Charles Igbinidu is the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of CFO & Associates, a full service Public Relations firm. He shares his thoughts with PR Intelligence Magazine on the growing acceptance of Public Relations worldwide, the relevance of the good old press release today and on other sundry issues in Public Relations.
What does CFO & Associates do differently in Public Relations?
We have a team of very savvy Public Relations practitioners who are mavens in different areas of Public Relations. What is typically difficult to communicate in an interview such as this is, the personality and passion of our team members. We have got a lot of passionate people at CFO & Associates. We like to say that we’re equally passionate about working in the field of Public Relations as we are about the clients we work with. We seek to inspire, motivate and encourage behavioural changes throughout a variety of industries and clients that we are truly fans of and believe in.
Our secret is in the little extra we bring to the table, which makes the huge difference. Businesses often seek our help when they feel they’ve done all they can on their own to promote their businesses but without much difference. Now, they want a marked difference in results from us. We can deliver better results because we always go the extra mile in every facet of their projects. In many cases these clients are surprised… positively overwhelmed and amazed… by the coverage, credibility and exposure we achieve for them — and the impact it has on their businesses.
Overall, we are a strategic player in this game of relationships. We ask a lot of questions, and we keep our clients involved in every step of the way. We find working together with them, instead of just working for them, to be the most valuable and mutually beneficial means of accomplishing their goals and objectives.
Could you tell us more about CFO & Associates?
CFO & Associates is a full-service Public Relations firm known for its strategic approach to helping clients meet their varying business goals. It is a results-oriented, independently owned Public Relations firm established by my humble self. We are a member of MTI Network, a leading worldwide reputation management organization operating in different sectors via 26 international offices and 22 subsidiary offices.
For more than two decades, I have established a reputation for staying on the edge of change in the public relations industry, often pushing the industry itself forward.
We work with some of Nigeria’s best known and leading corporate organizations from Manufacturing to Fast Moving Consumer Goods to Public Sector Organizations.
Our vision is “To become a globally recognized communications company of choice for clients who value quality service and are willing and able to pay for it”, while our mission is “To win and retain customers by helping them achieve their strategic marketing and communication goals through unparalleled innovativeness and professionalism”.
We also publish an online newspaper called ionigeria.com, A publication that provides credible, balanced and all-inclusive information and news about Nigeria, Africa and the world.
PR is growing in acceptance worldwide. From your experience, would you say that this is applicable to Nigeria?
There is no gainsaying the fact that Public Relations has grown in acceptance in Nigeria and worldwide. Its role is expanding. It has therefore become a more prominent component of integrated marketing campaigns.
I will say that, as a practitioner and proprietor of a PR firm, I am naturally pleased with this development. However, few people understand the value of Public Relations, and there’s few PR industry leaders.
Borrowing the words of Ronn Torossian, “Public relations is an amazing business that offers people, brands, personalities, politicians, nonprofits, foundations, hospitals—you name it—an incredible chance to leverage their strengths and shape public opinions. Who better is than a seasoned and forward-thinking PR person to anticipate, analyze, and interpret public opinion and attitudes? PR’s biggest advantage over Marketing and Advertising is the seemingly independent third-party recognition and endorsement it provides—an incredible asset in a crowded, distracted, and confused world. Understanding this point is critical because the right publicity has profoundly more credibility than ads and marketing campaigns. The public feels that when an objective third party—a television show, magazine writer, newspaper journalist, blogger, social networker, or radio reporter, for example—features a company or person in a positive light, that entity is authentic and important”.
I concur with him when he said that PR is still “a field people don’t know enough about. The entire industry needs to do more to educate people about what PR, is and what it does. Done well, PR frames debates, shapes opinions, changes minds, averts crises, helps ring the cash register, and motivates individuals and groups to act. We can, and should, be another voice in the room and in the C-suite, solving business problems.”
Some PR practitioners believe that the good old press release is dead. What is your take on this?
Globally the debate is still ongoing, and I align myself with those who contend that the press release is not dead, but its traditional format is on life support. What is dead is the boring press release. The tedious, dull and uninteresting press release is as dead today as it always was since somebody for the first time had the idea to write something for media’s use and calling it “release”.
The press release can still be very effective when PR practitioners are very creative, and look at it from the perspective of the journalists or influencers who are primarily interested in newsworthy materials.
So, before you issue a press release to the media, you must honestly answer some questions; one of which is, how is this newsworthy?
The advent of digital media has changed the PR landscape tremendously. How has this affected the practice of Media Relations?
The Public Relations industry has experienced immense changes in the past few years because the digital and social media have provided new opportunities for communication. They allow customers to engage in a two-way communication process with companies easily and quickly. For businesses on the other hand, this represents a huge challenge of how to handle the new forms of engagement effectively, such that they now realize the increasing importance of Public Relations as an organizational function.
To address your question, I will say that the advent of digital media has impacted on media relations both positively and negatively. Positively, in the sense that PR practitioners can now easily send materials to journalists. I have always told my younger colleagues that when we started in the early 90s, we had to move from one media organisation to another to submit press releases, photographs and other materials to our media contacts. With the transport situation in Lagos, moving around was to say the least, very tiring. But today, you can easily send the materials to journalists by emails.
The positive aspect of it was that it enabled us to know and build relationships with media practitioners on different beats. A major challenge confronting younger Public Relations practitioners today is that they no longer have personal relationships with journalists. They now sit in the comfort of their offices and email materials to journalists that they do not know or have relationship with. This is having a negative impact on the usage of these materials.
What would you consider the top secrets of pitching in 2019?
For any business to survive, it must have customers or clients. So, an entrepreneur must be very adept at pitching for businesses. Ability to win and retain customers is sine qua non for survival in an immensely competitive environment like ours.
From my personal experience, the top secrets of successful pitching include knowledge, creativity or innovativeness, visibility and relationships. Make sure you are knowledgeable about your services inside out and spend some time getting to know your potential client prior to arriving at the meeting. Visibility is also important because the potential client cannot invite agencies they do not know for a pitch.
This brings me to the issue of relationship which is vitally important to success. Zig Ziglar said: “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Business is all about the relationships you create and maintain. It’s about the people doing business with you, and you must learn to care about your potential client from the outset.
You must therefore not go into a pitch with the primary desire to ‘make money’. It’s not about money. It’s about finding solutions to the potential client’s challenges.Listen when your client talks (never talk over the top of them), clarify issues where necessary so that you’ll have a good understanding of what they want from you, and present a solution that meets their needs. So, make sure you get your head right.
Many PR professionals believe that HARO is a very good tool for effective media relations in the digital age. Do you agree? Tell us why.
While it is good to think global, it is sometimes more expedient to act local. Although I agree that Help A Reporter Out (HARO) is a beautiful and effective tool in the western world, it has not gained traction in our country; and, because of that, I have not subscribed to it. At CFO and Associates, we know the media inside out and we know how to create media buzz. With more than 2 decades solid experience in this industry, we’ve developed strong connections with journalists who are always on the lookout for stories.
What motivated you to take PR as a career?
Whereas, I had always been interested in working in the communications industry, I ended up in the Public Relations industry by divine providence. I started my career in journalism and decided to go into advertising. So, I applied for employment at Insight Communication. I was invited for interview and given employment. After six months induction, I was transferred to The Quadrant Company, the Public Relations arm of Troyka Holdings. That was how I found myself in PR, fell in love with it and decided to remain in the profession.
What advice do you have for those wishing to take the same path with you?
My advice to young men and women is to look for what they love and have passion for. Passion is what can sustain your interest in a profession and keep you happy.