PR Is Dead

It’s 2015.

It’s July 9, and almost 50 workers at BlackHouse Media, a public relations agency in Lagos, Nigeria are out of patience waiting for June salaries.

A week earlier, the finance team sent a mail to all staff, explaining the delay and promising payment in one week. It’s the first time in many years that the eight year old agency is failing to pay salaries on time.

BlackHouse Media, a member of BHM Group, is by Nigerian definitions a successful agency. It works for two multi-nationals, including the country’s biggest brewer; it works for media giants and has a digital advantage over every competitor in the market. In 2014, the company launched Nigeria’s first PR application, and recorded over 1 billion social media impressions for client campaigns. One year later, it launched its own digital agency, ID Africa.

BHM Group Staff

BHM Group

BlackHouse Media is not struggling. But while staff salaries were only delayed for one week in June (after a cash flow hitch), the same cannot be said for a lot of other agencies in its category.

According to a 2015 survey, only a handful of public relations agencies in Nigeria are able to pay staff and contractors as at when due. A lot of old and new generation agencies are struggling to make ends meet in a market when creative agencies, digital marketing companies and media independents are making a kill.

Why is this so?

Many in the industry believe it is because agencies cannot charge much. Only a few get good budgets and are on retainers.
As a result, only few can keep great talent. The flight from PR into advertising or client side is at an all time high; most of the agencies surveyed have lost senior consultants in the past year.

Only few can do great work.

PR is rarely in the room when management is planning or when the government is strategizing. When we do get called, it is often for traditional media relations or to ‘manage’ press events.

PR Is Dead

Clients complain they do not get value at the level of strategy; that they do not get help navigating social media; that they do not see creativity and innovation, especially in storytelling and community management.

Agencies lament on the frustration in not being properly compensated; not having access to senior management. They complain about phony pitches, poaching and government’s failure at regulation.

Nigeria’s federal government continues to engage services of quacks for public relations roles even as many public and private organizations regularly engage unregistered foreign agencies to do PR work in Nigeria.

Many of the so-called big agencies cannot pay competitive wages, and in recent times, several have owed up to three months’ pay.

Pundits say creative and media agencies are not immune to these problems. Reports say only a handful of agencies in that segment are running profitably.

The difference? You can identify the big media accounts based on spend. You can understand why some agencies are getting lucrative creative briefs while others are idle. There are more than a few media, events and creative agencies turning over billions of Naira annually from one-offs, commissions or retainer works. There is, at this moment, none in PR.

BHM Media & Intelligence predicts that more agencies will see revenues dwindle if client trust is not restored, if the industry is not able to re- attract super talents. And these will only happen if the practice is able to resurrect.

Yes, PR is dead.

What exactly do we bring to the table that clients and their publics cannot do without? The current system of press releases, buzz words and other fluff?

PR Statistics

Nigeria has a population estimated at about 200 million. Most of these are young people spread round rural, semi-urban and urban areas.

As at March 2015, there was an estimate of 195 million active mobile phones in Nigeria with GSM subscriber base of 144,486,786. Nigeria has the highest Internet penetration rate in Africa with an annual growth of about 4 million.

ID Africa Stats

Our country has over 7 million people on Facebook and is considered one of the top five African countries with the most Twitter activityAlso, the adoption of other platforms like WeChat, Whatsapp and Instagram is growing rapidly.

Newspaper circulation will predictably continue to drop. Some of the country’s biggest titles have cut print runs consistently; several have shut down presses while others have completely gone off the stands. In a country where media relations is a core function for most PR professionals, how will this impact on our work?

More consumers are spending more time on their phones than in front of the TV. Media platforms are rapidly redefining themselves and aligning with consumer habits.

Brands are using storytelling and content marketing to engage their consumers. Many consumers are becoming content creators and publishers in their own rights – be it through their Facebook status updates or by expressing strong opinions on Twitter. Some of the biggest media and influencer jobs of the past two years in terms of income and impact have been by individuals on social media; individuals who may never have been considered ‘media’ only a few years ago. Some of them are so powerful that the Nigerian government has nicknamed them ‘cabal’.

But where are the PR people?

What do these figures mean?

