Saturday, 29 December 2007

BAT Account Is Most Challenging —Okusaga

Public Relations, PR, practice has come a long way in Nigeria. Its impact is felt from the smallest of corporate organisations, to the biggest. Bolaji Okusaga, Head Consultant in one of the leading Public Relations firms in the country; The Quadrant Company, assesses the PR practice in this interview with NCHEDO OKEKE .

Stage of PR practice today

Public Relations development in the country is not different from what you would have observed in the evolution of other senior professions like the legal profession, accounting and medical professions. What we have is that we are at a phase we can call a growth phase and the features of this phase is that a lot of things get done haphazardly, jobs will not be done as script as and clear as they should be in an ideal situation because a lot of people will want to take stake which ordinarily may not belong to them and the only way they can do that is to bury reason and go via the political and that is essentially the hallmark of a growing phase in any profession.

How old is PR practice really? When was the decree that empowered the NIPR enacted?

It was enacted under the regime of General Babangida, even though we have been operating before the decree, it stands to reason that we are nonetheless a very young profession in need of right direction and what I will counsel at this point in time is that we need to pay more attention to professionalism and jettison politics.
Bolaji Okusaga
The much more senior professions have a methodical way of doing things; they have codified rules which govern their practice and they strive as much as possible to abide by these rules and it makes things much easier for them, for example succession in terms of leadership should be something that should be taken more seriously, I can tell you that the next five successor to the position of ICAN president is already known and that is due to the way they are structured and if there is going to be any politicking it will be minimal because the room is not wide open just for anybody to come in, there are rules to these games, and for us to be able to hold our own all these rules must come to play in the NIPR.

The next stage of PR

PR like any other profession whether overtly or covertly is affected by global space, therefore PR as it is in Nigeria shouldn't be any different from what obtains in other parts of the world especially in the terms of sphere of operation. There will be cultural parameters but that will not affect the evolution of the business in terms of global appeal, in terms of acceptance of the practice on the global scale, and I can say to you that in the next twenty years you will see a PR industry that is characterise by cogent specialisation in which case people may decide to focus, for example, in the area of financial services or the capital market and you close your eyes to, may be, sport PR or entertainment PR and one could just say why don't I just concentrate on issues that affect trans-national companies or one could say let me just focus on the area of litigation communication where I will be helping my clients to obtain fair judgement in the court of public opinion in such a way that if they can get that fair public judgement it will help the way they are perceived within the legal and legislative structure of the society where they operate. Some organisations may decide to say we don't want to be involved in financial communications or litigation communications but to be focused on the area of telecommunications and information technology, because I see that is a good sector within the economy therefore I want people to know me as a specialist on the area of information technology and communications.

So in the next 20 years I see the evolution of PR practice along specialist line but that doesn't mean there will not be 'generalist' but even within the generalists set, there will be practice groups dedicated to activations along sectoral and professional lines. Therefore you will see a PR person who can speak the language of capital market and he invariably becomes an investor relations personality or a practitioner who can speak the language of the legal and legislative system and he becomes a litigation communications expert, or sport and entertainment, endorsement and sponsorship which makes such person become an expert in such field and that is what I see happening in the years ahead.

The Quadrant Company's own Specialisation

As the first service company in the country, we will continue to be a hybrid firm in the sense that while we are orienting our practice towards the specialist perspective, we will continue to offer a bag of services defined along practice groups. At the level at which our practice has attained it will be difficult for us to say we want to shed our clients in one area only to hold on to the other client in the other area that will be difficult.

Therefore we will become a PR supermarket of some sort but pointedly distinguishable in our practice since we have in-house experts in all these areas I have mentioned and that is why we are beginning to de-emphasis this idea of our being a media theorist or the traditional practitioner as seen from the agency model to the consulting model because what we want to be selling is not the fact that, we are a middle man for our clients in the media platforms but we want to be seen as critical solution to the whole chain of perception and reputation management. Therefore we are looking ahead to more technical areas like issues management, CSR impact assessment reporting and sustainability reporting which we have already started to do for a number of clients, leveraging our international affiliation with Fleishman Hillard International Communications, the biggest PR firm in the world.


I will say before now we were guilty of not being torch bearers for the profession we represent. We are at fault in our wisdom by saying a practitioner should be a practitioner while the professional body should busy themselves with providing leadership and advice on global trends, but having observed the weakness of the professional body, what I can tell you is that we are also working on what the ideal should be in the industry in such a way that once the industry benefits then we ultimately benefit. So part of our strategy will be along the lines of thought leadership, to begin to shape thoughts in the area of current trend in our practice as opposed to an over localisation of practice which does not allow us to go global in terms of our perspective, in terms of our world view and practice.

Another thing is that we are committed in the days ahead to start publishing PR Quarterly which will be focused on germane issues in terms of global practice, for instance this whole idea of word of mouth marketing, social networking and a number of other modern day practice parameters which have become the norm in the western world which we are yet to catch up with will be things that we will be focusing on. For instance we can not deny the fact that children now understand what is meant by yahoo; they know the difference between Hi-Five and Facebook. These are social networking sites which the little kids at home are already used to and so why will a PR company not offer services that help to leverage the perception, the reputation of the clients they work for on this new platform? Why do we still continue to over flog the traditional platforms when we now have different conduits that can help deliver the goods for our clients? So those are the things we will be looking at very critically. We will not only be educating ourselves but also the marketers in the industry in such a way that when these practices which are already norms in the western world become part of our business here it will be easier for practitioners and our clients to really adopt them and use them, these are the things we will be doing in the days ahead.

Most challenging account

Our British American Tobacco (BAT) account has been a bit challenging, because we are beginning to see a transfer of the tobacco war of America and Europe of the late 70s and the early 80s into the Nigerian environment. The unfortunate thing about the Nigerian reality as we may ask is whether they are really altruistic or mercantilists, the reality on ground is that we may ask ourselves that before the entrance of BAT into this market, were people not actually smoking and if they were, where were they getting the cigarettes from and if they were getting the cigarette what was the attitude of the government to the sales of cigarette in this economy, was it helping to develop the infrastructure? Was it helping to empower communities? Were they helping in employment? Were they helping to empower farmers? All of these were absent before the coming to the country of BAT.

But with the coming of BAT as a foreign direct investment (FDI) in response to the calls of the last administration, tobacco business has now began to be seen as a responsible business that can empower local farmers in local community where we operate, that now gives economic empowerment to trade partners and distributors, that is also giving employment to people who work for the organisation and that has been called the largest exporter in the fast moving consumer goods sector and the largest payer of taxes all within the space of five years, corporate taxes from both the excise and the value added tax perspective. In terms of operation, you may want to ask if its operation is a responsible one to which I will say yes and I will say the rule of the game should be communicated. We accept that consumption of tobacco is dangerous and we have communicated upfront, so it is a question of choice. Do we adhere to world practice in the tobacco trade? The answer is yes! Are we helping to develop the community where we operate, are we giving back to the community in terms of corporate social responsibility, are we empowering farmers and trade partners- the answer to all these is yes.

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