Why PR needs perception management –Badejo-Okusanya

Yomi Badejo-Okusanya is one of the leading lights in perception/image management, a segment in public relations spectrum. He runs one of the reputable communications outfits in the country -CMC Connect. In this interview with journalists, he explains why communication experts must continue to enlighten the public on what PR entails, among other issues.

Q: When does a practitioner qualify to become a strategic communicator?
A: The first thing is for one to acquire the knowledge needed to practise any of the legs of communication; then that will expose him/her to some level of strategic communications. This is because there are courses in all aspects of communication that fall on it.  However, this would be depending on your needs. But again there are some practitioners who acquire various knowledge while on the job and they learn the strategic stuff in the course of their practice. These set of people climb up to acquire skills in this area of communication and they become experts.

Q: You said something about legs of communication. What do you really mean?
A: There are two legs when you are talking about communication. There is strategy of communication and there is execution of communication. The strategy of communication is the idea that gives birth to the execution. You usually find it in many marketing communication organisations, especially advertising and in some cases, PR.  In any of these organisations, you have what is referred to as strategy department. Some people call it strategy and business development. To me that is the heartbeat of communication. That doesn’t mean that execution is not important. As a matter of fact some people are very good and outstanding when it comes to strategic communication and confront a huge challenge when it comes to execution. Therefore both of them go hand in hand. When you see good execution, look behind, there is already good strategy. And when you see good strategy, then with a right person, the execution would turn out to be a faultless one.

Q: How can the industry solve perception problem surround it?
A: It is about education and enlightenment; that is why all of us, practitioners, should rise up to the occasion and nip it in the bud. In the first place, there is a misconception about what PR is. Some people see it as bribe taking; some see it as a blackmail or propaganda. This is why I think we practitioners must not tire of the need to continue educating members of the public on what PR is and what PR is not. Again, we can achieve a lot by adhering to the global best practices in an attempt to correct wrong impressions. We must continue to be spreading the true meanings of public relations, which dwell so much on the fact that it is in itself a sustained deliberate attempt to influence public opinion.

Q: How would you describe PR?
A: PR is a scientific approach and mechanism frequently used in modern society to influence opinion or pass message across to the public in the most refined way. I believe if we are consistent in using our own office, our practice and our networks to preach this gospel truth, all will be well. In another plank, I think the profession itself needs public relations. What I mean in essence is that public relations in Nigeria need public relations services. The irony of it is that we are very good at doing it for other people while our own industry is in dire need of perception Management.

Q: What does strategic Communications connote?
A: There are various aspects of Marketing Communication like you have rightly pointed out: Advertising, PR, direct marketing events. But there must be a strategic tread that runs through every one of them, especially when you are having 3600 campaigns. Strategic communications is simply the hub of all aspects of communications.

Q: How long does it take somebody to become a strategic communicator?
A: An every business, you have specialist. You can be a marketing communicator but you then decide which area you want to specialise in. A lot of people are specialists when it comes to strategy while many people are better in ‘execution.’  Your question is how long does it take for one to earn that tag. It can take you forever because you are always growing in the business, since one is forever learning as a student. Even when you go to school for formal acquisition of knowledge, it is just the foundation, because no two challenges are the same. And you have to be broadening in knowledge   before strategy. What is strategy? Strategy is a word taken from the military, it originated from the military and it talks about a grand battle plan. When you talk about military strategy, how do we take to win the war? We now borrow it that when we plan to launch a campaign or launch a brand or connect a product with consumers in a competitive market. In this case, one is trying to evolve a campaign; it is like going to war. In this case we are going into a battleground with a strategic plan. That is why we have military strategists, whose jobs are to map out plan on how to win a war. If you go back to history, you will read about Napoleon Bonaparte, a very diminutive man in stature, but he was a very great military strategist. In this part of the world, you talk about the battle of Songhai in Africa history, when a whole village was burnt so that the advancing troop had nothing to feed on. The water was polluted, animals were killed, and those who were not killed had to run for their lives. With this, what they were doing was to systematically reduce the strength of the advancing enemy. In marketing too, whenever we are going for these campaigns, we ask ourselves, what is the grand plan? What is the overall objective? What is the shortest way that I can take to achieve the objective and what is the overriding consideration in running the battle? That is strategy, the hub upon which other marketing communications legs are built on.

Q: How would you assess the growth in Public Relations in Nigeria over the years?
A: Somehow, we seem to have pigeonholed everything. We were on the ride for a while and we came to this stage where going forward is not as fast as expected. We have not made any significant improvement in recent years.

Q: With this stage of development, is it therefore possible for us to produce strategic communicator?
A: The increase in number of strategy communicators can be one of the indications. Now you are talking to me about marketing communications generally and you are talking to me about PR industry. The market has grown but not to the expected level that is significant enough when considered where we are coming from. To some extent I believe that is a reflection of the economy. By now, I predicted that we would have witnessed a few things.  One, I expect there should have been a specialised PR consulting firm. Under this you see firms that will tell you they are only specialised in the area of public affairs, we don’t do anything else.   There will be some, who will tell you that they are only specialised in corporate communications.  In some cases, you meet practitioners who will tell you they are consumer PR or a grand PR company and we don’t do anything else.  Some will say we are financial PR, some educational while some may say they are strictly for health matters.  Two, I realise that the wealth of knowledge available within the PR industry is still very limited.  Again, we have not witnessed significant improvement in this regard.

Q: Can you compare the growth of advertising with that of PR?
A: Those in advertising, for instance, in the media independent arm have come out and sharpened their skills to be on top of their game.  In such industry, if you fail to grow with your peers, you lag behind.  I don’t think this type of improvement has taken place in our industry. Three, I think by now, we should have started witnessing some mergers of PR companies.  If some of the companies we are working for are merging despite their original strength, how come we are not looking at that area of development?

Q: With the way things are going on with low entry barrier to Public Relations, don’t you think there should be a measure to control the point of entrance?
A:  Of course the entry barrier is low but let’s separate two things.  First, to practise PR in Nigeria, you need to be registered with the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR).  With this you can practise anywhere.  Now, another challenge is that for you to be a consultant, you should actually belong to Public Relations Consultant of Nigeria (PRCAN).  But unfortunately, by law, all that you need to be able to practise PR in Nigeria is to be a member of NIPR.  The way I see things, since the institute set up PRCAN to regulate the practice of consulting, it is PRCAN that should rise to the challenge.  Thank God for the continuity that Dr. Phil Osagie as the president is bringing in after the tenure of Emeka Maduegbuna.   It is now going to be the responsibility of the association to regulate those who are consulting and say, as in medical practice for instance, the fact that you have qualified as a medical doctor does not make you a surgeon or cardiologist until you go for specialist course in any of these areas.

Back to where we are coming from, the fact that there is no specialisation has literally made PR to become an all comers’ game within the confine of even the NIPR.   That is why anybody who passes the institute examination while working in a private or public institution, will immediately pick up his briefcase immediately he loses the job to become a PR consultant.

Q: Do you have anything against that?
A:  Personally, I don’t have anything against briefcase consultant. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t make sense for all of us to open offices. I think we should have more of briefcase consultants who can work to build capacity in the various fronts. Such people can come and work for an agency on a particular campaign or activation, take their money and go away.  Tomorrow, they go to another place and work and go back. Under this situation, he doesn’t need to pay salary or set aside certain amount to buy fuel. To sum it up, the best way to solve this problem is to have standardisation for PR consultancy in Nigeria.

Source: Daily Independent

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