It is time we shamed those who believe “PR will never take its long-coveted seat at the boardroom table, where it will be recognized as an essential component of strategic business rather than a bolt-on” (Phillip 2015, 11).


Spent Monday evening at the BHM Lounge, in company of some of the brightest minds around, as we gathered to celebrate the founder of X3M Group Steve Babaeko.

SB had announced last week that September 1 made it 20 years since he ventured into advertising.

As we shared hot amala and orisirisi; with canapés and cognac and cocktails, everyone spoke about the power of Steve’s imagination;  about the determination and drive that got him here. Everyone agreed this gentleman that arrived in Lagos broke and hopeless changed his life and his story by doing the work- from artiste management to equipment leasing, to copywriting and music.

Music gave him the fame; advertising gave him a career and much more.

Steve Babaeko

Steve Babaeko

But it’s the inspiration – the one that pushes him; the one he gives to others even when he doesn’t try, that gave him a name.

That name may be what his parents gave him. But it’s no longer a basic nomenclature for a random guy from Kabba in Kogi state. That name now belongs to a trusted brand that’s fulfilling a promise: that Nigerian advertising can be great again; that copy writers and creative directors can build a business too; that you can make it if you dare. That an agency CEO can sag his pants and wear Giuseppe Zanotti . The promise (and message) that everything you want is chilling on the other side of fear.

The full story of Steve Babaeko will be told someday soon.

Happy anniversary, boss.

Kelvin Orifa, Steve Babaeko & Toni Kan

Kelvin Orifa, Steve Babaeko & Toni Kan

Kelvin Orifa, Steve Babaeko & Ayo Animashaun

Kelvin Orifa, Steve Babaeko & Ayo Animashaun

Ayeni Adekunle with Yetunde Babaeko

With Yetunde Babaeko

Modenine with Steve Babaeko & Yetunde Babaeko

Jonah the Monarch, Modenine with Yetunde & Steve Babaeko

Steve Babaeko,  Ayo Animashaun & Ayeni Adekunle

With Steve Babaeko & Ayo Animashaun

Ayeni Adekunle & TEE A

With Tee A

Chris Ihidero

Chris Ihidero

Ayeni Adekunle, Ayo Animashaun, Steve Babaeko


PUBLIC RELATIONS – The MOTHER of ADVERTISING: A Discussion With The Staff of X3M Ideas On February 13, 2015

The summary of what we are going to talk about is how PR is a more important and instructive practice than Advertising, and how PR has failed in a lot of ways to occupy that throne and use it well. We will also talk about how advertising has become extremely important to companies, corporations and individuals, and how it continues to garner the kind of respect that it does. Finally we will discuss how both practices, if we are not careful, and things continue in their current direction, MAY go extinct in a few years.

In Nigeria, most PR agencies do not yet know the language of social. They don’t use the platforms and they don’t understand the communities. PR is stuck in that era where we think that once we get our stories out in the newspapers, and onto television channels like Channels and NTA, and we can go back to clients with clippings and reports, then we have done a great job. PR Globally moved beyond that many years ago.

I am going to talk through the slides and I want us to have a conversation. I want to give you my own understanding of what we do, my understanding of what you do, how both practices can help each other, how both practices have failed to use some tools and some skills, and how we have given that opportunity to outsiders at the risk of our profession.

Most people believe that advertising is very critical to a brand’s success and survival, whether in terms of taking a product to the market, or building brand, or with regard to communication in any way. Up till now, most people still do not know what PR is or what PR does. Most people believe stories that do not even exist. A lot of the time, what we think is the case is not exactly so.

Who knows the story of David and Goliath? What exactly do you think happened? From what we have read from books, from history, from the bible, what exactly happened with David and Goliath?

Any Christians here?

He killed him. He destroyed the giant. Anybody else? We all agree right?

Who has a contrary opinion or information about what happened? Who has read anything elsewhere or has other information?

In actual fact, credible records have it that Goliath was partially blind and so he could only win a battle at close range. And David understood that.

So let us take this back to PR and advertising. The entire world believes that advertising is extremely important. In fact, the first PR agency in Nigeria, Quadrant, was founded by Insight, which is an advertising agency. This misconception needs to change if advertising itself wants to do its job better and if PR is to ever have a career and a future, and I will explain as I go on.

obama buhari

This picture of Buhari with the young boy, what does it suggest?

