Lessons from West Africa: The Need to Move Beyond Media Relations and Other Observations

At the Global PR Summit in Accra Day 1 #PRSAccra #lifeofaprgirl #publicrelations

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Every now and then I’m allowed out of the country, and some of those trips make for some remarkable learnings. One of my recent trips was to Ghana. I met with a fair number of communications professionals from across West Africa, including from Nigeria. There was much talk around what I call the usual suspects – digital, social media, measurement et al – but what struck me most was the challenge that our colleagues in West Africa face when it comes to educating clients on the need to move beyond media relations.

There was one panel which opened my eyes to how similar West Africa is to the Gulf. Four gentlemen (and no ladies) from the national Nigerian and Ghanaian PR and African associations took to the stage to talk about the challenges and opportunities faced by communicators in the continent.

A fixation on media relations

What seemed to be repeated over and over again was the need to move communications away from pure media relations and towards a more holistic model; like in the Gulf, it seems that many clients are keen to get their pictures in the papers, their voice on the radio and their silhouettes on television. There wasn’t much in the way of a response from the panel, aside from pointing a finger at the numerous journalists who had joined the public relations profession and who were keen, or so the argument would go, to keep the industry focused on media relations as the only deliverable for clients.

Nigerian regulation and the slow pace of change

What was a surprise to me was that Nigerian comms professionals have to be registered with the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations to hold mid to senior-level comms roles in the country. Living in a part of the world which is unregulated when it comes to PR (nearly all of the comms people I know don’t even have a formal education in the discipline), I do like the idea of having an independent standard to meet and maintain. However, as one member of the audience pointed out, it had taken her just over a decade of chasing to secure her membership of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations and hence be eligible to hold a senior comms role. While some aspects of the sector may be different in Nigeria, bureaucracy remains.

Discussing the the evolution of PR in Africa #PRSAccra

A photo posted by Gideon Kodo (@gideon_kodo) on Feb 19, 2016 at 6:33am PST

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The rise of the female comms professional

You don’t need me to tell you that women are better communicators. They simply are, full stop. It was wonderful to see that three-quarters of the room were women, and many of them young ladies at the beginning of their careers. The local panel was full of men, an observation not lost on one brave lady who pointed out the imbalance between those on the stage and those in the room. However, looking long-term women will hopefully dominate at the top as they do at the mid and entry levels in the comms sector in West Africa.

A photo posted by @chiyneze on Feb 19, 2016 at 6:27am PST

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A focus on national talent

Another observation was the strength of the national talent. There were very few expats, which was a revelation for yours truly after being based in the Gulf for so long. While I was imagining Nigeria’s Lagos becoming a hub for comms across Western Africa and hence attracting expat talent, what I saw was a room full of (mainly) young, talented Nigerians and Ghanaians who care deeply about what they do and why they do it.

A photo posted by Mya (@mariann.balogun) on Feb 18, 2016 at 9:29am PST

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If you have experience of comms in West Africa I’d love to hear your inputs. Do you agree with the above, is there more you’d like to add or am I off on my observations. Don’t be shy, leave a comment or two!

Lessons on media relations and transparency from the World Government Summit

Dubai's World Government Summit has become a global event for government employees and is closely followed by the media (image source: Trade Arabia)

Dubai’s World Government Summit has become a global event for government employees and is closely followed by the media (image source: Trade Arabia)

This month was host to another mega event in Dubai, the World Government Summit. The conference, which even hosted an address by President Obama, aims to become the leading platform for governments, the private sector and the public to learn about and collaborate together for innovation in government.

Two areas caught my eye. The first was that of media relations. There’s been a good deal of talk about how the communications industry is changing and media relations will become less important. That isn’t the case, at least for the vast majority of us who spend most of our day pitching, preparing for media interviews, and following up.

There was a sizable media presence at the event, which is testament to the World Government Summit’s global reach. However, while there were dozens of international journalists – whose flights and accommodation were paid for – the story for the local journalists I knew was different. Few Dubai-based media were reached out to except by email, with no phone calls. And some didn’t receive an email to arrange for registration. One journalist I talked to spoke about his frustration on having to chase the agency to get his registration sorted out. He was particularly peeved by a lack of support or empathy from the agency about the issue, and not only him but his whole team being missed out. As he told me, ‘a sorry would have gone a long way when it comes to good will.’

