So we had an AMA ( ask me anything chat) session on BHM‘s Facebook and Periscope yesterday, and someone wanted to know why we are doing the annual Nigeria PR Report and what impact I think it’s had.
It’s a question I get asked a lot. Why are you doing this? What’s in it for you and your agency? Are you building some sort of credentials so you can run for PRCAN presidency? Or you’re just using all the campaign to position your agency? Someone even suggested it’s a covert spy operation to help us know what’s happening with competition. And I laughed in Itsekiri
My answer? None of the above could be farther from the truth. But it’s not the first time I’m being asked such. In 1998 when I started organising the Youth Awards for Excellence in Music, YAFEM, there were many at the time who thought I was doing so many of such free, popular events to position myself to run for PMAN presidency. You’re laughing too? Hahahahahahahahaha!
I believe in building ecosystems. I believe in baking bigger pies so everyone can have a bigger share. I believe in making communities better than I met them. I believe in building tomorrow today.
That’s why we do NECLive every year, for free. That’s why we publish Nigeria PR Report every year. That’s why I do most of the things I do. Chatting with a friend this morning, about this article from The Atlantic, it suddenly dawned on me that all the industries I work in are endangered: PR = endangered. Media = endangered. Entertainment = endangered. To fold one’s arms, and continue business as usual, is to be digging one’s grave without knowing it.
I believe the PR Report brings something we desperately need to save our businesses: data. We need to know what’s happened, what’s happening, how it happened, why it happened, etc etc if we are to plot a good future for ourselves and those coming behind. We must have the kind of insight that takes us into the minds of the market, the minds of the consumer, the minds of government, the minds of our customers, and other stakeholders, if we are to potentially make informed decisions around our individual businesses and the industry in general. We need to know what areas to invest in, what skills to build, what new markets are opening up, what new tools could make distribution and reporting better; what technology we could utilize to transform our work, and ultimately our businesses and our clients’. How do you build a multi billion dollar industry while you’re winking in the dark? You simply cannot!
As PR people, we like to use that quote Richard Branson has denied owning: ‘If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on PR’. We like to tease potential clients, asking them to not ‘wink in the dark. We like to complain about so called ‘digital marketing’ pulling the rug from our feet; we like to give advertisers and media buyers the side eye, insisting they’re getting paid so much for doing so little.
But the joke is on us, really. If we really want anyone to ‘spend their last dollar’ on public relations, then we must do better than we currently are doing. To do better, we need to know better. To know better means having the right data to help with strategy and planning and measurement and billing. We must pul the wool from our own eyes first, before asking multinationals who have built big businesses, or SMEs building amazing businesses, to stop ‘winking in the dark.’
One of two things eventually happens to endangered species: the are either rescued and preserved, or they go extinct. I see a big opportunity for PR now and in the future (I see the same future for entertainment and media, and it’s not even because I’m afraid of what will happen to me and my family should these three industries go down :|); a big opportunity with governments, with consumer companies, with technology and media. There’s a higher probability that our industries will morph into something formidable if we continue to do things differently, if we continue to innovate and self-disrupt. The entire BHM vision is built on the belief that Africa will deliver the brands, businesses, leaders, thinking, tools and nations that’ll run the world in a matter of years. And we believe it is possible.
I am a Facebook fan. I love the platform and the thinking behind their business model. I understand the vision of the founders and believe companies like Facebook are a very important part of today’s and tomorrow’s world – in whatever way you look at it.
The world will continue to get interconnected, as we all work together to solve local and global problems, and build better lives for ourselves and the next generation.
Because Facebook has implications for our organisation, BHM, I have taken the pain to understand how the company works. I studied Google for years, even attending an FT meeting with Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg in London in 2014. Then I faced Facebook and became a self-taught expert. When the opportunity came to attend F8, Facebook’s developers conference this year, I grabbed it with both hands, even though it was days away from our own conference NEClive.
I left San Francisco convinced that Facebook could be a gift and a curse to the media, tech and advertising industry. The telcos see Mark Zuckerberg and his company as a frenemy, the media see them as enablers and enslavers, I don’t know if the ad industry sees them the way they see Google yet.
With Facebook Engineering Manager, Brian Dewey
We’re at the cusp of something important and it is difficult for anyone to actually accurately predict what the next few years will look like. We are all at best, speculating based on what we can see from where we stand. What is certain is that there will be major losers and gainers, short term and long term. When it finally happens, we would have inadvertently created a new era where the words media, technology, advertising, public relations and computer science would mean something entirely different from what most people understand them to be today.
