Challenge Of Engaging Pr Experts To Drive National Agenda

10 Nov 2012

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APCON Chairman Mr. Lolu Akinwunmi, Marketing Services Director, Mrs. Iquo Ukoh, AAAN President and outgoing Chairman LAIF Mrs. Bunmi Oke and CEO Etisalat, Mr. Steve Evans

“Communication is a critical organ leadership must employ to engender followership. The premise of leadership is actually followership. As citizens are in fact consumers of government policies and legislation, an appropriate model must then be employed to facilitate political engagement.” The above quote by Jimi Awosika, managing director of Insight Communication, a leading Lagos based advertising agency underscores the importance of political communication in engaging the citizenry to buy into government policies. The quote was contained in Awosika’s key note address titled “Engaging The Nation Constructively: The Role of Strategic Marketing Communications in National Governance” presented at the 39th AGM and congress of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN) held in Ibadan, Oyo State capital early in the year. He went further to say that as the citizenry engages with the communication model of the government, the adopted style begins to inform the norms, values, and codes of conduct of the citizens; that is shape national identity.

According to him, Nigerians desperately need a clear articulation of national agenda that would cover four critical questions of nation building; who are we; what do we aspire to be; what will stand us out and how do we want to be perceived. He advocated that the national agenda must become the bedrock of policies, legislation and acts of government.

If wishes were horses, Nigerian government and indeed politicians would have been able to articulate a clear cut communication programme to drive government policies in such a manner that would engender citizens buy in. Not many Nigerians understand the key components of President Goodluck Jonathan’s seven point agenda. And not many understand policy thrusts at different levels of governance. Given the skill and knowledge available to advertising and public relations experts, one would have been safe to expect that both parties would have been working together to drive our national agenda in terms of helping the government leverage expert skill to understand the Nigerian people, deploying such skill in crafting understandable government agenda that reflects the heart of the government and galvanise the people.  The benefits to both the citizens and government would be immeasurable.

Yes, with cuts in ad and PR spend by brands occasioned by slowdown in business; one would expect that practitioners would jump at the sight of the next available politician or government where the bucks flow. On the other hand, politicians desirous of effecting a change it is expected would employ the services of PR experts to drive their campaigns. Unfortunately, no matter how tempting most practitioners are wary of working for government and politicians while government on its part has over time do not engage their services.

In an exclusive interview with Bolaji Okusaga, CEO The Quadrant Company and Phil Osagie, CEO JSP Communication, leading PR firms in Lagos, they gave informed and revealing insight into why most practitioners shun briefs from government and or politicians.

Speaking on political PR, Dr. Phil Osagie said “Working with politicians and political parties is different from working with brands. Politicians are different in that they are sentimental, they are living entity. It’s not brands that you say you want to do this or that; for politicians it needs a lot of planning. You must be spontaneous. With political PR needs a lot of planning and you must be spontaneous. You must be able to identify good PR at the spore of the moment; exploit it. Because in that field, political PR or political communication, it is very easy to break you and it’s very easy to make you; so you must be quick to identify that breaking and that making moments.” Again he said politicians are pressed for time and engages whoever that promises to deliver.

Bolaji Okusaga said Politicians do not see politics as a vocation that can be harnessed and optimized. “They see it as something that is situational. They don’t look at the idea of getting a professional around to help build perception around them or help mould their brand. Democracy is still young in Nigeria. People don’t believe professionals matter. Anybody can do it. That is why you have quack bankers, quack doctors, and quack lawyers; so even if you have quack marketing people you are not going to be too surprised. And because they are close to the grass root you are not going to get them to be professional in the way they do things.”

Sharing his experience with Thisday Okusaga said “politicians are very interesting people to work for. Even when they hire professionals because of the intrigues you are likely to be viewed with a lot of suspicion. The word consultant already denotes that it is you against them or them against us. So, they don’t really get much done working with professionals except politicians that are strict and know where they are going.”

Again is the literacy factor. With only about 35 percent of the population educated, Okusaga said to a great extent politicians are not sure a professional consultant would be able to mirror the reality of the grassroots and connect at that level. “They probably will imagine a suit wearing, tea drinking kind of person who can’t get on the street of Arondiuzuogu or Damaturu.” It is therefore safe for them to get things done and get pictures published on the newspapers. Moreover, a lot of work they will do have been taken over by journalist. So, except an informed politician who sees the need to actually go down and meet the professionals, even though the professionals are going to work with the media but the two are not the same? That is how you get the best out of the journalist and the best out of the PR practice.” But that he said does not happen often and when it does, the candidate would have punchy messages that actually communicate.

Though the scenario is improving what with Jonathan Goodluck well thought out presidential campaign which deployed huge use of new and traditional media platforms to drive his electoral campaigns, Okusaga described the current political messages as “more sham, not cutting through. They talk about seven point agenda, not many Nigerians can real out two. Not so much recognition is done after the election. It’s just like a conquest.”

In an interview published in BrandIQ, an IMC focused magazine, president of Nigerian institute for Public Relations (NIPR), Mr. Jide Ologun, in his response to why government avoids the services of PR experts said in part “When you promote politics above governance you discourage professionalism. So, it becomes a matter of this person we are giving this job, is he a party member, who is his godfather? The issue is not what value he can add, because we are still in an environment of he who pays the piper dictates the tune” and the fact that you are the best does not guarantee that your services will be engaged. Where there is corruption there is tendency to flee professionalism, because the primary assignment of professionals is to destabilize corruption and create enabling environment for development.”

Working with politicians’ observers believe is not a tea party. While some said they got their fingers burnt in the process others say they were used and dumped as soon as they realize their ambition without meeting the financial obligation to the expert, others had more messy and unpleasant experiences to share. Okusaga cautioned that to work with politicians or government “you need to get a long spoon. Do your work, don’t mix it with friendship; when the work is done, collect your due and bid them good bye.”

Political PR and advertising may not be a bad idea all together. Reality on ground is that some governments have engaged the services of agencies to drive their policies. For those who want to join the fray, Osagie has some word of advice; “To work for a politician one must make sure that he has a set of value system; find out what they are; do you subscribe to them? But if you don’t care whether he has value system or not, what you see is what you get.” Political campaign is not a typical corporate campaign. Things come up from government or constituencies at the spore of the moment; you have to be able to respond to their speed constructively. Much as you will like to work with them within an ideological framework, things cannot be over boxed. PR people on their own part must be able to demonstrate their ability to offer a service that is beyond normal PR work. PR practitioner must raise their expectations; they must identify with value system and work with passion.

In civilised society, political popularity is derived on the on the strength of an ideology and how you are able to make a difference. But in Nigeria candidates’ do not win on how well they perform but on many other extraneous factors. The US election is a clear demonstration of how delivery of political promises impacts political popularity. Though Barack Obama deployed modern elements if communication to drive his campaign which earned him a landslide victory in 2008 and 2012, he struggled to win this time around. President Jonathan borrowed a leaf from Obama during his presidential campaign. He ran a well structured campaign with high creative value that resonated with the people. But the huge challenge is doing what you promised you will do. “The crucial test is not in the creativity of a campaign but how the public measure performance. What are the gaps? No matter how creative your campaign is, if performance does not measure up, there is a gap. Then your campaign becomes counterproductive. You have to ensure that the gap between your promise and the reality is not wide. All men are the same but it is in the fulfillment of their promises that they differ.” Osagie said.  

Tags: Nigeria, Featured, Business, Lolu Akinwunmi

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