Nigeria: Between Public Relations and Socio-Economic Growth

Aside the leadership and infrastructure challenges, which have plugged Nigerian economy down for decades, the country has also suffered a lot of economic setback as a result of her battered image. In this report, the Spokesperson’s Digest takes a cursory look at how the efforts of a few Public Relations practitioners are rewriting the story, thereby attracting more foreign investment into the market.
Until recently, the perception of an average individual outside the shore of Nigeria was in the negative. Many reasons called for this; bad leadership, activities of a few fraudsters who emerged in the 90s and many other shady activities. While the citizens of the country were the victim of bad leadership, many foreigners were among the victims of these so called scammers, otherwise known as 419s.

Because of this, the rest of the world then saw Nigeria as a highly corrupt country. This explains why the international media is always awash with negative stories about Nigeria and her people. Of course, the local media too contributed so much to this development as most of what they report are negative stories about their people and country.

PR Efforts
However, it took the effort of public relations to correct some of these notions. To start with, by 1999, when the democratic institutions were taken shapes across the country, foreign investors who saw potentials in the market with a partial stability in government could not resist the temptation to come in and do business. At this point, PR practice was begin to grow with the new system of government and they automatically became willing partners of the new investors. In few years, they were not only able to correct some of the negative impressions the foreigners must have had about the country, but they were also able to convince them that there are practitioners within who could impact positively on their businesses. The rest as they say thus became history.

The memory is still fresh about the revolution in the telecommunications and financial sectors, where local PR practitioners used their experience to solidify the operations of the players in the various sectors. For instance, MTN at the inception engaged two local PR firms; Marketing Mix and later XLR8. The two agencies added value to the equity of the brand and also created jobs for many Nigerian youths. Like the two agencies, many PR firms who work on major brands have also contributed their quotas in this regard. Today, many agencies have since crossed the billion billings as it happens in advanced economy.

Heart of Africa Project
After crossing this hurdle, the federal government under former President Olusegun Obasanjo saw the need to reposition the country for further development and that led to the launch of a rebranding project called “Heart of Africa Project’. With the project, federal government was determined to improve the nation’s image. With the full knowledge of the activities of PR practitioners in the country, they were fully recruited to midwife the process. However, it couldn’t achieved all its aims because of poor execution on the part of government but it was able to attract global attention to many beautiful things about Nigeria. It also result in attracting foreign investors.

Again, shortly after Professor Dora Akunyili was appointed a minister by the late former President Umaru Yar’Adua, she terminated the Heart of Africa project because she believed that it did not make the needed impact for the kind of challenges Nigerians were facing in and outside the country.

Rebranding Nigeria’s Image
In its place, Akunyili and her co travelers embarked on a re-branding Nigeria’s image project, which she said would promote the good aspect of the country, both home and abroad. She announced at the occasion of the flag off of the National Re-branding Campaign that the Heart of Africa project could not achieve the objective for which it was introduced because “the name is contentious and it was launched in overseas, thereby disconnecting the ordinary Nigeria from the project, which makes it look elitist.

Having established herself as a woman of integrity within and outside public service in the past, many people also bought into it. Like the previous one, Akunyili recruited the best of Nigerian brains in Marketing Communications industry, including the current APCON Chairman, Mr. Lolu Akinwumi, who served as committee secretary. Through it, Akunyili tasked the media on the need to report the good side of Nigerians and also called on world leaders to see Nigeria as a beautiful bride. Since then, there have been huge foreign investments in Nigeria.

PR Firms
That PR is achieving this is not by accident. Public relations firms are regarded worldwide as the backbone of any economic. They help to connect brands and their target audience, thereby enhancing standard of living, generating local capital formation achieve high level of productivity and capability. PR firms have also been known as catalyst for national growth and development through the creation of employment, and entrepreneurial sourcing and development.

Despite all these, it is believed in some quarters that, public relations firms in Nigeria have not leaved up their billing. This some attributed to the activities of quackery in the industry, while others believed that it is as a result of some challenges in the economy which made lots of PR firms find it difficult to efficiently and effectively play their roles in the country. Among other factors, some of these challenges cut across inefficient infrastructural facility which seemed to scuttle social economic growth and development.

It becomes pertinent that, amidst such pitfall in the social economic landscape, the Public Relations firms require improved support from all stakeholders to be able to serve as a pivot in the nation’s social economic segment.

PRCAN Solution
Considering the strategic importance of PR firms in fast tracking growth and development in the social economic landscape, and also to checkmate the activities of quackery for core professionalism and productivity. The Public Relations firms on their own find a solution to their problems of underdevelopment by way of integration. Therefore the Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN), deemed it feet to come up with regulations that will ascertain excellent in service delivery.

The Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria is a trade sectoral group for the public relations industry in Nigeria. Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN) was founded in 1984. Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria aggregates and articulates the interest of member firms. PRCAN works to uphold best practice in public relations in Nigeria in the areas of standards, conduct as well as economic well-being for the public relations industry generally and public relations consulting in particular for the benefit of all stakeholders.

Before now, a chunk number of the public were left out of the happening in governance and even the corporate world. But due an articulate and more purposeful firms like the PR firms, members of the public are beginning to know most of the events that transpired in governance and beyond.

Disagreement with Government
One of the move to uphold its place in the proceedings of the country, is the recent disagreement with Federal government, which read: “Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN) has condemned federal government’s purported plan to engage a foreign PR firm to manage its image. The government came under serious attack both locally and internationally following its handling of the abduction of over 200 Chibok girls.

Speaking on the purported move, PRCAN said that the alleged decision to engage foreign public relations firms was neither strategic nor advisable as it instead, represented a needless strategic gaffe, added to the many avoidable missteps of the Federal Government in handling its communication and reputational challenges.

In a statement jointly signed by its president, Chido Nwakanma, vice president, John Ehiguese and Secretary General, Muyiwa Akintunde, PRACN stated: “The purported search is premised on a wrong foundation of white washing Nigeria before foreign media and audiences. However, the real challenge before the Federal Government of Nigeria lies elsewhere and that is at the home front with its citizens, representing the primary stakeholders.”

PRCAN further stated that the search for foreign public relations firms portrayed a clear misunderstanding of modern communication and public relations. It counselled: “Public Relations is based on the RACE principle – Research, Action, Communication and Evaluation – that demands strategic insight and action as the basis for engagement (communication) with stakeholders. The current run of bad press arises from a failure to set the agenda through right actions for positive media coverage of the Federal Government and Nigeria.”

In conclusion, the impact of PR firms on the social economic development in Nigeria is already being felt, with positive visibility of the corporate and product brands of the company now enjoyed in the media.

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