Mr Chido Nwakama is the past President, Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN) and Chief Executive Officer of Blue Flower. In this interview with Akin Adewakun, he bares his mind on the state of PR in the country, noting that the greatest worry for the industry now is the sorry state of the nation’s economy.
The advent of the social media is, without doubt, with some effects on the conventional media and even the public relations practice, where you remain a major stakeholder. To what extent, would you say PR in Nigeria has latched on to the social media culture?
Yes, the impact has been meaningful. Online and social media have impacted everybody involved in the media. For public relations, online and social media have broadened the choice of platforms for message delivery. The significant change is that online media have taken pre-eminence amongst platforms because the audience has moved there. Online and social media are now a major platform where conversations around our clients; brands, institutions or individuals, take place. They have become essential for monitoring those communications, for delivering messages, and for receiving feedback.
PR practice still has serious issues in the areas of billing and unavailability of useful data necessary for planning and projection globally. As someone, deeply immersed in the practice, how do we tackle these issues?
I think I will disagree with this submission. Globally, measurement and evaluation have become an integral part of the service delivery in public relations. The industry has set high standards for evaluation. It has devised and agreed on a minimum standards, including doing away with measurement parameters, such as advertising equivalence, considered not so useful. The key challenge is that while clients talk about evaluation, they are often unwilling to put their money where their mouth is. Public Relations measurement is broader, it thus involves more work. That means more cost. You often cannot buy from an omnibus. You would have to construct your own surveys.
This is both a challenge and an opportunity for both public relations and the research industry. We need to develop measurement tools that enable firms and agencies buy into it for their needs, without having to set out to reinvent the wheel.
As a chief executive of a thriving PR firm and former president of a body of PR firms, you must had the opportunity of making a relative comparison, between the way PR is practised here and the way it is done in the rest of the world, through your interaction with global players in the industry. Any experience for us to borrow here?
Measurement is the key area where public relations practice here differs from elsewhere. This is a major challenge. Measurement is indicated in two of the four pillars of the PR model – Research, Action, Communication, and Evaluation. It means that the scientific model for public relations practice recognises the importance of listening before and after.
We need to do more work on listening. We need to have benchmarks for the work that we do, and I assure you communication professionals here do much work. One consequence of the way we practice here is that we often cannot present our work and win international awards. The key criterion for those awards is research.
What was your take off point? What was the level of awareness? What were the attitudes that you set out to tackle ab initio? What was it at the end?
Here, we concentrate on outputs, but the industry wants to see outcomes. Both the industry and clients need to work more on this area.
Another major challenge confronting PR in this part of the globe is its penchant of being mistaken for a kickback. As a professional, that once headed a regulatory body in the practice, how do you think we can tackle this and enhance the clout of the profession like Law and Medicine?
The challenge here is that there is a gross misunderstanding of the purport of public relations. I do not think that Public Relations practice needs to be like Law and Medicine. Not at all. Across the world, Public Relation is a young profession. It has grown in importance in line with developments in business and media. It would continue to grow. As platforms get more complex, businesses and institutions, as well as individuals, would require the services of experts to navigate and make sense of it all. There would be a greater need for public relations.
Some stakeholders have attributed government’s apathy towards the industry to its failure to position itself for its well-deserved recognition. How far would you agree with this? Rather, how best do you think government can engage practitioners for effective delivery of its policy to the people?
We in public relations refuse to accept blame for the inexcusable conduct of people in Government. The history of public relations in Nigeria shows that the Colonial and first Nigerian governments understood it and placed it a premium. It fell into disuse of some sorts during the military days. Why? These were authoritarian governments, with no inclination to holding conversations with citizens. They issued diktats. At best, they brought in journalists based on the initial orientation of public relations in focusing on media relations. With democracy, with enlightened audiences growing daily, and with many more media platforms, governments at all levels would soon realise the imperative of engaging professional communicators. The government is one institution for whom stakeholder engagement is at a premium. There are many stakeholders. The government needs strategic communication, not mere media relations. They need to monitor the conversations among various interested parties and develop audience-specific messaging for them. Then get feedback that feeds into policy. Strategic communication in government calls for the engagement of communication professionals. They can come off the shelf, or you train them. One of the first things I did when I moved from the journalism side of the IMC table to public relations was to undergo a training that changed my orientation, perspective and grasp of the issues. I am ever so grateful for the gentleman, Kevin Ejiofor and the organisation, Cadbury. It is a model of what should happen.
We have 90 per cent of Public relation agencies gasping for breath, don’t you think the best route to take at this point is to embrace either merger or acquisition?
Consolidation happens in every industry for any number of reasons. Agencies are struggling because there is not enough work. We are in the service sector. Our growth and profitability relate to the level of engagement which is a function of the overall health of the economy. Mergers are good to build stronger firms. Bigger companies need to tackle larger briefs, but are the briefs getting bigger? Do we have more clients in need of agencies? The real challenge, for me, is the health of the economy. The economy climate, without any doubt, is harsh but we are hoping that things we take a new turn soon