Current Trends & Challenges of Public Relations

Chido B Nwakanma
President, Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria
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.
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.
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
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:
The rise of enlightened stakeholders and management.
Increased pressure on firms to account to stakeholders.
Tendency to more open societies through democracy.
More media channels that explore various issues and enable public discourse.
Many new channels, media and non-media, such as GSM, empowering the
The underpinnings
Rough start
“Professional poisoners of the
public mind, exploiters of foolishness,
fanaticism and self interest.”
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.
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
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.
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.
Changing media scene
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
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.
The media set the agenda of discourse of key issues and influence opinion, for
good or ill.
Surveys show that media favourability often translates to favourability with
other stakeholder publics.
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
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
Huge numbers, including over 120
Dailies, weeklies.
Broad categorization: General news,
Sports (10) Business (4), Regional
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
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.
More individual publishing –Social media is vibrant, active and is becoming a
more potent force –for good or ill- in Nigeria.
More noise –people are bombarded each day with plenty of information in
news, advertisements etc, a natural consequence of having more media
More media outlets – it is difficult to keep pace with capturing the entry and
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
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
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
in consultancy
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
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
“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.
Deliver results. Both as a firm and an industry, Public Relations needs more
than ever to deliver measurable results.
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:
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.
Standardization –across the sector, need to agree on service levels and
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
Dan Lattimore, Otis Baskin, Suzette T. Heiman and Elizabeth L. Toth, Public
Relations: The Profession and the Practice, 4th Edition, New York, McGraw Hill,
Allen Center and Patrick Jackson, Public Relations Practices: Managerial Case
Studies & Problems 6th ed., 2003, Prentice Hall Inc.
Em Griffin, A First Look at Communication Theory, 7th Ed., New York, Mc-Graw
Hill, 2009.
Al Ries & Laura Ries, The Fall of Advertising and The Rise of PR: NY: Harper
Collins, 2002.
Paul Holmes, “What is a public relations consultancy”, The Holmes Report, May
18, 2012.
Luke Johnson, “A good PR consultant is worth the money”,,
December 7, 2010.
Thank you
Thank you for listening!

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