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!

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