CURRENT TRENDS & CHALLENGES OF PUBLIC RELATIONS CONSULTING Chido B Nwakanma President, Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria Introduction Chido Benedict Nwakanma has spent the last 27 years in communication. Worked as journalist, worked in public relations on both Agency and Corporate (client) side, in marketing and in sales. BA Mass Communication, University of Nigeria; M.SC Sociology (Ind. Soc and Complex Organisations), University of Lagos. Member NIPR, CIPR UK, IABC. Registered practitioner in advertising. President, Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria. President, International Association of Business Communicators, Nigeria Media Relations Mgr, Export/Inst Sales Mgr, Cadbury Nigeria Plc; General Editor, BUSINESS magazine, Regional Correspondent (East), THISWEEK. Chief Operating Officer/Executive Director, Taijo Wonukabe Ltd. Chief Executive Officer, Blueflower Ltd. FLOW Brief history of Public Relations practice in Nigeria Origins of consultancy practice Emerging trends impacting public relations Issues and Key Success Factors for Public Relations consulting in Nigeria Origins Brief history of Public Relations in Nigeria Where we are coming from Public Relations in Nigeria has a history that dates back to the 1940s and the BIG companies of that era. The Colonial Government set up an Information Unit in 1944 to tell the story of the government and counter the nationalists. United African Company set up its own Public Relations Unit in 1949 and Nigerian Railway Corporation thereafter. The Nigerian Institute of Public Relations took off in 1963. From those early days, Public Relations has often added value to the best organisations and institutions of their time. There is today increased recognition of the function. The recognition is not a mere pat on the back. Rather, it acknowledges the increasing importance and need for the function in the modern Information Age. Where we are coming from2 Consultancy practice in Nigeria however has a more recent history. There were a few firms in the 1970s, including the celebrated Rod Publicity. Activity increased with the return to civilian rule in 1979, and in 1984 four firms came together to form the Public Relations Consultants Association, which they called Preecan. About the same time, advertising agency Insight Communications set up a full fledged public relations firm, The Quadrant Company, to handle requests from clients for public relations service. The Quadrant clocked 20 years just last year. Other firms soon followed suit. But the vagaries of the Nigerian political economy, particularly the Structural Adjustment Programme beginning in 1986, affected the practice. Agencies had a hard time and Preecan went into a slump. At the time of its revival in 2002, becoming PRCAN, Preecan had on its membership roll 76 firms of varying descriptions a number of which did not really offer public relations service. Growing importance and acceptance A 2010 report in PR Review, journal of the Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria, observed the growing acceptance and importance of public relations practise in Nigeria. The experts attributed this to: 1. The rise of enlightened stakeholders and management. 2. Increased pressure on firms to account to stakeholders. 3. Tendency to more open societies through democracy. 4. More media channels that explore various issues and enable public discourse. 5. Many new channels, media and non-media, such as GSM, empowering the populace. The underpinnings Strong foundations Rough start “Professional poisoners of the public mind, exploiters of foolishness, fanaticism and self interest.” Quote: US Supreme Court on public relations pioneers Ivy Lee and Edward Barnays in the early 20th century. Key elements of PR at work Six key activities are integral to PR practise. 1. Research Best practice in PR indicates the need to gather intelligence and understand the key variables in each case. 2. Strategic Planning A plan evolves from the situation and the data. Where are WE now? How did we get there? Where do we want to be? What should we do to get there? 3. Counselling In organisational settings, PR would need to achieve buy-in for the programme with other managers and departments. They need to understand what roles they should be playing. Key elements of PR at work 4. Internal Education Other players in the organisation need to understand where it is going, the plans and their expected roles. Everyone who interacts with customers, employees, the community , stockholders and all other publics helps form public relationships. Communication/Action Plan implementation is a critical step. Careful choice of messaging and appropriate channels. Creativity essential. As is feedback at every stage of implementation. 6. Evaluation To complete the loop, another type of research essential to chart effectiveness or lack of it. Feeds into a new plan. 5. Changing media scene Changing Media Scene Centrality of channels Our work in PR is one of managing the interface with various stakeholders on behalf of our organisations or clients. From the early typologies by Wilbur Schramm and others, media are a central part of communication. Al Ries and Laura Ries famously asserted in The Fall of Advertising & The Rise of PR, “What builds brands are media messages. The more messages, the more favourable the messages, the stronger the brand.” The centrality of media is particularly pronounced in the sophisticated communication that Public Relations entails. Marshall Mcluhan’s prediction that the convergence of electronic type would usher in a Global Village of connected computers enabling worldwide interaction has had far reaching implications for public relations practise globally and in Nigeria. Centrality of channels Communication scholars emphasise the centrality and importance of media. 