In this interview, Lead Strategist and Chief Executive Officer, Absolute PR, Akonte Ekine, x-rays public relations practice in Nigeria, attributing its slow growth to the reluctance of government to give it the recognition it deserves. Excerpts:
How would you say technology has disrupted Public Relations practice, considering the evolution of the practice, over the years?
It is a time-tested fact that professions will always evolve. Interestingly, in the last 10 years, digital technology has taken a greater toll on professions, including Public Relations. I like to always tell people that yes, it’s all about additional tool and media channels. But the fact remains that what you look at in PR today is that the barrier of gate-keeping has been eroded to a large extent, though there is a UK law – General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – that has to do with people not just sending mails but have to have data approval. PR in the last 10 years has gone through series of transition and has impacted on everybody. Today, we talk about citizen journalism and influencers. We used to have influencers, but power of the influencer today is that he has the digital tool to create his platform and push his content. What a PR person now does is reverse his thinking to address the present situation to say now, I have more channels to do narrow-casting instead of broadcasting.
Generally speaking, what would be your overview of the Nigerian PR industry?
Firstly, let’s classify the industry. In the UK, there’s a rating agency which exists for photography, cinematography and so on. In that regard, you don’t just come out and say you are a photographer. Even in medicine, people rate you. In our industry, do we have a rating agency? We don’t even have a rating institution in Nigeria. As a person, if I’m going to rate anybody, I will say these are the parameters. Here, what we do is say because we are able to work for certain clients, these are the first-class agencies. For us in Absolute PR, we’ve been privileged to work for clients in the oil and gas sector, FMCG, NGO, and as I speak to you, today, we have a client that takes us far and wide the globe. What I’m saying is that here, the industry is not rated. Government itself is not giving PR its right position. You can’t be among top government functionaries and beat your chest as a PR person because you don’t get the recognition you deserve. Had that been done, it would enable us to have primary training in the field of public relations. It’s rather absurd, for me, seeing a trained journalist functioning as a PR person, without the primary training. It is only in Nigeria that government will need a public relations person, and will settle for a journalist and expect the person to function. It is sad that the country itself doesn’t appreciate communication as a profession. And until we start to understand the impact of communication, we will not make certain progress because the communication you need for the Fulani man is different from what you need for the Yoruba man. Yes, he’s human but his psychographic analysis is different. You need an influencer for him to make him feel as part of the big picture of Nigeria. That aspect has been lacking in communication in this country.
The establishment of the Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN) was done, few years ago, with the aim of enhancing professionalism in the practice. How far would you say those set objectives have been achieved?
The profession is so big that you can work in any sector and be a member of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR). But there is a bye-law for NIPR which set up Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN). It is for public relations consultants in this environment to be members of that association. And if you are a member of PRCAN which is a sub body of NIPR, it confers on you, certain status of competence in handling the job of public relations.
I like what NIPR has been doing in recent times. They are providing a platform for us to make our positions on how the Nigerian story should be told known to the government. You know one of those things we lack is how to tell our story. We allow our story to be told by foreigners. Nobody goes out to celebrate you if you don’t celebrate yourself.
So, you share the sentiment that the government would have achieved better results if it had enlisted the services of professionals?
Absolutely! Even when you don’t have that knowledge base as a nation, you structure your laws to favour your people. That’s what’s happening in China; the same thing with the British, during privatisation, when Margaret Thatcher was in power. They didn’t have everything. But you don’t take a job from British government without having a business entity that is of British heritage. Even in China, you can’t be a lawyer from US, and because you want to start a conglomerate you are bringing only the US companies. A local company must be there. That’s what all this talk about local content is all about. The dynamics in which the whites talk to blacks are different. We have our culture and it affects our thinking and disposition. The way I’m going to tell the story about Nigeria to the woman in the village is not the same way I will talk to the woman in Lagos. In my village in Rivers, what they see, feel and touch is different from what the man in Lagos sees, feels and touches. So you have to understand all these to enable you communicate with the people better.
In recent times, some government agencies, especially at the state level, are gradually seeing the need to have strategic communication in place. What do you think is responsible for this?
Yes, you are right. But some states are deliberately cutting the process of engaging professionals. Now, in those few states where we see changes, a lot of the people doing that were involved in private practice before going to that side. There’s an understanding of the values they are going to get from that process. It’s one thing to say I’m a professional; it’s another to have been engaged and entrenched in the process of being a professional. We can all carry certificates. It’s not the certificate that makes the man. It’s the man that gives value to the certificate. Hopefully, as we turn the century, over a period of time, maybe we will move up the ladder. If you talk about PR, when they list countries and agencies, Nigeria is not even on the radar. Unfortunately, this is not limited to PR. The only thing we are selling to the world today is our number. But over a period of time, those numbers won’t count. What will count is the individual capacity and ability.
Beyond what PRCAN is doing, what else do you think can be done to enhance PR practice in Nigeria?
Public Relations is a knowledge business. It’s a glamour business to some people though, but it’s absolutely a knowledge driven business. It is what you know that you sell. If you want to sell to the presidency and you carry superior knowledge to them, they will buy.
The most important thing is that we should realise we are a learning nation. The unfortunate thing is we don’t learn well. Look at what’s happening in oil and gas. How can a country that produces the largest crude oil in Africa not have a functioning refinery? Despite all technicians that have come out of this country and the number of whites that have come to train people. Relate that back to public relations in this country you will know how backward we are mentally.
I don’t like to look at public relations in isolation, I like to look at it holistically. Doctors are leaving because we don’t have the right environment. If we have the right environment, production will grow very fast.
What has the experience been like in recent times?
Recently, we have the opportunity to have relationship with a network called Network One – a global network of hundred independent agencies coming together to form an alliance in the course of running business.
The other good thing is that our business is growing despite the challenges and we are looking forward to doing greater things in the industry. If you look at the Nigerian landscape, the industry is evolving. Engineering as business is evolving, medicine as business is evolving and so on.
Recession has come and gone, no doubt, but definitely, not without its impacts. How did you weather that storm?
What we first did was to face reality. We evaluated ourselves and looked at the situation on ground. We discovered that it’s either we scaled down or right. What we did was to scale right. We looked at our clientele; we looked at those who were active and ready to expand, and those affected by challenges or recession. We did analysis and realised that the best way to stay afloat was scale down in certain areas and keep ourselves at the forefront of activities to arrive at where we are today. We ended up signing a relationship with Network One, an independent agency group based in London. And it’s looking beautiful now for us.
The post Government isn’t giving PR recognition it deserves —Ekine, CEO, Absolute PR appeared first on Tribune.Read Full Story