Our agency BlackHouse Media is supporting the Benson Idonije at 80 celebrations. And I have been invited by the chief organizer Jahman Anikulapo to deliver a closing keynote on ‘Music forward: Deconstructing and reconstructing’.
I’ve read Pa Idonije for years, and even though I’ve had cause to disagree with him on occasions, concerning his views on contemporary pop music, I do have very high respect for him. His daughter is a friend of sorts, and of course, you’ll recall we gave him a NET Honours in 2015.
Three of his books will be presented, and the ceremony will provide an opportunity for his era and this era to engage in meaningful conversations about yesterday, today and tomorrow.
A poor 72-year-old, unpopular, retired army-general ran to be president of Nigeria, an oil-rich West African country with population of about 200 million people.
His opponent, the incumbent, was a 57-year-old Ph.D. who, three years earlier while he was VP, was so popular and favoured that influential citizens marched the streets protesting, when it appeared some powerful interests were determined to prevent him from becoming president after it was clear his boss, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had passed on.
That election, to elect the 15th president of Nigeria, finally held on March 28 and 29, 2015.
But it had been won and lost months before. Won by General Muhammadu Buhari of the Action Congress of Nigeria who comparatively, had little money and plenty obstacles, but deployed an almost-excellent political strategy and reputation management.
The defeated sitting president as we have since discovered, had limitless access to funds and other resources. But his campaign strategy was lousy. As lousy as some of the people who were the faces and voices of his re-election project.
One party found a big idea (Change) and rode with it. The other was hijacking a campaign to bring back kidnapped schoolgirls from Chibok, a little town in Borno, South-eastern Nigeria. One party proactively used research data to develop PR strategies for youth and citizen engagement, the other, as we also have now seen, used cash and mercenaries and sophistry, until the last minute.
Buhari was a mean military dictator, despised by many discerning Nigerians. He was an old, eighties man who, as many agree, was out of touch with the tools and trends required to transform a paralyzed country like Nigeria. Yet about 15,424,921 million Nigerians in 36 states voted for him to return as president, defeating his young, ‘better educated’, rich and powerful opponent by a 2,571,759 margin.
It’s not fiction.
The role of public relations in politics and governance in Nigeria cannot be over emphasized. The ‘Buhari-GEJ’ story would have been remarkable if it were rare. Yet if you look deeply into the affairs of the private and public sectors in Nigeria and indeed elsewhere across Africa, what presents, is an increasing intervention by PR to help communities and organizations and governments solve problems they thought were insurmountable. In Buhari’s case, he had contested and lost three times in 12 years.
In 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin completed an orbit of the earth, effectively becoming the first man in space. If there had been no records of the event, if there were no pictures taken and circulated, no reports made, did he really make the trip? Did he accomplish the feat?
A historic moment becomes myth, fable even, if there are no evidence and facts to support claims and silence sceptics. Who here will call a party to celebrate a child’s excellent result without first laying hands on the report card?
There’s little data, if any, on the role of public relations in the last national elections. Little data, if any, on how in-house PR teams and external consultancies are helping local and international brands make sense out of a chaotic business environment like Nigeria. You will go very far to see case studies on all the great work I’m aware have been done by Nigerian professionals on brands like Wole Soyinka, MTN Nigeria, Nigerian Breweries, Dangote, Indomie, Etisalat, GTBank and Airtel.
We complain regularly that the quality of our work can be better. We excuse clients’ lack of trust and investment with the belief that we really haven’t shown value. But how do we get better if we do not have records of the work we do – the good, the bad and the ugly? How do we train beginners? How do we engage globally, in a space where the lingua franca is billings and case studies?
The global PR Agency industry revenue is put at over $13 billion. I can assure you Nigeria, which by BHM estimates, makes over $68.75 million, is not in that calculation.
We all know why.
That’s why our company BlackHouse Media created the campaign #PrisDead in 2015. That’s why we decided, after relevant consultations, to begin this hopefully annual report on the Nigeria public relations industry.
Of course it’s inspired by The Holmes Report’s World PR Report, which, I hope, starting 2016, will begin to feature great Nigerian agencies doing amazing work.
We have a lot to do, to make that happen. We have even more to do, to accomplish our dreams of increased billing, attracting and retaining super talents, and becoming big regional and global players.
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.
BlackHouse Media is not struggling. But while staff salaries were only delayed for one week in June (after a cash flowhitch), 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.
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.
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?
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.
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).
I’m sitting at my desk, looking back at the past few years of my life. I haven’t had much sleep, haven’t seen my kids in two days. I’m wearing the same clothes from yesterday.
But I’m not complaining. Instead, I’m actually grateful.
It’s 6AM on February 27, 2015 – just about 11 years after I left the University of Ibadan with a third class degree. Just 11 years ago, when I was a hospital reject, a homeless and unemployable ‘graduate’.
It’s 6AM on February 27, 2015. Eight years and 14 days since I officially left paid employment. I remember the day on February 13, 2007, my dad’s 63rd birthday, when I looked my boss in the face and said ‘actually, sir, I don’t think I want to work here anymore’.
It’s 6AM on Friday February 27, 2015, eight years and three months since I started what is now known as BHM. By now, I’m sure everyone knows the story of how we started with zero Naira, how we squatted for years and used my wife’s salary to run the business.
It’s 6AM on Friday February 27, 2015, over three years since we crossed the $1m mark (yes, a big deal, for a little Lagos agency), nearly five years since we started our second business (Nigerian Entertainment Today) and the day we officially launch our third – ID Africa – a sexy company that will introduce new ways of helping brands and consumers use social tools to connect with those they care about.
The past few years have been remarkable and we have grown tremendously! But within me, I knew it was not yet time for a big celebration.
With some of our core staff members, we spent the weeks before and after our anniversary meeting (at our Lagos HQ, at Eko Hotel and at Protea) to appraise our journey and develop a clear strategy for accomplishing our goal: to build an organisation that’ll place people before profit and solve problems from Abuja to Beijing and Los Angeles.
We spent long days meeting, going through all the details of what we expect of the kind of company we hope to build. We took case studies and asked ourselves pertinent questions.
We argued and agreed. I took time to explain clearly to everyone how we got here, where we had planned to go, and the direction I now think our journey needs to take.
This past weekend, confident we have developed a blueprint, we spent two days meeting with staff, all 54 of us.