That he is a family man.

That he likes kids.

He is accessible.

He takes time out.

He is emotional.


The picture of the general in his military uniform, what does it suggest?

That he is the opposite.

The picture of Zahra Buhari, what does it suggest to you?



The picture of Buhari’s wife compared to say, the wife of the current President – what does it suggest to you?



Do we agree that it is possible that all these entire perceptions are wrong? Do you agree that it’s possible that the Buhari in the military outfit is a kind man?

In fact most of you see here, from Buhari and the boy, was a photoshoot – it was staged to create that kind of perception.

The photo of Zahra Buhari was carefully chosen. If you see the other photo where she is smiling, she is not exactly as beautiful as this.

We believe these things – even the most brilliant of minds – because it speaks to what we like and we expect. We do not even interrogate it. So it is easy to sell Buhari the General as heartless.

What do you think worked for Barack Obama’s rise to the top of American politics?

There are several things. Who can give me ideas?



Anything else?

Perceived competence?

Now what do we think worked against him in his first term as America’s President? I think most importantly, what worked against him was that he was not prepared for that office. He was not prepared for all the damage that had been done. It is easy to campaign on promises, but when you walk into the room, it is different. For example if or when Buhari becomes President, he will suddenly realize the extent of damage and then we will all become impatient.

So essentially, some of the time, these misconceptions exist and thrive, and they have destroyed industries and built others. They have built countries and they have destroyed countries.


Now what is the truth? The truth, as I have said earlier, is that Public Relations should be the master brand that allows experiential marketing, advertising and all other elements to thrive. Public Relations is what we have shown with the pictures we just saw. It is what we showed with the story of David and Goliath. It is what we have shown with the story of the protest boy and the dog in the US Black movement protest. There are some things that are actually false that we believe based on what they said to us when we were growing up.


Public Relations is the reason why the whole world would think that this gentleman is about to stab this other guy, and most people will not even interrogate and investigate to discover that this is not the case. Public Relations is the reason we all believe that Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is an incompetent and clueless President – you do not know him, you have never been to Chibok, and you don’t go to Aso Rock. You only believe what you do based on what you have encountered in the Public Space. Public Relations is the reason why nobody sees Dangote’s bank account. Nobody knows how much he is worth. But if I ask everybody in this room who the richest Black man on earth is, we will all agree it is Aliko Dangote.

The media here is still the platform through which the public can get to experience these stories and the way PR has used the media here for decades has been as a distant third party platform. So you work for this gentleman and this incident has happened and you want to tell that story, so you then you tell this story through Channels or through AIT or through HipTV and STV.

The question is, do people believe it or not? Will people believe it or not? Advertising can do better if it understands the importance and the value of PR and if it uses PR more. PR on its part needs to understand what it brings to the table and how to re-ignite that credibility, because this question is not just a Nigerian problem – it is a global problem for PR. If you speak to people from the United States or the United Kingdom, it is a consistent problem. PR itself has not come out to establish itself by saying – this is the value I bring to the table.

Now we have seen the issue with PR. We have seen how Advertising can use PR better, and how PR itself can do with better PR. These practices actually should coexist and help each other.

But guess what? I have some bad news. In May last year, I was speaking in Mauritius the night after Google announced the experiment with their self-driving car. It was the point where the whole world thought Google Glass was going global. It was a PR conference of senior PR people from governments across the continent and I said to them that until we realise our role as storytellers, until we realise our role as a principal of sorts to communities, we will continue to allow outsiders to come in and speak to our people. It is like having a company and you don’t engage your staff, you have no policy for internal and external communications, and you do not tell your own story – others are going to talk about you anyway. And it may not always be in your interest.

Now the gentleman spoke about the developers and the IT guys.

Today when you think of Google, what kind of company do you think Google is? What business do you think Google is into?

Ideas creation.



Now Google in reality is a tech company but Google is about the biggest advertising agency in the world. Google is about the biggest PR agency in the world and if the people who work in PR and Advertising had some sort of foresight, we should have been the ones creating companies like Google and Facebook. It is a shame that if you do a search of the top 10 social media platforms across the world, it is likely not one is owned by an Advertising agency or by a PR agency.

