AS a reputation management consultant, who has worked in some of the foremost marketing communications firms including Insight Communications, The Quadrant Company, JSP, SO&U Saatchi & Saatchi and now TPT International, Charles Igbinidu dismissed the belief that the Heart of Africa project was an image laundering project.

Image laundering, he argued, “is about covering up or living in denial. The Heart of Africa project was a holistic programme for Nigeria’s image management and progression. Its primary objective was to promote Nigeria’s national brand assets (such as its personality, business and location brands) while strategically tackling the brand eroders (negative issues) confronting the nation such as 419, drug trafficking and the like. I do not also think that the Heart of Africa project was totally jettisoned. It is important to state that the project survived three ministers. It was launched during the tenure of Chief Emeka Chikelu, Frank Nweke (JNR) and Odey continued with it but Professor Dora Akunyili decided to give it another name. What is however very important is the fact that Nigerians are unanimous on the need to effectively manage the image of the country.? On the impression that the project even with its new name has not yielded desired results, he said, “We have a country called Nigeria but we do not have Nigerians. Nigeria is like a mother without children. Many so called Nigerians are ethnic champions.

They are only committed to their ethnic groups and not to Nigeria. To fully understand what I mean, I will give you a practical analogy or illustration. If a man is appointed the Treasurer of his village Association in Lagos. He will dare not embezzle the Association’s money because if he does, his entire family will be stigmatised. But if the same man is appointed a Minister by the Federal Government, members of the village Association will tell him, ‘it is our turn’. If he embezzles the Federal Government’s money, he will be celebrated by members of the same village Association. In fact, the entire community will welcome him back home and give him a very important chieftaincy title. So, Nigeria belongs to nobody. Everybody is expected to go to Nigeria and steal and come back home triumphantly. Those who refuse to steal are mocked when they come back home.

The solution to the problem has to start from the top. We must make a very conscious effort to build a national elite. People in leadership positions must learn to be committed and loyal to Nigeria. It always amazes me when I hear of people who had occupied the positions of President, Vice-President, Chief Justice, Ministers, Chief of Army Staff etc, becoming regional or ethnic champions after retirement. It is very disappointing. Unless we are able to build a patriotic national elite, we will continue to grope in the dark.? As MD/CEO of TPT, the position he assumed since January this year, his vision is for the company to become most sought after Public Relations firm in West Africa. “We have been going about this by placing emphasis on horning the skills of our greatest assets – our human capital, providing a work environment and atmosphere that engenders commitment, increased productivity and creativity. And most importantly, by consistently putting smiles on the faces of our customers.

But before his elevation in January, it appeared the company had lost its steam, as it was not known to be servicing any notable accounts. Igbinidu dismissed this assumption.?“I do not agree with you that the company was not servicing any notable account. The company has been and is still servicing Procter & Gamble, Guinness corporate, Starcomms Plc and Ondo state accounts. The company has been very vibrant. What may appear like a loss of steam may be the decision to set up an Event subsidiary, which is into big events while we concentrate on other tools of Public Relations.”

Heading a popular reputation management firm like TPT in the last 7 months, he said, had been pretty challenging. “In my very first week of assumption of office as the Managing Director, I remembered what one of my former bosses told me about ten years ago. He said, Charles, you will not comprehend the challenges of running a company until you become the Managing Director. In all my previous positions, I had at least one person to look up to but now the bulk stops on my desk.

“My biggest challenges can be encapsulated into four points. They are: Changing some aspects of what appeared to be our corporate culture. Corporate culture to me flows from the top down. The written and unwritten rules, policies and philosophy of the organization all eventually find their way into the attitudes and performance of almost everyone in the organization. One of the critical things to remember when dealing with people is: you get the behaviour you reward. If the culture directly or indirectly rewards a certain type of attitude or behaviour, you are, by your actions or inactions, probably reaffirming that these are acceptable. If you want to change behaviour, you must first evaluate the culture that is in place that may be rewarding the type of behaviour you are getting but don't necessarily want. Ensuring that that there is effective communication in the company· You will agree with me that if communication in a company is all top-down, you can be assured that you are not in touch with the realities of your organization, the marketplace, your customers or suppliers.