While I understand the urge to engage globally – after all, the event is now the World Government Summit – not involving local media is a idea that will only sour the agency’s relationship with the local journalists in the short to medium term; and trust me, you don’t want to deal with an aggrieved journalist, let alone put them in front of a client. Plus, in today’s digital age, I don’t buy this concept of local and global media. Everything is online, and much of it is curated by services such as Google News. It’s now a case of getting that content seen by the relevant stakeholder, which can be done through increasing paid reach or seeding the content on other sites.

Transparency and its impact on credibility

The second insight is around the inaugural “World’s Best Minister” Award. According to the summit’s website, the “World’s Best Minister” Award was “thoroughly and independently managed by Thomson Reuters where the search for the nominees is conducted according to the established criteria”.

To quote from the Summit’s website, details on the criteria and judging panel are below:

The criteria of the Award were set by the organizer of the World Government Summit. The criteria for selecting the candidates WAs based on various financial and non-financial metrics, and their improvement over time. These are based on data disclosed by the World Bank, United Nations, Legatum institution and various other well known resources that provide data and statistics on economic information, social metrics and government services.

The primary focus for 2016 has been on initiatives in the healthcare, education, social and environmental services.

The judging panel consists of six judges from various backgrounds, who provide different perspectives on the candidates based on their experience, expertise and insights. They include senior executives from the World Bank, OECD, Ernst & Young, Strategy & Co and the Abraaj Group on their personal capacity.

From an initial selection of 100 ministers, the winner turned out to be Greg Hunt, Australia’s environment minister. This choice has proved to be highly controversial, particularly in Australia where the Australian government has been criticized for its approach to green issues.

My focus however is the response from Thomson Reuters who, I feel, have sought to distance themselves from the choice of the winner. To quote from the Guardian.

But Thomson Reuters said it was “not correct” to say that the company initiated the award or were responsible for designing the selection process.

“Thomson Reuters was solely responsible for assisting in the administration of the award, to a set of criteria approved by the World Government Summit organisers,” said Tarek Fleihan, head of corporate communications for the financial information company in the Middle East, Africa and Russia.

Transparency is key to credibility. And whilst I do love the idea of awarding government officials who innovate on behalf of their citizens, the controversial choice and the ensuing contradictions surrounding the process hasn’t helped to make the award as credible as it should be.

What are your thoughts? Were you at the event? I’d love to hear your views on these two points.

Who’d be a social media manager? @theregos, @soukonwheels and a teeny Twitter meltdown…

social-media-meltdown-1-638

Disclaimer – There is foul language below (though not from me).

Social media isn’t all it is cracked up to be. True, you do get paid for being online and on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube… But, you’re the voice of the organization. As such, you have to be on best behaviour at all times, to ensure that the company is represented in the right fashion. One wrong Tweet and you’re going to get called out for it.

Well, this is a call out for @soukonwheels and @soukonwheels1 (this account is now closed). The person who was handling the account did something which was pretty rude yesterday. And unfortunately for them, they did it to a journalist. Nick Rego isn’t your typical hack either, he’s the ‘dahlink of Twitter’. An open question from Nick about shopping for clothes was followed by the person handling the account jumping in (the brand sells fruit and veg), which Nick didn’t appreciate.

However, the response really wasn’t called for:

How not to win friends and influence people online...

How not to win friends and influence people online…

Kudos to the brand which apologized for the tweet (I do hope they apologized directly to Nick). But really, do you want to be a social media manager? Think carefully, very carefully before you say yes.

And before I forget, there’s a couple more pointers:

1) Once you’ve posted something online, it’s online. If you don’t want it copied, shared or saved, then don’t post it online. And if it offends your mom, then definitely don’t post it online.
2) The community will always do a good job of policing itself, by rallying around and calling out those who offend. This will damage your brand.
3) We all make mistakes. Learn from them, change how your accounts are managed and come back stronger.