Meanwhile we are the communicators – we are the ones that help the brands tell their stories better. We are the ones that take products to the market. We are the ones who understand consumer psychology. We are the masters of demographics and psychographics.

So if we know these people behave, and we know their habits that much, and we understand trends, how come it is that while we were sleeping, Google became the monster it is today? How is it that Google was mapping the entire world when nobody was asking for maps? How is it that Mark Zuckerberg was creating Facebook because he wanted people to be able to do this? How come some kids developed Snapchat when advertising agencies have been advising brands on how to speak to teenagers for eons?

So it is like this is our own party and we didn’t even come late – we came after the party has ended and everybody has gone home. Now we are struggling to understand how to use these platforms. As I said earlier, the beginning should be us understanding how to use these platforms, and the end should be us understanding that Advertising or PR has moved from just knowing how to tell good stories to creating the kind of experiences that social platforms provide for brands and their consumers.

I am going to ask a very stupid question: If you woke up this morning and the first thing you did was pick your phone, put up your hand.

All hands up. See?

So, we are the best people to know that fact from 20 years ago because we have all the data regarding how habits were changing from desktops to laptops, and from laptops to mobiles. We are the people best placed to know how people are consuming entertainment and to know how people are engaging with brands. The kind of intelligence that comes with advertising in Nigeria in terms of media consumption is unbelievable, and it is even greater globally.

Instead presently, our future is in the hands of people who don’t even care about our industry. I’m going to use a very silly Nigerian example – Linda Ikeji is not a member of NIPR. She has never sat for the APCON examination. She is not an advertiser. She is not a media practitioner. She is not a PR person.

But she is engaging with more communities than with any of the brands that we work for.

The most academic of women; the most intellectual of women constantly have Linda Ikeji open on their phones, laptops and iPads. How is she able to build such platforms without insight or access to the kind of intelligence that both industries have? Now you see advertisers struggling to pay for the backdrop of Linda Ikeji’s website or mobile site. You see PR people struggling to put sponsored posts on the site – sponsored posts that one can tell are sponsored anyway. Or you go to YouTube and you see all the advert videos. They say you can skip this advert in how many seconds? I’m sure everybody waits to just skip!

Today, everybody is talking about wearables and connected devices. Zuckerberg is pushing the lot. Companies that do not do advertising are using technology to create products that will determine how consumers spend their free time or their education time. Companies are thinking, “If you have a car that has 4 windows – why can’t all of those windows be LED screens? Why does it have to be static? If you have all these things around your house – if you have bulbs, you have doors, why can’t they be smart?” These companies are not traditionally into advertising, but the moment we begin to use those things and enjoy them, then they begin to deliver advertising to us. We then take our client budget there!

Do we understand?

We will see pens and wristwatches and shoes and cars that suddenly have become smart and because consumers constantly look for new ways of living, everybody is going to move there. And even when you don’t like it, your brand will suddenly realise that oh, there are 75 million young people who use Snapchat per hour. They will tell you, “I want to be there! If that is where they are spending their time, then I want to be there to speak to them! “

The best advertising agencies even in Nigeria, can employ the best developers in Nigeria. If Insight wants to employ everybody at CC Hub today, they can employ everybody and shut down that place.

So why do we not understand that trend and key into it on time? Why are we just adopters? Even if we are early adopters, it does not do our profession any good. Why are we not building the platforms that can provide these experiences? Car companies are doing it. In fact, while speaking to the PR guys in Mauritius, I told them “Our brands, the brands we want to work for like BMW – these brands are thinking ahead!” At the CES this January, Mercedes Benz displayed their first self-driving car! These companies are thinking in that direction, and the more it works, the more consumers adopt them. Definitely some will fail and some will work but the way habits are going, consumers will continue to look for new ways to live. Why do we want to just keep doing follow-follow?

collage pic

Finally, if it is too late for us to build the Facebooks, if it’s too late for us to build the Tumblr’s and Instagrams; if it’s too late for us to start building anything that can capture the imagination and the attention of consumers, why don’t we create the kind of content that captures audiences?

