PR firms can lead in creatives- Yomi Badejo-Okusanya

The glaring disparity in performance between the Public Relations sub-sector and other segments of the integrated marketing communications sector has been a course for worry for stakeholders. In this interview, CMC Connect Group CEO Yomi Badejo-Okusanya tells MARKETING EDGE that the pain is self-inflicted and that PR practitioners need to do more in the area of delivering creative solutions for clients brands if they must be taken more seriously.

How will you assess the developments in the PR industry in 2016?

That was the time that Nigeria went into recession officially. Of course when things like that happen there is a cut in budget and that cut in budget affected all sectors of the economy and PR was not left out. As a matter of fact, you’ll find out that in situation such as this it is communications as a whole, not just PR, that first fly out of the window; be it advertising, be it Public Relation or media. So, i will say It wasn’t a good year for Public Relations.

What is the billing profile of the industry?
We don’t have any statistics guiding that. That is because a lot of agencies are very secretive about their performances. I remember about two years ago, PRCAN tried to do something about that, but at the end of the day, a lot of the responses that came were doubtful. A lot of us gave figures that we were not doing. Perhaps we thought that we’ll be were exposing ourselves and people who thought that we were doing well, will then realise that the company may not be doing so well after all. I will also not like to hazard a guess. In the sense that many things that should normally come under the Public Relations sometimes get in the marketing budget. Take for instance in MTN where you had Amina Ayagbola, she is not a core PR person, but I do understand she was the one who headed that functions now. So how do you appropriate the budget? So we don’t have a figure.

Don’t you think that a lack of reliable data about the PR industry undermines it, especially when it comes to global rating?

Definitely. Without data we can’t go forward. It is also a form of measurement of the industry itself in terms of performance. Undoubtedly, what cannot be measured cannot be valued. We need to measure it and we need to value it. So data is extremely important.

Why is it that the other arms of the IMC like the media agencies, creative and even experiential seems to be doing better than the PR?

First in 2016 we were all affected by the recession. Having said that, yes, sometimes we look like the poor cousins in the IMC. I think two things have affected that. They produce tangibles we dont. When you ask an advertising person, ‘what do you do? He brings out an ad either in the newspaper, television on radio and so on. When you ask media, they bring you an ad on radio station or TV station or billboard. They could show you a blog. Also in terms of measurement if i pay a media agency to put my ad on Channels news and i see it, i believe that the agency has delivered. The same thing for newspaper. But in our own case, its intangible. It has become difficult for people to fully appreciate what we do; therefore the kind of enumeration that comes with it is not well determined. So clients will rather pay us X, instead of XYZ because they cannot really determine the value of what we do. That has actually stunted the growth of our profession.

But you will agree with me that your counterparts in South Africa and other developed countries are finding a way around this challenge by using digital, video and other tools to enhance their campaigns. Why are we not seeing more of this in Nigeria?

It is one thing for you to have great ideas, but it is another thing for you to find the client that can permit you to express those ideas. Again, that goes back to the budget issue. We want to do certain things, but the kind of budget that we have to support a lot of our initiatives is not as robust. So, in many areas we are straight jacketed. We actually want to express more, but clients say they don’t have the budgets for that. One of the reasons why we are not fully appreciated is that we ourselves as public relations practitioners have been unable to sell our values. It is a case of doctor heal thy self. So while we sell other people’s values, we have not been able to communicate our own values. So people do not know where to place us, the band of clients who appreciate what we do, and support us with the right budget and give us the freedom of expression are very few. Take for instance most people feel that PR is the same as media relations. So if you went to a client and say give me a budget to produce video content for you, what does he say? He says to you ‘that belongs in the realm of the advertising agencies’. We are changing that narrative here in this agency. We do a lot of video contenting, and we are bringing a lot of that into our campaigns. Our focus at CMC Connect is to tell a compelling story. We believe that is the whole essence of Public Relations. And very soon we are breaking a campaign on that platform. For us it is the sum total of what Public Relations does. Hitherto, when you ask people what Public Relations is, they whuffle. They talk about the Mexican statement. So we are leading a campaign about us, but we believe that it will have influence over the entire Public Relations industry in the sense that it will pinpoint exactly what Public Relations is. When we understand that and digest it, then it is easier for clients to place value on what we do and manage expectations from us.

Having said that, it seems the PR industry in Nigeria is comfortable with playing second fiddle to the advertising or media agencies in the creative industry value chain?

