Fixing Nigeria’s reputation deficit cannot be done by PR alone —Segun McMedal, Chairman, Lagos State Chapter, NIPR
In this interview by AKIN ADEWAKUN, the Chairman of the Lagos Chapter of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), Mr Segun McMedal talks about his administration, since being in the saddle for over three years ago, challenges confronting PR practice in Nigeria, and why all hands must be on deck if the nation’s reputation deficit is to be fixed.
I believe I shouldn’t score myself. It is the people that should do that. But if you check my manifesto, it will give you an idea of how far I have fared, since coming on board, about three years ago. There were certain goals that I set for myself, about nine in all. Among such goals was to have a good relationship with stakeholders, I mean the media, the Corporate Lagos, the government, schools, academia and others. I think we have done very much, with the support of my executive, in that regard. I’ll also want to recall the background of things when I was coming on board. There used to be a kind of disaffection among members, there used to be what some people call factions and cliques. My aim therefore was to see a unified Lagos Chapter and we have achieved that. Another thing was to deepen and refocus the monthly Lagos PR Clinic. I noticed that the quality of resource persons determines a lot of things when it comes to delivering or attracting people to that clinic. So we have been able to assemble and leverage on this to drive people to our meetings. I also look forward to a very close working relationship with my exco members. Before then,the allegation had always been that every chairman always embarked on a solo run. So I try as much as possible to work with the exco member as a team. We have also deepened our relationship with the national body, who we report to. We have been able to turn the Chapter to a brand.
Being Lagos Chapter does not make us immune to economic downturn
Despite being the nation’s economic nerve- centre, I can say categorically that the economic downturn is also taking its toll on individuals and businesses in the state. So the practice and practitioners of PR, here, are not immune to what is being experienced at the nation’s economic front. You will notice that the volume of business has shrunk, and this is affecting everybody, including PR practitioners in Lagos.
The new media and today’s PR practitioners
The advent of the new media is a double-edged sword, really, for practitioners. The good side is that it makes communication a lot faster. One can also reach a larger number of audience, faster. You also have a lot of contents to play with, unlike the traditional media, where such things are subject to sub-editors’ choices. The new media give space. And this is good for the practice. The bad side however is the advent of fake news that comes with this. Sometimes before you release a report, such report is already out, and in most times, it’s fake. So the challenge is that sometimes the real and authentic news would have to contend with the fake news for audience, and sometimes the fake news look so real than the real news. So we have a challenge on our hand of the people managing the social media space. Some of them are not trained, but are simply into the trade because they have access to data, smartphone and laptop. Another issue with this new media is the fact that it’s a 24 hour kind of exposure. For instance, if an agency doesn’t know how to monitor, it could spell doom for such agency. If you are the type that runs 9 to 5pm, operations, you stand the risk of being embarrassed.
Our survival strategies for the tough, challenging times
I think the way out for any business at times like this is to continue to innovate and adapt. It is either you do these two things or shut down as a business. What we need to do is to try and cut our coat according to our material, that is to adapt. That is our members should try and do things in unusual ways, they should see how they can drive value. In whatever they do they should ensure value-addition. That’s what we are actually focusing on. When we have our PR Clinic, we usually sharpen their skill to ensure they add value to brand from time to time.
Addressing the nation’s reputation deficit
The issue with Nigeria is more fundamental than all this. I don’t think PR alone can solve the nation’s reputation deficit. Not even rebranding. Building a brand, for instance, requires addressing its emotional value, its intrinsic value and its physical value. Those are the reasons for associating with a brand. Let’s look at the issues with Nigeria. Several issues plaguing Nigeria, and one of them is leadership. Pick any sector, you will see that there are issues everywhere. I was in Rwanda recently, and one thing that struck me is that in the last few years, Rwanda has become a force to reckon with in Africa. What have they done right? When I visited the place where those victims of the holocaust were buried, I was swept off my feet. It struck me that we were just playing lip service to reconciliation. When I saw that site and what the Rwandan government has done, I realized that the reasons we have not seen real healing in the South East is the way the government managed it. I also noticed that the Rwandan government was able to achieve that much because there is national vision and values. Leadership is held accountable for its actions. For me, these are the indices that make up the reputation of a country. In this country, the richer you are, the higher the chances of getting away with impunity. The leadership is not setting good example. We don’t have a national vision, even if we have, this is something we need to be communicating And, of course, our value systems are questionable. We lay too much emphasis on wealth. It doesn’t matter how you get it, just get it. So PR will try, but there are still some intrinsic things to be addressed. So managing the country’s reputation deficit cannot be solved by PR alone, a lot of issues must be involved.
NIPR not tied to the apron string of any ministry, it’s fully independent
Well, to the best of my knowledge, NIPR is actually Independent, very independent. It is never an arm of the Federal Ministry of Information, as many people erroneously believe. The fact remains that any parastatal or agency has to be answerable to one ministry or the other, and that is exactly what is happening in the case of NIPR and the nation’s information ministry. I’ve been in NIPR for some time now and there hasn’t been any interference from government. The only input of government in the institute is its governing board where it is supposed to have four representatives, which they do from time to time. Interestingly, despite that, the governing board is still independent. No government interference in whatever form. Remember that we are set up by an Act of parliament, which makes us truly independent.
Our efforts at checking quackery
The truth of the matter is that there is no profession without quacks. We are not taking it lightly, too. We have monitoring committee at the national level, and some state chapter chairmen are members of this committee. So as I speak with you now, there is a case in court of someone caught in the act. When apprehended, it is either they are taken to court or warned. Several measures can be applied, depending on the gravity of the offence. And, of course, the monitoring arm is very strong.
On quackery, we believe in engagement before wielding the big stick
What we try to do is to engage and educate people practising this without certification. For instance, there was a particular head of agency, who got appointed. When the institute got to know about this, we wrote her a letter on the need to regularise her membership with the institute. She quickly did, because she didn’t know in the first place. And I can tell you is that the strategy is working. But that doesn’t mean we will not wield the big stick where and when necessary.
Running a chapter such as Lagos NIPR requires a 24 hour attention.
One of the greatest challenges of running the Chapter is that it requires a 24 hour attention. If you are a chairman, who is still an employee, you’ll have issues running the association. This is because it is highly demanding. Even if you are an entrepreneur, it may take its toll on your business; since you’ll have less time running the business now, especially if you want to get results. Being the chairman of Lagos Chapter is simply demanding. It’s not easy to lead a group of virile practitioners and getting their support, if you are not ready to think out of the box and give the task the utmost attention it deserves.