Lagos NIPR will join national to combat quackery – Comfort Nwankwo

Mrs. Comfort Nwankwo recently mounted the saddle as the Chairman of Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), Lagos State Chapter. She is the Managing Director/CEO of Cicom International Limited, with over two decades’ experience in Public Relations. In this exclusive interview with MARKETING EDGE’s Ibidunni Banjoko, the cerebral Amazon offers incisive views about the Lagos Chapter of the NIPR and its determination to join forces with the national body to combat quackery in the industry. Excerpts.

What is your vision and mission for this Industry?

We intend to build a Lagos Chapter of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations that will integrate all PR professionals towards building a profession that is at par with international best practice. We would open up the career ceiling for our members to go higher. The era of limiting them to general manager or below is over.

This is a time to go higher and become CEOs. And this has been made easy by the new syllabus of the Institute with a robust diversification of knowledge. This will be supported by capacity building in various leadership and management skill, amongst others. We will join the national body and other chapters to continue the enforcement war against quackery in the profession by engagement of quacks and advocacy to ensure their compliance by attending the prescribed training programmes meant for their admission into the professional circle, knowing that it is a crime to practice Public Relations without certification.

We will take the last option, which is prosecution of the defiant. Lagos State Chapter is ahead in all of this and will continue to lead the process. I am so happy and proud that the Lagos State government is a model in the anti-quackery efforts as almost all information officers of the Lagos State government, agencies and ministries are professional members of the Institute. We have a lot to unfold; as the day unfolds, so will our plans for all sectors, the grassroots unfold. Be assured that every zone of the state will feel the impact of Public Relations.

How will you assess the PR industry?

The PR industry in Nigeria has come a long way, from being a press agent to press relations, to what we are today. And if you scan around today you will see that we have great practitioners that compete favourably with international practitioners and they have been winning awards all over the world. At the recent SABRE Awards, we have more than 10 Nigerians winning Awards from Nigeria. If you must know SABRE Awards is the highest PR Award that practitioners can get in the world.

If you have also read the news in the past 2 weeks you will notice that the institute (NIPR) that champions the practice has been at the forefront of proffering solution to the many relationship problems that we are having. We are trying to have a National Integration Summit, whose sole aim is to build and mend relationships. You cannot wish us away; we have become a very vital part of a very vital aspect of governance, corporate governance and relationships in Nigeria.

Why did you consider PR practice as a major priority?

The PR practice is a major priority for professionals because the time has come that we should be speaking the global language. The whole world is now a global village, a global town hall. We must be able to practice PR anywhere we go to; that is why we are integrating people who would work towards us building a profession that has international best practice.

But if you are also asking me why PR industry is important, it’s like asking me why relationships are important. PR is a profession that builds relationships by bringing people together. We feel their pulse, their minds, know what they want, what they need and work towards providing these needs and wants so that we have an environment that is peaceful, enabling human integration, engagement and business. In other words, we are in the business of building hope, of building business and making sure that we have a positive and proactive ambience where people can relate and work.

Why is PR taking the back seat in the IMC industry?

I will answer you directly. No, PR is not taking back seat, everything in society evolves. There is a time for individuals, professions and even countries to flourish. This is the time for Public Relations. We are now occupying the front seat and with a little time, we would become very visible and impactful.

IMC is something that involves all of us, the marketing people are doing their own and we are doing ours.

How would you assess the current State of PR Practice in Nigeria as compared with contemporary advertising practice?

Advertising and Public Relations have always been misrepresented by the public, even the corporate user and beneficiaries of both, simply because the two of them work through the same media but with different methods. Advertising aims at selling majorly, while PR aims at building a mutually beneficial relationship, within which selling can still happen amongst other benefits.

Advert agencies seem to be in more demand because of capitalist economy and its competitive nature, that necessitate advertising, hence little recognition and patronage to Public Relations which is subtle but powerful as a communication process.  Also, most multinationals influence the choice of communication outfits their subsidiaries and affiliates in Nigeria use, and in most cases they underplay PR.

But you know relationship building is easier with the communal lifestyle of Africans generally and this is being taken for granted with additional enhancement by ICT; the need for spending more for PR is underplayed.

What would you say is the missing link in the growth and development of contemporary modern PR practice?

If you look at the practice of PR, you will agree with me that we have come a long way by what agencies like Base Marcelle would describe the changes that have occurred in PR especially from the 80s. You will discover that organizations have gone from depending on PR as to knowing how to say things, to what they should say, and today they depend on PR agencies to let them know what they should do. But the missing link is still the issue of trust.