Executives promising to go naked on television, Cobone’s PR stunt, and The Address’ post-crisis crisis?

Paul Kenny's fake PR release for Cobone, Ziad El Chaar naked on TV and Emaar's ongoing issues following the Address fire made this week an interesting one for media in the UAE (image source: Arabian Gazette)

Paul Kenny’s fake PR release for Cobone, Ziad El Chaar naked on TV and Emaar’s ongoing issues following the Address fire made this week an interesting one for media in the UAE (image source: Arabian Gazette)

Media in the Middle East is rarely dull, and the past few days have proved that there’s some hilarity as well as serious questions about what people in our region do and then tell to the media.

Let’s start with the real estate brand which is developing a reputation for foot-in-mouth disease. Speaking to the Sunday Times, Damac’s Managing Director Ziad El Chaar told The Sunday Times he would “go on TV naked and resign” if the worst market projections are realised. Aside from the fact that any naked executive dance on television would be illegal in the UAE (at least without a VPN), his comment hasn’t been taken too well judging by the reaction on Arabian Business’ online portal. Maybe there’s some fans of naked real estate executives out there. If so, please do show yourselves so we can get you help…

Another bizarre piece from last week which wasn’t picked up widely. Speaking to an audience of entrepreneurs last week, the founder of discounting site Cobone Paul Kenny admitted that he used a PR stunt to kick-start his business. Shortly after founding the site, Kenny put out a press release claiming that 1,000 vouchers for a discounted pizza had been sold to Cobone consumers. That release, Kenny now claims, was a fake. Let’s quote Kenny from the Arabian Business story.

“We were second to market. GoNabit [an online group buying website founded by Dan Stuart and Sohrab Jahanbani] was first. When we launched, everyone was saying: ‘You are the same as GoNabit,’ which we were but I said we weren’t.

So I went to at Vapiano, which is an Italian restaurant, and bought a thousand pizzas at a huge discount and they sold out by 12pm. I put a big sold out sticker on the site and an hour later I released a press release saying ‘Cobone.com breaks e-commerce record in the Middle East.’

And the truth is that everyone started reading and asking ‘Who is this company Cobone.com?’ ‘What is e-commerce?’ ‘What’s a record?’ You know it created a lot of interest in the business and instantly people started recognising us as a different business.

I remember that a day after you could do a Google search to see we were on around 483,000 websites. First, e-commerce in the Middle East was never covered. Then what is an e-commerce record? What is Cobone.com?

So you got a ball rolling of media interest from that point.”

There’s a popular saying about the luck of the Irish. And there’s another saying about making one’s own luck. Luckily for Kenny, no asked if the news was real (or checked with the restaurant). If they had, his deception may not have worked so well.

And finally, another follow-on story about the New Year’s Eve fire at The Address, from The National in which one owner of property at the hotel lost 1.3 million Dirhams worth of art in the blaze.

Ramin Salsali spoke out this week urging The Address owner Emaar Properties to quickly process residents’ compensation claims as well as repair the property. To quote from the story.

“Until now, they [Emaar] have been very fair and have quickly reacted to accommodate people, put them in hotels, give them the first basic possibilities just to start to recover.”

He expected “a very unbureaucratic and pragmatic approach” from the developer in terms of how claims were handled – especially since a police report last week indicated that an electrical short-circuit from a spotlight caused the blaze.

“The whole world is now watching. The effect on real estate is unbelievable. People have pulled out of contracts where they don’t know about the fire safety of the cladding. It’s not good for Dubai.”

One of the greatest challenges any organization can face is not just the crisis itself, but the post-crisis reflection and learning. Emaar isn’t there yet in terms of dealing with any major grievances from those who lost property and items during the fire (and there’s been remarkably little negativity from any of the hotel’s residents so far), but the communication with this group of people needs to be both clear and quick to get these issues resolved. Otherwise, Salsali’s point about blow-back for the Emirate’s real estate sector may become true. Let’s hope not.

And for the next post I’ll be talking daddy issues again. It’s been a while since I posted any stories about my little princess, and I’m looking forward to it!