1. The media set the agenda of discourse of key issues and influence opinion, for good or ill. 2. Surveys show that media favourability often translates to favourability with other stakeholder publics. 3. There is a tendency to treat issues on the surface and run with first impressions. Hence a need to manage the first and subsequent impressions to accentuate the positive on behalf of our organisations. Nigerian Media Scene1 The dynamism and explosive growth of the Nigerian media scene has had serious implications for public relations practice. In the broadcast media there are about 140 TV stations; the public broadcaster Nigerian Television Authority has 95 stations while 30 states own their own stations; 15 private stations; three satellite stations and five digital TV stations offering more than 70 international channels. The radio arm offers over 90 stations About 26 stations serve the commercial capital Lagos from within and neighbouring towns; public broadcaster Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria offers 102 radio stations; there are 61 state-owned stations (AM and FM bands) Raypower FM leads the growing array of private stations; 15 privately-owned stations and about three community stations ( the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and University of Lagos each have community stations for training). The print media scene is equally dynamic. Nigerian print media prides itself in its historical role of engagement in the nationalist struggle and latter as vanguard of the people’s interest in fighting the excesses of military rule. Takes its agenda setting function seriously. Huge numbers, including over 120 titles. Dailies, weeklies. Broad categorization: General news, Sports (10) Business (4), Regional titles. About 40 magazines representing General, Sports Business, Human Interest or soft sell, Genderspecific. Nigerian Media Scene2 Challenges of the Global Village More than the sheer numbers, however, the emergence of Mcluhan’s Global Village, made real through the Internet, has had great consequences for public relations practise. The “mass audience” has disintegrated into distinct groups and segments, requiring focused attention. Since PR has always advocated the importance of audience-specific messaging using the most suitable channels, it is the discipline most suited to manage the plurality of media in this age. Example: Airtel labour crisis. False David versus Goliath scenario. Power of social media. Emerging trends Emerging trends and public relations practise Key trends These are what the experts identified as key trends to watch. They are all present and growing in Nigeria. 1. More individual publishing –Social media is vibrant, active and is becoming a more potent force –for good or ill- in Nigeria. 2. More noise –people are bombarded each day with plenty of information in news, advertisements etc, a natural consequence of having more media channels. 3. More media outlets – it is difficult to keep pace with capturing the entry and exits. 4. Greater direct communication: Technology has lowered the barriers to entry and empowered every body with communication tools. Internet usage growing. Key trends2 5. Growth in Government Relations: Government is a ubiquitous entity in Nigeria. Government Relations as a function of public relations has grown in importance since the return to democratic governance. Companies required to deal with this entity at Federal, State and Local Government levels. Sometimes for meaningful purposes, sometimes for nuisance value. Whatever the case, the call is on PR to deliver on this function in the interest of organisations. 6. Importance of Public Affairs: The Public Affairs function also growing in importance. By this we mean strictly relations with various interest groups other than government. Consumer advocacy groups are taking shape alongside NGOs pursuing various other causes. PR would have to deal with the issues that they raise. Key trends3 7. Increasing role of CSR. Corporate Social Responsibility has grown in importance worldwide. UN has defined a position in its Social Compact. CSR even more important in Nigeria, given the failings of the governance process. Failures in the governance process mean citizens are demanding more from the alternative and visible government, being companies operating in the community. Companies themselves realise the need to do more, even in their self interest. CSR moving away from the tokenism of “give them something” to corporate social investment. “Corporate Universities” by Shell and Nigerian Breweries. Infrastructure projects particularly for firms in extractive industry. Public Relations required to strategise for win-win. Key trends4 8. Importance of measurement and evaluation PR increasingly called upon to prove strategic relevance to the bottom line as companies invest more in the function and elevate its functionaries. The call is to be more methodical in the use of the tools available to the profession. PR required to measure more, evaluate our programmes and activities and report outcomes as well as outputs. Need to speak more of the language of business (numbers) through quantification. As social media usage grows, PR required to be part of the discourse on behalf of the organisation or clients. Companies relying on Public Relations to understand how to deal with this contradictory phenomenon: useful, yet dangerous. Key trends5 9. More platforms require strategic thinking With so many channels, managers are under pressure to justify spend. Marketers have since discovered events, a traditional forte of