The Managing Director, Modion Communications, Odion Aleobua, in this interview with Raheem Akingbolu spoke on the need for stakeholders in marketing communications to stem out quacks in the industry, saying business opportunities beckons in the second half of 2018
What do you think the last six months of the year hold for Public Relations practice in Nigeria?
Public Relations business will boom from now till the end of the year. The reason is simple: practitioners have been able to prove in the last two years to prospective clients that PR is one of the most potent tools during recession. While the economic recession lasted, PR remained the subtle tool for brand managers to weave beautiful stories around their brands.Â Perhaps things would have started improving since the first quarter if budget was passed on time. In the last two years, the greatest news has been about bad economic forecast and gloomy reactions that breeds fear, worry and stress. As a result of this, business owners react to the fear with knee jerk reactions such as cutting out marketing budgets. It seems like an obvious choice â€“cut the â€œfatâ€. In an economic recession or economic boom, PR has the same function. It helps establish and maintain mutual lines of communication, understanding, acceptance and sales between an organisation and its target audience â€“the customers. PR programs link with business objectives and are based on a long-term view of a businessâ€™s relationship with their target audiences. They build positive public image and reputation. In the last two years, Nigerians have seen that this is even more important.
Now that PR has successfully been used to get through the doom and gloom, it can also be used to keep the business going. Through it, there will be open and regular communication with investors and customers to maintain trust and letting them know how the company is going.
In 2018, companies that want to remain relevant will need to engage PR agencies that understand their businesses and work with them on stories and angles that show their expertise and put their brands in front of key audiences. PR can achieve amazing results even when the budget is quite small. Making a knee jerk reaction now may cost you your business. People wonâ€™t buy from companies if they can no longer see or hear from them. So, the message is simple, maintain your presence in the marketplace and then you have more of a chance that your company will still be in the standing when the storm is over.
What is the place of creativity in public relations practice?
Let me start by first admitting that story-telling is at the heart of what we do and that creativity is at the heart of any communication. The reason why story tellers need to be grounded in their craft is that there is a different way they tell a story. There are times they have to show optics and use music in giving the right narrative. That, in its own, is creativity. You need to realise that telling the truth is not straight jacket. It is the same principle of how you sell the advertising product, or the same way you sell narrative. Take for instance, in selling a product, I have to get your attention, hold it, convince you with my message, and move you with that message. All these are geared towards building equity or making purchases. Creativity is something that the human minds love. So, there is no way in any form of communication, be it advertising, PR, or whether you are tactically using social media or profiling narratives at the point of PR, or engaging stakeholders at experiential level that you donâ€™t need creativity. Â Creativity is the crux of your messaging
Having worked on the clientâ€™s side, how easy was it for you to adjust and what do you think should be done to stem the rising tide of quackery?
For us, it was very clear what we wanted to do. We already knew what we were about to do and what we were offering the clients. As a start-up, what we just needed was a door to open. We knew that the capacity to demonstrate was there. That did not take long as it began to manifest. We started well, and the executions of our plans were always second to none. That was what we needed. We wanted people to hear us and allow us to do what we know how to do. Till date, we are happy that for every opportunity we have had to demonstrate capacity, we have had the profit of referrals. Often, what people do is to do a proposal, do a cost to it. But in our own case, it was about proposing new ideas, showing new ways of doing things without adding cost at the start. It was an opportunity to show that we have the capacity. For us, even though we have a lot of players, the best strategy is to know what you can do is for them to hear you. It is the same strategy for a budding musician. Since we started, 40 per cent of our businesses have gone through referrals. That is what is working for us. And I think that is the strategy for every start-up.
With regards to quackery, I think it is Nigeriaâ€™s biggest problem. I think it is not peculiar to PR. You have it manifested in different professions. We see them in professions that require high level of training.Â Take for instance; we have people who have been bold enough to own hospitals yet lack no single training on health care services. It is a problem in Nigeria, but the only difference is that in PR, there is always a day of reckoning. You can easily identify that when there is a crisis. In such situation, it is much easier to know who understands the theoretical base of PR as well as the practical experience as against someone who lacks either of the two or both. To excel in this market and compete well internationally, we must strive to face out quackery and adhere strictly to the global best practice.
Â Your career transition seems to be unusual when compared with what operates in the industry. How were you able to transit smoothly without the opportunity of a formal training in a Public relations company?
I think it is pretty simple. For every stage of my movement, what was required was capacity and creativity. Of course, the norm is that industry players usually move from agency to client. But for me, it has been from media to client to start an agency. The training I had at Oando Plc actually prepared me to render an agencyâ€™s work because we were one to ourselves. I learned the ropes from the then Head of Corporate Communications, Meka Â Olowela, who was coming from the agency side.
How has the business fared since you started operation, and do you think it is growing at that pace you wanted when compared with the industry itself?
For us, it has been two years of fantastic journey. We started at zero level, started business when Nigeria slid into recession. It was really a tough time doing business at that time. For us as SMEs or start-up, it was an opportunity because clients became open to new ideas from anybody including us. Unlike those days, when briefs were for bigger agencies, but with budget cut, they had to rely on people who could match their ideas with a budget meant for start-ups. In real terms, I will say recession created strong entry for us and open doors such that where we showed up, all that was needed was to show capacity. I think that the clientsâ€™ reduced budget meant a lot to us, even though for big agencies, it could look like crumbs. But for us, it means a lot because for every time we show capacity, it gave us opportunity to do more.
Coming to the issue around growth, I think there is a strong embrace for PR, and creative works. With what I have seen, I donâ€™t think that growth will stop soon. Nigeria as a whole has a problem of perception, Africa as a whole has a problem of perception. We are also tending towards transparency as a country and business. So, PR stands in the best place to help businesses, nations wade through the difficulties that can assist in building reputations needed in that space.