The public and the users of PR are yet to grasp the in-depth function, impact and usefulness of PR practice. The fact that some PR practitioners still stress publicity and stretch truth once in a while, maybe to buttress their points, does not mean that is what the profession is and I think it’s coming from the point of view of ignorance.

Today, some people still see PR as ‘bribery’ when they want to use gratification which I think is coming from a very ignorant background. It shows they do not know what PR is all about. Those are some of the missing link – trust and ignorance – but I know we will get there.

How will your leadership ensure a requisite and positive paradigm shift in the sector?

If you have read my manifesto, the “Comfort Compass”, you will observe that I kept hammering on ethics and integrity, and if I have to stretch it further, I will like to position the PR practice in Lagos State as one that is interested in compliance and we are going to pursue compliance because I find that one of the problems we have in the country is enforcement.

We have laid down rules, codes, ethics and guidelines in the practice. What is the use of guidelines if there is no compliance, and how can people comply if there is no enforcement? There are many people practicing PR today and they don’t know anything about PR.

In conjunction with the national body of NIPR, we are going to flush the quacks from the system. We need professionals to handle PR jobs to ensure positive paradigm shift in our sector because if professionals are doing the job, you are going to see the difference in the quality of the jobs done and in the quality of counsel given to organizations. It’s not only in crises management that organisations should go looking for professionals. I want to say that for the people that are in, we will continue to support them with training and retraining to expose them to trends in PR practice. It is an ongoing thing; the practice will get bigger and better. But these are some of the areas we must look into: flushing out quacks, encouraging re-certification, retraining of professionals and even affiliating them to other bodies of like functions in other to balance out what they are doing.

What are your plans to move the organisation to the next level?

I think question 7 and 8 are related. By the time we do this we would have moved the chapter to the next level. And of course, we have other programmes which we have introduced in the chapter, but until we get the buy in of every member of the chapter, I’ll rather not discuss it. But know that we are going to be interested in the enforcement of the compliance of PR guidelines. We are going to carry on with the very good programmes initiated by the past administration in addition to the new ones we are introducing.

We are going to come up with activities that will empower the skill of professionals in the way of providing them information, and tools with which they can work. We are interested in providing reference materials for members and we are looking forward to doing so in collaboration with experience with relevant stakeholders.

What are your plans to counter the issue of quackery in the industry?

Let us make a categorical statement which is also factual. Quackery is not native to PR; it is in every profession, not just in Nigeria, but all over the world. We have quacks in pharmacy, in medicine, teaching, even in the armed forces etc. Having established that, NIPR is very worried and concerned about the presence of quacks in our industry and measures are being taken to flush them out. For instance, very soon we are going to enlighten them on the implications of employing non-members of the Institute as PR officers in their organsations.

We thought of publishing the names of such organsations but being relationship menders, we are doing letters to them first. So, if you are not a registered member of the Institute and you are practicing PR, know that it is a crime to do so. The Institute has made membership registration very easy and cost effective to enable members legalize their practice. If they fail to do so we are working with the ministry of justice so that such will be prosecuted. If you are interested in your brand, we encourage you to stay out of trouble and do the needful by ensuring that people who work in your communication department are certified.

With the preference for digital, how do you see the future of PR?

Well as you can see, everybody is going digital not just NIPR. The world is becoming a global digital village; in fact, a global town hall. We hold our meetings virtually. Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, we have not had a physical meeting. The future is bright. The Institute is responding adequately to digital revolution by realigning the curriculum with courses and trainings in digital communications.

What is your take on World PR Day?

The World PR Day is a very welcome idea. I am actually surprised that before now we didn’t have one. So, I am particularly happy because I think practitioners all over the world needed to be celebrated for the roles they have played in bringing together relationship and humanity. You will agree with me that PR creates the ambience for people to operate smoothly and profitably, so the World PR Day is also an agenda for the world to understand and utilize PR better. For me, that’s the strength of it all. The world PR Day will also enable practitioners have a unified global agenda to make the world understand PR the more.

Any organisation that does not have a PR department is heading for doom. It will also present an opportunity for PR and marketing communication practitioner across the globe to come together and have a stake in the practice.  For me, it is a wonderful idea, and July 16 will always be celebrated in our Chapter and in our nation. It’s a day dedicated to truth, honesty and reputation management in a way that is beneficial to all humans across the globe.

Who is Comfort?

Comfort Obot Nwankwo is the Managing Director /CEO of Cicom International Limited, a visual barding, signage and event management Company incorporated 29 years ago. Comfort is a team player. She is passionate about what she does and brings to bear her unalloyed personal qualities of commitment, optimism, meritocracy, flexibility, organisational resilience and tenacity.


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