We believe that creativity is not the monopoly of advertising agencies. The way we are positioned and are positioning ourselves, we are growing what is called a creativity and innovation centre in our company. We are hiring copywriters and all that. Not because we want to compete with advertising agencies, but we are saying that nobody has the monopoly of creativity. We as a PR consulting firm can lead in creative. We can lead a marketing communication campaign, in the sense that what we call in this industry, the big ideas can come from us. And the same way that in the past, an advertising agency will bring the big idea and the piece meal will be handed out to the other sub-sectors, we can do that too. There is a convergence taking place now. Before the eighties, the advertising agencies were the gatekeepers, so anybody that wanted anything to do with marketing communications went to the advertising agencies, even up to the nineties. But later in the nineties, the IMC came up, which recognizes different tools- PR, activations, direct marketing etc. But the advertising still remained the gatekeeper. But there is now a recovergence. What the client is looking for is creative solutions and he may not be interested in where he gets it. Its anybody that gives him that creative solutions that he follows. During the campaign of President Buhari, a company came to light, they call themselves Red Media. When you are talking about ranking in terms of advertising or Public Relations, Red Media didn’t count. They were not registered advertising practitioners and i happened to know that last years was when they concluded their registration with PRCAN. But guess what? It didn’t matter! What the client was looking for was solutions. So we as Public Relations Practitioners, must position ourselves in the forefront of offering creative solutions. These are the dynamics that are playing out, which is why we are where we are. Until we recognize how to position ourselves, sell our values, explain succinctly what we do and position ourselves as the ones that offer creative solutions we may still be referred to as the poor cousins of our sister professions.

Tell us about the Sabre Award for Africa, which The Holmes Report is organising in collaboration with APRA?
You all know that the Sabre award is very reputable; they have been there for the past 25 years. They have regional awards, you have the North America, you have Europe, you have the Asia Pacific and so forth. So Africa is the only one that doesn’t have an award by itself. That award in the past has been bundled with Europe. You will agree with me that the standard of practice in Africa are different. So we thought that it is make more sense to have our own Sabre Award. We tried to do it ourselves, but the opportunity came with Paul Holmes and we jumped on it.

Now, as a stakeholder, what are the PR trends that are likely to be dominant in 2017?

The trends that i see is going to be something like specialization. People are going to have to specialize. People are going to come up and say ‘all i do is environmental PR. Somebody is going to say ‘all i do is education PR’, somebody is going to say ‘all i do is CSR or oil and gas or financial or health’. I believe that is where we are going. The era of generalization is thinning out. Secondly, i believe there is going to be commoditization of services. Because we are all looking alike, there have to be differentiation. And part of the differentiation we are talking about at CMC is coming out with this campaign which says that Public Relations is about telling a compelling story. Going forward, in my business there will have to be differentiation. Right now, we all look the same. I don’t know how the clients chose; we seem to mirror each others’ services. I think going forward measurement and evaluation will be very key. Any PR agency that want to go forward must reinvent itself. It must reinvent it mode of practice, it must reinvent it practice structure, it must reinvent its service offerings, it must reinvent its financial base, it must reinvent its brand positioning and appeal. That is what we are looking at. One of the campaigns we are working on here is ‘we are looking for round pegs to fit into square holes. You have heard about round pegs in round holes. We don’t want that. That is part of our differentiation we are looking for lawyers, engineers, pharmacists, doctors who are interested in doing communication and we’ll convert them into communications people. That is part of our talent management initiative. So we are looking for people who ordinarily will like to go into communications, but they have been trained in other fields. We believe that PR is not just about communications, it’s about deep insight. To tell compelling stories, you must understand the issues; you must understand the target audience. what triggered them, what elicits responses from them? If we really want to be truly ahead, it may be difficult for just one person to own an agency, we may have to bring a pool of resources together. we looked at our plans for this year and we realise that we need to recapitalize our business by a significant amount of money. so one of the things we are doing this years is we may be doing private placement. Some two or three years ago called for private placement, but because of the downturn in the economy, we needed to step it down. nobody knew where we were going. We were working for a loan in foreign exchange to invest in the company, and thank God that we didn’t get it. If we had taken that loan when the exchange rate for a dollar was N165, now we would have had to repay back at N500 exchange rate. We would have been sweating by now. we believe that things are steadying our a bit, so we are going to launch out again. we are looking for both naira and foreign exchange. so part of our work this year is to raise capital. founded the company, but it doesn’t mean that i have to own it 100 percent. if you are not careful, the company dies before you dies, but it you have other people who have vested interest in the company, even long after you are done, the company continues. That is our thinking, we are thinking succession, we are thinking next level.


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