You just came back from a recent summit on measurement for PR industry, what lessons would you want the industry to adopt from the summit?
As you are aware that what cannot be measured cannot be valued. Over the years, the issue of measurement and evaluation has been very significant and increasingly on the front burner because we have questions on how we can just, by our involvement or services we provide determine the whole essence of it. But over time, what is prevalent in public relations is what we called advertising value equivalent, AVE. Having realized this, we have come to the conclusion that the measurement tool cannot adequately represent the form of measurement for public relations for myriads of reasons. It is obvious that you cannot judge the value of a PR work by the size of the write-up it attracts in a newspaper. You cannot do that because not all PR jobs are media related. That informs one of the reason why I had to attend to see what a group of people gathered together to say that can help us as an industry. It started many years back and somewhere along the line they came up with the Barcelona principle. Now, it has gone to Barcelona principle 2.0. At the summit, a particular brainwork was also launched. Basically, what it means is that as they go along, they are fine tuning the processes on how we can make measurement as objective and encompassing as possible so that you are not just measuring readership but also the impact. At the same event, we talked about the difference between output and outcome. In case you are not aware, output is the effort you generated while outcome is what has changed. At the moment, it has moved a step further to include impact.
Considering the fact that the principle being mentioned are fashioned out in line with what operates in developed markets, do you think that it can work in Nigeria?
My answer to it is that it would work. For me, there is no point reinventing the wheel because this market is far ahead of us and they know what operates. It is like saying because Europe manufactures its own car, we won’t ride car until we manufacture. I believe it can work. However, the only difference I see is that there is a lot of data available. Increasingly, the developing nations are beginning to have a lot of data by reason of technology. Technology has harnessed a lot of activities which makes it easy to derive data. For instance, if you want to know the number of calls made in Nigeria, technology can do that for you.
It is believed in many quarters that dearth of data in the PR industry had been occasioned by the unstructured nature of the industry itself and the difficulty in having a coordinated data. Do you share the view?
I disagree with you that the industry is unstructured but would rather say it is maturing. If I may ask, have we reached a certain point of maturity. The answer is no. As you claimed, if the industry is unstructured, what will the NIPR be doing, if it is unstructured, what will the PRCAN be doing, if it is unstructured, what is APRA doing. But in everything, there is an evolutionary process. We are just following it. For some of us, we wish it was a lot faster. But I won’t call it unstructured.
Be that as it may, there are certain institutions that help to gather data across board. But unfortunately by reason of our background, we have not paid much attention to data. Increasingly, it is still part of the evolutionary process. Right now, more people are cautious of gathering data in helping their businesses. More institutions including government are conscious of gathering data. Take for instance, Lagos state, it measures the performance of their budget by way of data. Before, there was not something like that. How were they able to do that? Of course, it must have come from data gathering. Banks and telecom companies are largely driven by data. Even entertainment is following suit. In a nutshell, technology has made data gathering easy. The only challenge we are having is that we have missed the pace. As we speak, every call you make on your phone, is stored somewhere.
One big issue with regards to what some described as the unstructured nature of PR is the loose nature in the Public relation profession?
I quite agree that the entry barrier is low. It is an industry where anybody can call himself a PR practitioner. This is happening because it is a social science. And in social science, the access is wider than in Law, Engineering and Medicine where they are low. The truth of the matter is that there are people who may have studied something in the university but along the line develop a flair for a form of social science. And they follow the flair and develop skill in it. At a point, I didn’t know what PR was all about until I was introduced and told I had what it takes to be successful in it. For that reason, I develop the passion and went fully into it.
Although the barriers are poor but I think what the NIPR has done, by putting some regulations by Decree 16 of 1986 which has become an Act of National Assembly has helped a great deal. According to the regulation, for you to be accredited to the practice of PR, you have to go through certain steps. It is a law and there are two things that are mitigating against that law, one of which is the nomenclature. Take for instance, when you ask someone if he is a PR practitioner, he will quickly dismiss it by saying he is a media consultant. The same way some one can say I am not a PR practitioner but a corporate affairs manager. So, how do you want to hold that person? So, it is difficult because the law setting it up stipulates it. In PR, there are ways in which you can get in and out.
Now coming to the question of enforcement and recognition, it means that NIPR would have to do a lot more in enforcing that regulation. I was reading yesterday that the new Public relation Officer of The Police is an NIPR certified. Thank God he is a practitioner. If he had not been so, it could have been a case for which NIPR can challenge the Police authority for flouting the law.
