and public relations. What I can say is that there is a strong need for governments to connect with the people and the best PR in this area is letting the people feel the positive impact of the government. So when negative issues emanate from government policies and programmes, the people will speak positively for and on behalf of government.