Facebook likely has a better idea of what’s coming, as one can tell from their recent acquisitions, priorities, products and partnerships. I loved the thinking behind snatching Oculus and Whatsapp and Instagram. I’m excited by the power of 360 videos and VR. I supported Instant Articles from day one, even though I understand the concerns of those who vehemently criticize it. There’s a lot more that Facebook is working on, most of them commendable; most of them stuff that governments and the leaders of the respective industries should have been, ideally, driving.
But what I saw yesterday after tempting my Snapchat friends with photos of my six-course dinner in Milan, left a bad taste in my mouth. I had heard earlier in the day that Instagram, which is owned by Facebook was to launch something called Instagram Stories. Smart move, I thought. Reminded me of how Instagram videos came at the point everyone was on Keek’s dick. But when I left Snapchat to catch up with IG, I was shocked to find a copycat of Snapchat right in my face: if you’re a Snapchat user, you know what tapping your camera screen twice does: it switches the camera from front to back. You know what the eye sign says: suggesting who has viewed your snap. You know how to edit your photos and input text in many colours. These basic Snapchat features were what Facebook introduced yesterday on Instagram. I don’t know if there’s a term for it in Silicon Valley. But in the media, it’s called plagiarism. It’s an illegality. A shame. It’s low and dirty and petty and unpardonable.
Google was late to the social media party and is paying dearly for it. We’ve seen what happened to Nokia and Blackberry and Yahoo and others who didn’t see the future early. So I understand Facebook’s determination not to be caught napping. I also understand they may not have broken any laws, but what’s bad is bad, no matter how much filter you use to beautify it.
Facebook has been eyeing what Google had with YouTube for years, and I recall the criticism that trailed their free-for-all approach to videos from 2014. Looking away as copyright infringements thrived on their platform, they just wanted people to post videos natively on Facebook, no matter whose. They even tweaked the algorithm to prioritize native video content over links. They tweaked the algorithm to show us more video in newsfeed. Facebook wanted a seat at the video table. They now have it.
For many years, Facebook became, for many people, the social media app where your father and grand uncle liked your photos and made snide comments on your tattoos. So millennials jumped out in droves and began cavorting with cooler platforms like Tumblr and Snapchat and even Twitter. To win the kids back, Facebook has had to do a lot of things, including Facebook Live – a product designed, in my opinion, to battle Twitter for relevance in live news, and battle Snapchat in live video.
Instagram’s Stories, launched yesterday, is the recent episode, in this battle for users’ photos, videos, time and data, and it would have been popcorn-deserving, if it were not scary. It would have been entertaining if it were not unfunny.
I’ve been told moves like this are not new in the tech industry. My response: it doesn’t make it right, especially for a company owned and run by someone with Zuckerberg’s vision.
Facebook has used new ideas, good thinking and technology to connect over 1.7 billion people in 12 years. I see a future where Facebook.com will be the home page of the internet, winning in media and tech and advertising. It’s bound to happen, whether we like it or not.
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).
One year later, our industry has opened up a bit. A late 2014 survey gave us an idea of who’s billing what. Journalists have more information about accounts’ movement and pitches. Many agencies are now providing campaign case studies on-the-go. The industry is opening up to affiliation and collaboration and PR agencies here are beginning to use their own medicine.
But while that is happening, there appears to be a sustained assault on the industry. The perpetrators? Those whose job is to protect and develop public relations; those who profit from the profession; those who deeply need the industry.
Some of these people know what they’re doing. Others have no idea.
As I have noted repeatedly, the public relations industry has been at best disappointing. While many complain about everything there is to complain about, it is often my style to look at what we did wrong in the past 20 years. Top on the list is that fact that we did not embrace technology early. Information and communication technology has transformed the way humans interact. As public relations professionals, we should have been at the forefront of big data science, of social media, of location and habit mapping. We should have been the pioneers of digital marketing and experience design and branded story telling.
If you do not disrupt yourself, then you must get ready to be disrupted. It happened to the search industry, happened to media and photography. It’s happened to computing and mobile messaging. It happened to advertising. And now, as the transportation and telecommunications industries face unprecedented disruptions, public relations itself is undergoing an assault by new ideas and tools. New technology has ensured that every industry today must innovate or die.
Newspapers are now playing catch up with blogs and websites. Telcos are being forced to rethink their business model because of obvious threats from Facebook and co. Google built a global advertising business while ad giants were snoring. The Kardashians are launching bestselling apps and engaging millions of millenials without breaking a sweat. Taxi associations are grumbling as Uber makes a mess of tradition and reinvents an entire industry. Apple, which itself disrupted the music industry with the introduction of iTunes, was a late comer to the party as Spotify, Deezer and Soundcloud changed the way we consume music. Netflix? You know the story of the disruption that took down Blockbuster. You know of how Blogger and WordPress gave everyone the power to be an online publisher and how that impacted traditional news brands. You know of how the Android OS caused a revolution that took down more than a few mobile phone companies.