“One of the biggest challenges I faced initially was ensuring that there is effective communication in the company and successfully communicating corporate direction with clarity and consistency to all employees who have a right and need to know. But gradually our vision is clearer and better understood by everybody. Bottom-up feedback. Many managers make decisions that other employees will either have to implement or that will affect them. If these decisions are made without bottom-up feedback, you can guarantee that the outcome of the decisions will be less than desired or expected.

Clear-cut performance appraisal criteria. Employees want to know how they are doing – whether poorly or well. Failure to give them the feedback they need is to keep them in the dark regarding the assessment of their performance and how and where they need to improve. You cannot believe it, in the past six months we have done performance appraisal twice. It is now part of our culture for every employee to know how he or she is doing. Customer Service. Finally, all the structural and attitudinal changes that we have initiated in the past six months has been geared towards ensuring customer satisfaction. The company is becoming more customers focused. Everybody, from the gateman now knows that we are in business because of our custom.”

He also commented on the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, the professional body of qualified Public Relations Practitioners with the primary objectives of advancing the standards of the public relations profession in addition to providing members with professional development opportunities.

“The Institute especially the Lagos branch has been very active in the past ten years and credit must be given to the practitioners who have steered its since then. Since the vibrancy of an Association cannot be divorced from that of its members, it therefore means that the Institute is on the right part towards achieving its objectives if her individual members are doing well. Like every human organisation, there is room for improvement. Like every human organisation, there must be room for improvement.”

Assessing the marketing communications industry, he underscored the prospects and problems of the sector. “Marketing communications succinctly, is the science and art of communicating information that an organisation wants to make known to the public. The information could be related to the marketing of a product, talk about a new product launch or any other initiatives by the company. In Nigeria, the industry has been very dynamic in the past fifteen years. I still remember that in the early 90s, most advertising companies regarded themselves as integrated marketing communications firms. A situation whereby a single company would claim to be an expert in advertising, Public Relations, Events Marketing etc.

“But today the situation is quite different. There is more specialisation in the industry. We now have firms that specialize in advertising, branding, direct marketing, graphic design, sponsorship, public relations etc. In the next ten years, I foresee a situation whereby the industry will be more fragmented. Internet or online marketing is definitely going to gain more ground in Nigeria very soon. Also, because of the restlessness of many practitioners and the desire for self actualization, I expert more companies to spring up in the industry. This could be a curse or a blessing to the industry. Before you ask me what I mean, let me state that I strongly believe that competition is a sine qua non for growth in any industry. This growth can however come about if the new companies that are springing up are professionally run and they have fresh ideas. However, if the promoters of the new firms are driven only by pecuniary motives, they may end up giving the industry a bad name.

“A major problem already plaguing the industry, which may be worsened by the proliferation of firms is that of inadequately trained manpower. It is unfortunate that today, most companies in the industry do not invest in manpower development. We therefore have a situation whereby the few well trained personnel are either being poached by the telecommunications and financial services firms or recycled within the industry. There is therefore the need for a concerted effort towards manpower enhancement.

“The global economic downturn has not spared the Marketing Communications industry. Furthermore, marketing budgets are becoming learner, if the trend continues, I foresee a situation whereby, in order to survive, firms in the industry will adopt a leaner and fitter strategy. It is also a known fact that Economics and Politics are closely related or intertwined. So what happens next year in the political arena will have a direct impact on business and the Marketing communications industry. You cannot be talking about promoting goods and services in an atmosphere of chaos, that is why it is absolutely imperative that the 2011 elections are properly conducted in such a way that will engender more confidence in the country’s democracy and economy.



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