How I became Mr. Nigeria, nine hours from home

I was going to tell you anyway. But now you know – I’m officially Mr. Nigeria.

I remember years ago, my friend from Okokomaiko, Deji Bakare, won the Silverbird contest. And to be honest, I haven’t really followed it since then. Not that I’m really that keen about a macho contest for men anyway. In fact, I’ve never been keen about any ‘beauty contest.’ How do you determine that one human is more beautiful than another?

I wish I could say I found the answer.

Instead, what I found is that I was one of the best Africans in Finland this past week, representing BHM the annual summit of International Communications Consultancy Organization. And it was such a big deal; it made me feel quite honoured, seeing there were just about two of us.

And guess what? Of all the Nigerian PR executives that attended, I was the most active, the best dressed, the most punctual, the most everything. How many of us attended? Well, since you ask: I suspect I was the only one.

And that’s exactly how I earned my new title.

Attending the two-day conference in my traditional buba and sokoto, complete with embroidered cap, and taking every opportunity to share case studies and situation reports from the Nigerian industry, I didn’t know I was campaigning for a title I barely remembered existed. By the end of day one, everyone was already calling me Mr. Nigeria, even though my name tag was on my chest, with my full name boldly printed on it.

The immediate past ICCO president Maxim Behar led the gang, and I loved it.

Paul Holmes, Ayeni Adekunle Samuel and Maxim Behar

The theme for this year’s conference was ‘Innovate, Engage, Evolve,’ with sessions focusing on a wide range of topics and issues – from A.I to ethics, measurement to mergers and acquisitions; from purpose to talent management and creativity.

China’s Zhao Dali told the 300 delegates-strong room on day one how the industry in his country only kicked off in the 90’s, earning around $1m in 1998, and now billing over $7bn as at 2016, with at least two agencies already listed on the exchange. Mind so blown, I had to turn and ask everyone around me to be sure I heard the figures correctly. Then I had to take a picture with him and get his card. Of course, I’ve already emailed him. Don’t be too surprised if I head to China from here.

Brad Schwartzberg and Michael Lasky from the US firm Davis & Gilbert gave us some very good tips on mergers and acquisitions, but from the buyer’s and seller’s perspective. This is something I believe is extremely important to agencies in emerging markets like Nigeria – to emerge strong from the current situation in which many find themselves, we must align in strategic ways. Some will have to merge to achieve stronger finances, stronger talent, stronger governance, and so on. Others will have to be bought and sold. If we are to truly take over the continent and play big within the EMEA, possibly even globally, I see M&As as inevitable.

I particularly liked three presentations: Rob Flaherty (Ketchum), John Brown (Hotwire) and Roger Bolton (Arthur Page). Ranging from discussions on how new technology and the disruption of the consumer media industry has changed how we help clients communicate with the media and audiences, to how a CCO would actually make sense of all these things in the face of merging roles, expanding responsibilities, and expectations of a variety of skills. Brands need our help at the intersection of so many new and emerging skills, and we can’t afford to fail them.

The consumer now has unprecedented power, and brands now have to actually be who and what they claim they are. I like the term Rob used: ‘Brand is as brand does.

I can go on and on, from John’s successful attempt at shattering many myths, to Katie King’s amazing presentation on the fourth industrial revolution, and Aedhmar Hynes’ talk session on the kind of leadership we need in the midst of all this disruption. Or Paul Holmes’ powerful talk that fired everyone up. And to think he had not a single slide!

ICCO Finland 2017

In 2015, our organization BHM sponsored a research into the Nigerian PR industry, doing surveys in four cities, and speaking to hundreds of practitioners from client and agency sides. Our conclusion? PR is dead. Every piece of data pointed to this fact: public relations as we knew it is dead; practitioners must evolve, or die. We must stop complaining about the incursion of so called digital agencies and consulting firms into core PR functions, and actually start demonstrating to clients we have superior skills and resources. We not only published our findings on a dedicated website – prisdead.ng; we went on to execute social media campaigns across Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. In fact, we organized a memorial service in our office, and got several national Newspapers to write about it. And then we followed with the Nigeria PR Report, which has now been published since 2016.

As I sat on the Pub Tram on Friday night with fellow ICCO delegates, clicking plastic cups, taking selfies, and exchanging banter, I couldn’t help thinking about the theme for the summit: Innovate | Engage | Evolve; I couldn’t help thinking about everything we have been saying about PR in Nigeria – I couldn’t help hearing different loud voices in my head, from Yomi Badejo-Okusanya, to Emeka Oparah, to our own Femi Falodun, and the university lecturer Dr. Bisi Olawuyi.

Let me attempt to say it, now that I have been decorated with this new title from faraway Finland by some of the most remarkable PR executives from all over the world: the public relations industry as we know it is dead.  Our clients’ needs have changed; the media landscape has changed; consumer needs and habits have changed remarkably. The world has been transformed in so many ways since the last set of PR textbooks, curriculum and practices were designed. If we must survive and succeed; if we must see the future and truly solve great problems, tell great stories, and bring our relationship skills into this new age; if we must be part of this new economy, then we must learn new skills, relearn some, and unlearn the old, decayed stuff.

ICCO 2017 Finland

If we do what’s right, it is impossible for anyone to stop us. Technology and globalization could be our greatest enablers if we embrace the opportunities they provide.

If we don’t, then that’ll be another story entirely.

And that’s a message for the global PR industry, not just for Nigeria, or Africa.

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