public relations. There is increasing call on PR to develop strategies that enable “audience-specific messaging” and actual outcomes. Did we change perceptions or behaviours? Did we motivate action in favour of clients? PR people required to dig deeper into the soft skills of PR. 10. Public relations becoming more accountable. Growing budgets and importance of the function means greater demand for accountability. Issues in consulting Issues in consultancy practice Opportunities, yet… The scenario earlier means there are increasing opportunities for public relations consulting in Nigeria. Companies are seeing the need for more meaningful engagement with their stakeholders, and are turning to those who can deliver on it. However, public relations still largely viewed from the media relations tunnel or as gifting or even socialising. Therefore, competition for public relations consulting in Nigeria comes largely from journalists and people on client side who run briefcase media relations services or supplies activity. Ethical challenges from the climate of corruption – from brown envelope to gratification. Opportunities, yet…2 A key area of opportunity yet to be realised is in government business. There are over 350 MDAs in Nigeria. Less than 10% of those use formally registered public relations consultancies for their public relations work. As we noted earlier, public relations has always been part of government service delivery in Nigeria from colonial times. However, this needs to be scaled up We believe that government communication management and its relations with various stakeholders would be considerably enhanced through the engagement of PRCAN-member firms. Collective challenge and response The recognition of the role and importance of public relations in Nigeria means that huge budgets are increasingly appropriated for the function. However, the industry as recognised sees only a tiny fraction of this spend. It goes into various areas masquerading as PR and to various bodies. For many years, firms thought of going it alone: every firm for itself, God be with us and may the devil take the last! Not working! Enter PRCAN and recognition of the need for a collective approach to this challenge of washing with spittle while standing by the side of the river. PRCAN has devised an approach that also represents some of the KSFs for consulting in Nigeria The farmer and his corn A farmer grew superior quality corn. Each year it won at the State Fair. On enquiry from a reporter, the farmer said he shared his seed corn with his neighbours. “How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbours when they are competing with you?”, the reporter asked. “Why sir”, said the farmer, “didn’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbours grow inferior, sub-standard and poor quality corn, cross-fertilisation will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbours grow good corn”. KSFs for success in PR consulting The factors for success in consulting in Nigeria are macro and micro. Best viewed from the perspective of the industry as a whole and that of the individual firm within the sector. 1. Deliver results. Both as a firm and an industry, Public Relations needs more than ever to deliver measurable results. 2. Be strategic. Clients seek solutions that are sound on strategy and tie in to the needs of the business. In the Information Age, these include - Managing the conversations that result in real relationships - Focus on delivering relationships rather than delivering messages - Creating content for varied audiences - Advise and execution on policy and behaviour KSFs for success in PR consulting 3. Be a team player. Collaboration is what makes relationships work. Mutuality is at the heart of communication. Work synergistically with clients, understanding and meeting their needs. 4. Be one step ahead. 5. Network continuously. 6. Build your brand. The industry charter At a macro level, PRCAN is working on delivering the following: 1. Skilled manpower –Critical for PR people to be well equipped to deliver cutting edge services sound in theory and practise. PRCAN Masterclass delivering tiered training to increase skill levels in the industry. 2. Standardization –across the sector, need to agree on service levels and standards. 3. Changing perceptions –Physician must apply his own medicine and ensure positive perceptions of public relations professionals and the industry by all stakeholders, from clients through media to suppliers and staff. The industry charter 4. Advocacy Our advocacy programme highlights the fact that member firms offer services in 21 sub sets of our discipline. 5. Better regulatory framework – PR must cease from being an all comers affair. Need to manage entry and exit as all professions do. 6. Bigger, stronger firms necessary to have the muscles to offer the quality of service required in this age. Strong capital base. Notes and references 1. Dan Lattimore, Otis Baskin, Suzette T. Heiman and Elizabeth L. Toth, Public Relations: The Profession and the Practice, 4th Edition, New York, McGraw Hill, 2012 2. Allen Center and Patrick Jackson, Public Relations Practices: Managerial Case Studies & Problems 6th ed., 2003, Prentice Hall Inc. 3. Em Griffin, A First Look at Communication Theory, 7th Ed., New York, Mc-Graw Hill, 2009. 4. Al Ries & Laura Ries, The Fall of Advertising and The Rise of PR: NY: Harper Collins, 2002. 5. Paul Holmes, “What is a public relations consultancy”, The Holmes Report, May 18, 2012. http://www.holmesreport.com/featurestories-info/11901/What-Is-APublic-Relations-Consultancy.aspx 6. Luke Johnson, “A good PR consultant is worth the money”, FT.com/Management, December 7, 2010. Thank you Thank you for listening!