John Ehiguese, a public relations (PR) consultant, has just been made the president of the Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN). In this chat with Hazeez Balogun, he speaks on the ever-changing nature of public relations and how he came into the business Congratulations on your appointment as the head of PRCAN.
What exactly is the function of PRCAN? It is a trade sectorial group that protects the interest of PR consultancy firms operating in Nigeria. It is created by a by-law at the NIPR and it has corporate membership of PR consultancy firms. We also seek to raise standards, and generally grow the PR profession.
As the new president, how do you plan to improve the lot of your members? I have a one-point agenda and it is to put Nigeria PR practice on the global map. We cannot claim to be the largest economy in Africa and the ultimate investment destination today without having a presence in the global PR community. If you rank the top 500 PR companies in the world today, I am sure that there is no Nigerian firm on the list. It is not because of want of ability, capability and competence but because we have not promoted ourselves enough. We have to raise standards, we have to create a more conducive playing field for practitioners to operate, we have to engage in capacity building and also reach out to the international community. All of these are subsets of my major agenda.
What is your programme of action? I have one that I will be sharing first with my executive committee and then you will begin to see it as it unfolds. We will be heavy on outreach programmes with critical stakeholder groups, both within and outside Nigeria, and we will be heavy on global networking for our members and things like that.
What are the conditions for becoming PRCAN member? It is simple; membership is at the corporate level. If you are a PR consultancy firm, you can apply to be a member and there are certain conditions to be met. The head of the PR firm must be registered with the NIPR. Statutorily, you cannot practise PR in Nigeria if you are not registered with the NIPR. Also, at least two of the senior members of the firm’s management must be members of NIPR. You should also have a brick and mortar structure – you should have a proper office, we don’t want briefcase agency. You should have a minimum organisational structure that you must meet. If all that is satisfactory, we will now ask our membership committee to inspect your premises and certify that you are qualified to join. Subsequently, you will be accepted into the association.
How long can individuals practise before they become members of the association? That is not stated. But, to run a successful PR agency, you surely must have spent some time in the business. It is implied that you should have some level of experience.
It’s PRCAN is an elite organisation, for only big PR agencies I don’t know what you mean by elitist but the truth is that in this business there are different levels of operation. There are some that are just a 10-man agency; you have some that have up to 40 to 50 staff. As long as you have a proper structure and you have a certain number of staff,
once you meet the criteria you will be allowed in.
So, what happens to upstarts who want to join? Does that person meet all the criteria that I listed? Certainly, we will not allow a briefcase agency. You must be a consultant, practising corporate organisation duly registered and certified.
There are new agencies coming up called online PR, are they qualified to be called PR agencies? The media landscape is changing and drastically. Before, we had the editors as the gatekeepers who determined which information went out. That has changed with the advent of social media. The audience not only has the ability to use information as it pleases, it can also actually generate news and set the agenda as it were. You cannot have a complete PR campaign without an online component. Communication is becoming more social. People are more receptive to information that is interesting to them. Media had become permission based. People consume media on their own terms when they want to and how they want to. The power is now in the hands of the consumer of information, so it is only information that is of use to them and of importance to them that breaks through. And if it is of interest to one person, chances are, it is of interest to his friends and his peers. He is more likely to share that information and that is done easily on online social platforms. That is why you see some messages going viral all over the world without geographical borders.
Is Mediacraft responding to these changes? Of course, as I speak to you, we have a wholly digital marketing subsidiary where we do quite a number of digital marketing and social media campaign for some cl
A lot of the campaigns nowadays have social media component, our subsidiary has a seamless interface with Mediacraft.
Has that changed your relationship with the traditional media? Not changed but adjusted. We still deal with the traditional media; they still have a huge audience. If we send out a press release now, we will be sending out to the traditional media just like we send to blogs and news websites. The two complement each other. What we do with social media is additional. And you also see that the traditional media is moving with the times. People now read their papers online; they listen to radio online, they watch TV online. So, any serious manager of traditional media outfit should know that his paper needs a large representation online. They should also be progressively migrating their content online because a large chunk of their audience is online. We have to move with the times.
Why did you go into PR? I studied mass communication at the undergraduate level and specialised in PR and advertising. But I did not really practise after school and I found myself engaging in one business or the other. Finally, I decided to go back to my professional line. I was into marketing consultancy and I was representing a Finnish paper company. I later moved to broadcasting for a brief period. I worked in a PR company for about two years before setting up my own company, which I christened Mediacraft Associates. The company is 11 years old now and we are still going strong.
Are you planning to move your agency into other areas like marketing? I have a very robust vision for Mediacraft. We want to be the top of the pack. We want to be a reference point of PR practice in Nigeria both in terms of quality of the work we do and in terms of skill. As for how we will diversify, that is another ball game entirely. We will adapt along with the emerging landscape. We have two subsidiaries, an event management and direct activation agency and a digital marketing agency. The two were set up as a diversification strategy and also as a backward integration strategy. Clients are increasingly looking for 360 solutions and it makes sense to offer these solutions in-house, the end game is to be a one-stop shop for IMC service delivery. Another that is coming up quickly is video production. Video is rich content online. Research shows that people are 25,000 times more likely to watch a video than read texts. So hopefully by next year, we will set up a video production company in line with our diversification strategy. Everything we will be doing will be in response to the changing dynamics of the PR business. We will be a core PR business at the end of the day.
Everything is changing so fast these days? The PR man of the future is a multi-skill individual and has to be very versatile. He is communicating with an audience that is changing in terms of perception and attitude towards information consumption. In the realm of PR now, we have psychologists; you have video producers and editors, you have copywriters. Creativity is no longer the preserve of advertising agencies. Creativity is as important in PR now as in any other area of marketing communication. Story telling requires creativity. A PR agency of the future will have a broad range of skill sets working for you, otherwise you will not be able to meet client’s expectations.
Won’t these require a lot of capacity building? Capacity building is a major challenge in this business. Capacity training has to take the centre stage in everything we are doing. I had a meeting with the head of NIPR recently and centre to our discussion was capacity building and training. You cannot be competitive if you are not competent. That is the only way to meet up globally. We do a lot of training here at Mediacraft. One of our staff just returned from the US, some are going to South Africa next year. At the moment, we are training staff on video editing. On all their systems, there are video editing software. We want every one of them to be able to take videos, edit them, add graphics and it is good to go. We want our staff to be able to go to an event and come back with the report in three formats, text, still picture and video. You must have the competence to deliver on these three formats.
Won’t your position as head of PRCAN affect your company? Obviously, it is going to eat into my time. It is a tough job to run an association like that. It is time consuming and requires a lot of sacrifice. It is also a thankless job. I was not forced into it. I went into it, fully conscious of the challenges. I had prepared myself psychologically, and professionally, and I had to re-jig myself somehow, so that I can take a little more time out of the business. I am still very much involved at the level of quality assurance and policy formulation and strategy. I am able to take a little time out as I have empowered some of my staff to take some important decisions.