In a nutshell, I think the industry is making some progress because Rome was not built in a day. For the practice, I would enjoin them to make it mandatory to demand that members are qualified before going into practice. For me, I look forward to a time that the industry will begin to issue licenses to practitioners and there will be a regular review on annual basis.
In a nutshell, I think a combination of those factors will eliminate challenge of quackery.
Stakeholders have argued that NIPR has been found wanting in delivering its mandates since it is seen to be interfacing between the role of trade union and a regulatory body. How can NIPR divorce one role from another?
I totally agree with you. Like I said, it is a journey that we must decide who we are. Are we a regulatory body or are we a trade union? I think we have learnt from the advertising association, who got their enabling law after us. You can see that they now have APCON and AAAN. I think that confusion has created big dilemma in the practice.
Don’t you think it is important for stakeholders to sit down and resolve the issue once and for all with government?
It is important but it is just that it is not easy. I think it should, by now, become a front burner issue. A lot of practitioners still don’t understand how it hurts or affects. I feel many of us do not understand the challenges. I think really one big problem confronting many in the industry is the struggle for survival. I want to believe that that may have accounted for the ignorance experienced regarding the issue of whether we are a trade union or a regulatory body. If you take a closer look at the industry, in the scale of importance, first and foremost, most agencies still struggle to get a job. Beyond that, you also see them strive to make PR relevant and to define its identity because to some people, PR is seen as bribe or kick back. If we have to ask ourselves, in our business, how many people can survive to the extent that they are dealing with the issues of policy or framework. I would say no. As a matter of fact, we are still struggling to keep our head above water.
In developed markets, public relations is one industry government cannot afford to toy with but this is not the case in Nigeria as we often see the level of government apathy towards the profession. What do you think is responsible and how can it be addressed?
I must agree that we have not done well in positioning ourselves. As a matter of fact, we have to position ourselves very well to allow people to take us serious as much as we want. I must say that a lot of people still see us as errand boys. So, you find a situation in an organization when they are looking for where to dump people in the mainstream, what comes readily to mind is to dump him or her in communication department. So, it is almost like an all comers game. Secondly, it has to do with the glass ceiling of the profession itself. PR, I must say, has glass ceiling such that its influence is considered below rank when compared with others. First of all, if we ask ourselves, in decision making of any organization, are we in the board room? If we are, how many of us are in the board room? The answer is no. So, we are not in the board room where the critical decisions that will affect the well-being of our profession are being taken. In that way, our influence is limited. Besides, it also has to do with the measurement of our contribution. For a lot of people, PR is a cost centre and not a profit centre. In the scheme of things when decisions are taken, we don’t rate very high.
With respect to government communication, I would say it has its own challenge and this affects every profession. But in our case, the situation had been worsened by the journalists as many people see us as the same. So, you have a situation when government wants to appoint someone for its communication, it goes for a journalist.
You recently emerged as the new president of African Public Relations Associations, APRA now saddled with several mandates one of which include to change Africa’s narrative that are tailored toward violence and other social vices. How well positioned is the association to achieving this and how do you intend to implement your agenda considering the huge responsibilities on your shoulder?
It is an enormous task I must admit. You have hit the nail on the head by saying we want to change the narrative. So, our focus is to change that narrative. We want to sell positive Africa using the instrumentality of our profession. We believe that we have got the skill to sell Africa and present it in good light. Be that as it may, as someone who has been there before, I know what I want to do given this enormous responsibilities. In simple term, I intend to build on the foundation of past administration particularly those of us who were part of APRA from the beginning. You would recall that the former PR association could not achieve the feat of bringing the African Union to the table which we were able to do. I intend to consolidate on those efforts. I am conversant with the challenges of APRA and I believe it is one of the reasons why I was chosen. I must say that the feat of AU is quite commendable considering the fact that in achieving the dream of changing such narrative, you need them. I intend to make the association and Africa a lot more engaging.
A lot of practitioners still don’t understand how it hurts or affects. I feel many of us do not understand the challenges. I think really one big problem confronting many in the industry is the struggle for survival. I want to believe that that may have accounted for the ignorance experienced regarding the issue of whether we are a trade union or a regulatory body. If you take a closer look at the industry, in the scale of importance, first and foremost, most agencies still struggle to get a job. Beyond that, you also see them strive to make PR relevant and to define its identity because to some people, PR is seen as bribe or kick back. If we have to ask ourselves, in our business, how many people can survive to the extent that they are dealing with the issues of policy or framework. I would say no. As a matter of fact, we are still struggling to keep our head above water.