Facebook for example, cannot survive without content – interesting content from everybody is the reason Facebook thrives. Last year, Facebook started their video programme that makes sure that you can post your videos directly on Facebook. In a meeting with Facebook two weeks ago, they told my colleague from the office that when Beyonce dropped her surprise album and the videos, they realized that Facebook was sending a lot of traffic to YouTube because everybody was sharing the links on Facebook. That was what made them do this.

Twitter also moved from when you could not post photos on twitter; the time when your tweets could not have photos in them and so you had to click to see a photo. Now they have bought Vine and now you can post your videos.

So these platforms as great as they are, cannot survive without content. They cannot survive without you and I creating the right content and putting them on these platforms. So if we cannot build; if you are not a tech company and you do not want to battle Google and Twitter and Facebook and we want to focus on creating fantastic campaigns for our clients, we need to understand that we want to rule those platforms and create the kind of content that consumers can engage with, and love – content that can sell the kind of messages that we want to sell. This is what PR originally is supposed to do. PR is supposed to be about great storytelling.

Great advertising companies today tell better stories than PR companies, but how can we take it further to ensure that if there is a Falz the Bahd Guy on Instagram who is creating this content that everybody loves, that it is a creation of X3M Ideas or DBB or BHM?

Who followed the #HardGuy hash tag? Why are we not the ones creating these conversations that can engage people, and make them do it on our platforms? Why is our approach to advertising or to PR not owning Omotola or Wizkid or Olamide? Why is our approach not creating that kind of content beyond product placement, or brand endorsement or ambassadorship?

We need to understand that these guys may have hijacked our industry and they need to understand that they cannot keep these platforms running without our content. Until we use those platforms to propagate our stories and actually tell stories –just like how people go to the cinema and pay to watch movies – what might happen in a few years is that the clients will no longer need us.

Because Google exists now, if you sign up to Google, you don’t need an advertising agency to run your Google campaign. It is simple; you take the training – any idiot can do it.

I look at how much I spend to keep my agency working for me, and I look at what I need to spend if I were to work with say, AdDynamo in Nigeria – this is not an advertising agency right? But they are doing advertising and they are commanding bigger budgets than a lot of digital ad agencies. If we don’t understand that and jump on it and own it, what is going to happen is that these guys are going to take our meals and push us out of business. When they do, the trend will never reverse. There will never be a time when the habits will come back to the days of writing a brief. It will never go back there.

It will not be just a few bad weeks – it will be that what people given birth to in 10 or 15 years time know as advertising will be Google AdSense and AdWords. That is what they will know!

So I think we have a mutual challenge. I think the work is to understand this threat and to understand the opportunities there and come together to have the kind of conversations that make sure that we take advantage of what the future offers.

PR Is The Truth. Advertising Is Just A Lie…

Had a great time speaking with the people of X3M Ideas yesterday.

What’s the link between PR and Advertising? How can both professions collaborate better to build stronger brands and tell greater stories?


BHM Group CEO, Ayeni Adekunle speaks on ” Public Relations- The Mother of Advertising” at X3M Ideas Business Masterclass

X3M Ideas boss, Steve Babaeko addresses guests during Business Masterclass session

X3M Ideas boss, Steve Babaeko addresses guests during Business Masterclass session

BHM Group CEO Ayeni Adekunle with attendees during X3M Ideas Business Master Class session

BHM Group CEO Ayeni Adekunle with attendees during X3M Ideas Business Master Class session

What can we learn from the Black civil rights movement? What can we learn from the plenty stories in the Bible?

How can we ensure companies like Facebook, Google, Twittter and co. do not continue to determine the fate of the brands we care about? How do we ensure that we are the ones throwing the party, instead of gate crashing a gig we are not even invited to?

CEO BHM Group, Ayeni Adekunle

CEO BHM Group, Ayeni Adekunle

CEO X3M Ideas, Steve Babaeko

CEO X3M Ideas, Steve Babaeko

The future of both professions is intertwined, as you will discover in detailed excerpts from my session available next week.

We must integrate and innovate, if we are to avoid a future where the Clients no longer pick our call…

BHM Group CEO, Ayeni Adekunle & X3M Ideas CEO, Steve Babaeko

BHM Group CEO, Ayeni Adekunle & X3M Ideas CEO, Steve Babaeko



Group Photo of guests at X3M Ideas Business Masterclass

Group Photo of guests at X3M Ideas Business Masterclass