As the global public relations industry faces the biggest threat in decades, many insiders are admitting that indeed, PR is Dead. Writing in his book of the same title, Robert Phillips, a former Edelman executive says, “PR has run out of options and has missed its moment to lead. It is in terminal decline. About to be overrun and overwhelmed by the age of data, PR today is to communications what analogue was to digital at the turn of the century.”
This was my exact position, when I met with staff of X3M Ideas, a Lagos communications group recently. My exact position when I addressed participants at the African Public Relations Association conference in 2014.
These admissions are not to nail the coffin on the profession and move on to something else. Rather it is information to help us understand what has happened so we can adapt and survive. We have since killed the press release. We are making measurement more scientific and using storytelling in better ways than ever. We are investing in data and tech and redefining the kind of talents that make up an agency.
In Africa, where the PR industry is hitherto traditional and conservative, dominated by press agentry, practitioners are dumping old habits and moving into the future. Many agencies are staffing web developers and programmers; designers and editors, as well as community managers and influencers. One Nigerian agency is employing psychologists while another has put out an advert for in-house comedian.
And those who matter have noticed. There’s a renewed client and employer trust, as evidenced by a 2014 PRCAN survey. There is a surge in the number of young undergraduates interested in working in PR, and an interesting increase in the number of foreign agencies interested in doing business here. In Nigeria, the country with Africa’s highest GDP, highest Internet penetration and highest population, at least two affiliations have been announced in the past six months. Burson-Marsteller has partnered with a leading Nigerian agency, CMC Connect while Fleishman Hillard only recently signed an affiliation with Mediacraft Associates LTD. Bell Pottinger has collaborated on project with BlackHouse Media while Edelman last week paid a working visit to Sesema PR in Lagos.
As the quality of service is improving and new ideas are helping the profession rebound, regulators Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) and Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN) are working to step up industry governance, kick out quacks, provide resources for training and development, and ensure certified practitioners in public service achieve chartered status like their colleagues in accounting, human resources and medicine.
But I suspect recent happenings may make all the work of the past few years come to naught. Foreign agencies are opening shop in Nigeria without recourse to NIPR or PRCAN. Those who are not physically here are getting and executing briefs from their base in Europe and America. Public and Private organizations are patronizing PR staff and agencies not certified to practice by NIPR, nor accredited by PRCAN.
The recently formed Experiential Marketers Association (EXMAN) is as we speak, setting up policies and procedures to sanitize and regulate their practice, hoping to curb falling standards and ensure a system that can help clients tell the difference between quacks and professionals.
Since our agency BHM was inducted into PRCAN on November 23, 2013, I have been part of several meetings where standards have been discussed. The association has spent time engaging with clients and employers, travelling round the world to see what is happening elsewhere, partnering with Holmes Report, ICCO, APRA, etc for training, data exchange and resources, while developing a masterclass programme that continues to receive praise.
NIPR was established in 1963, and chartered in 1990 by Decree No 16 to regulate the practice of public relations and monitor professional conducts through an established code of ethics and professional conduct regime. The law stipulates standard academic and professional qualifications for admission into the institute. A 22-man governing council elects the president every two years.
PRCAN was established by an NIPR byelaw of 1993. The association was also registered as a not-for-profit organization in 2007. Just like NIPR, PRCAN was set up to promote the professional practice of public relations in Nigeria.
As both organizations work to ensure that individuals and organizations that are not certified do not parade themselves as professionals, there has been a vehement attack on both bodies and their executives, by those – as I said earlier – who should be working to develop an industry from which they profit.
Having followed the discussions around NIPR and PRCAN’s letters to Guinness Nigeria and MTN requesting they do not work with non-accredited agencies, and having followed media reports on the matter, I am convinced the reputation of our entire industry is being dragged in the mire, by this unnecessary campaign. NIPR and PRCAN are not being unrealistic in their stand that having won PR accounts already; the agencies concerned must regularize their papers with the associations. The request, I am assured by PRCAN excos, is not for their contracts to be terminated, but for them to do what is appropriate and sort out relevant memberships. I do not think it is too much to ask from agencies actually working in public relations and representing clients who themselves mostly identify with relevant associations – be it NIPR or APCON or PRCAN.
To do otherwise, and instead embark on a war against NIPR and PRCAN is, to put it mildly, bite the finger that’s feeding you.
We have bigger battles to fight as an industry. It’s time to get together and put in the work required to guarantee our future. If we continue to put personal interests, ego, and sentiments ahead of the industry’s interest, it will remain impossible for us to build the kind of ecosystem that can ensure PR does not die a painful death.