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.
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.
Corporate Media and Brand PR Manager Nigerian Breweries, Edem Vindah and APRA Coordinator, Kayode Yeku
Funsho Arogundade, Y.B.O with Steve Babaeko
Rendering a speech on ‘War Against Public Relations’
With Y.B.O & Steve Babaeko
Deputy Editor, ThisDay, Nseobong Okon-Ekong with CEO, X3M Ideas, Steve Babaeko
With Yomi Badejo Okusanya, Steve Babaeko & Tosin Ajibade
With Y.B.O, Steve Babaeko & Kayode Yeku
With the ladies from CMC Connect
With YBO, Steve Babaeko, Kayode Yeku & Bolaji Akerele
With Yomi Badejo Okusanya & Tosin Ajibade
Tosin Ajibade With Yomi Badejo Okusanya
(L-R) Anita Aiyudu (@anitaaiyudu), Lateefah Adesanya (@that1960chick) and Tosin Ajibade (@olorisupergal)
Editor, Brand Crunch, Lekan Babatunde (L) and Corporate Communications Consultant Henry Ekechukwu (R)
(L-R) With Corporate Communications Consultant Henry Ekechukwu, Chairman of SabiNews, Niran Adedokun; CEO CMC Connect, Yomi Badejo Okusanya; Managing Editor SabiNews, Peju Akande; CEO, X3M Ideas, Steve Babaeko & Managing Partner SabiNews, Toni Kan
(L-R) Lateefah Adesanya, Nseobong Okon-Ekong & Tosin Ajibade
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.
In this interview with FUNSHO AROGUNDADE, the young media entrepreneur fondly called “Ayeni The Great” gives a rare peek into digital marketing agency ID Africa, his latest business venture, which will see a spread of the BHM Group’s clientele and content across more nations on the African continent
Q: How did BHM Group begin?
A: BHM Group started in 2006, while I was still a reporter, from my two-bedroom flat in Akute (Lagos). My wife and I had no furniture so I bought a small chair and table, and could only afford to pay someone to assemble a computer. We started out working for musicians, actors and record labels that had smaller budgets, so it was tough but fulfilling work.
A few years later, my friend Ayo Animashaun (owner of Hip TV and The Headies) gave me a desk in his office from where BHM operated. Eventually, we had to rent our own office space and today we have 60 employees and various consultants across the world. In 2009 we began working for corporate clients, and they tapped into the experience we had built with entertainers and young people. It has never happened in Nigeria that an organisation with experience solely in entertainment – working for artistes and actors – to begin working for various multinationals. That’s our story and we are proud of it.
Q: You recently launched ID Africa, a digital agency and subsidiary of the BHM Group? What do you hope to achieve?
A: With Digital Marketing, disparate uptake rates exist. Brands across regions in Africa are very late to the party, while those trying to get into the party are not in the appropriate attire; I mean they are not using the right tools to speak to, or listen to the people. Africa is a continent of up to 2,000 languages from numerous tribes, with over 1 billion people becoming increasingly globalised, yet retaining the peculiarities that categorise their individual heritages – the status quo is changing. We all know that the latest arrivals to a party can still make the atmosphere electric, so this is an opportunity for practitioners.
We are fortunate to have an extensive understanding, based on our PR background, about people who consume and publish content on the Internet. We know what they are looking for, so we have an understanding of how to use that social space better to create the kind of conversations that can help people meet each other and have a nice time, whether it’s a brand meeting the consumer or just consumers interacting, or even brands needing to engage with each other.
ID Africa is the digital agency that can make this happen because it is not just a service agency; more of Africa’s audiences need to be communicated with and listened to via channels and outlets that best conform to their social, cultural and personal proclivities.
Q: So, what are your experiences as you roll out ID Africa with more continental clients?
A: I cannot divulge research data we have obtained at prohibitive costs, but I will share some insights.
A: To successfully communicate with the diverse audiences and demographics that constitute Africa’s cities and navigate the sociocultural nuances therein, all brands- entertainment or corporate- must treat the term media very loosely. If I can get on a Mutatu in Nairobi or a Danfo in Lagos and speak to 50 passengers, and try to get them to try or understand my new product, then that bus as far as ID Africa is concerned, is as valid a media vehicle as social media is in Johannesburg.