PR Consultant and In-House Practitioner Should Relate Harmoniously – Yushau Shuaib
Yushua A. Shuaib is an award-wining PR professional with special interest in publishing, crisis communication, social media engagement and integrated marketing communication. The PR and media expert in this interview, appraises the dynamics of PR practices in Nigeria; the role of government, the Institute, as well as practitioners in repositioning the profession to assume its role in nation’s branding and reputation management. Significantly, he enjoins practitioners to be
creative, innovative and evolve with the time. Have a good read.
Q: BRIEFLY TELL US YOUR APPRAISAL OF PR PRACTICE IN NIGERIA?
Thank you very much for this honour. First my name is Yushau Shuaib, the founder of Image Merchant Limited, a PR firm that is into publishing, PR, social media engagement, crises communication and Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC). Presently, we are the publishers of the Independent. Some people call it the number one news release platform, called PR Nigeria. We also publish Economic Confidential, the authoritative economic magazine in the country. We also have a new entry into the fold which is the New Digest, that covers politics, cultural issues and so on.
When you talk about PR in Nigeria, I believe we are doing very well. However, we have to look at this from two different angles to check which of the sectors is performing well; that is, whether the sector that is managed and done by the in-house practitioners or the one by the consultants.
To some extent, the in-house practitioners are doing the best they could, but the PR consultants I believe are performing better. You may have seen most of the times that the in-house practitioners engage more in media relations, but the core PR practices offer services in other sectors within PR, including: event management, CSR, crises communication and even handling publications of organizations.
There is room for improvement, but I believe the consultants are doing better than the in-house practitioners. That is why in some organizations, they have the in-house PR department, but still seek the services of consultants to assist in some of the areas mentioned above.
Q: WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE FACTORS AIDING THE SUCCESS OR OTHERWISE OF BOTH SECTORS, THAT IS IN-HOUSE AND PR CONSULTANCY?
I remember those days when I was an in-house person before I ended up finding myself outside. I always attacked consultants, thinking that they wanted to take over our jobs. I remember Mallam Kabir Dangogo who was one of the active members, a fellow of the NIPR, said to me: “Look, you don’t need to attack the consultants because everybody has a role to play towards the success of a campaign.”
One thing you will agree with me like I said is that, for in-house practitioners, they are always very good when it comes to media relations, but when it comes to real media audit, perception analysis like media review, there is no way you can rely on the in-house department to do that; because it is always difficult to assess your own performance. You will be like the person who cook the food, consume it, and then say: it’s sweet. No, you have to allow the external person to do it. That’s why you can see that external PR people can do better in this regard: providing media and PR audit, so that when you are executing your programme, they can now give your assessment dispassionately.
Also, a lot of in-house practitioners are overwhelmed with a lot of activities within the organization, so external people can still help out in areas of editorial work like publication, production of jingles, TV productions and social media engagement. You don’t need to recruit staff because it’s going to be very expensive, but external consultants can help you with these services.
But the fact still remains that the in-house practitioners concentrate more on those things that are necessary, at any given time, to ensure the operation of the organization are covered, and they provide the same advisory role to the management on what they need to do, based on research.
Like I keep on saying, when it comes to PR, many look at it from the media relations perspective, it’s more than that. In fact, there are some areas like strategic communication, when sometimes, silence is golden. Silence is golden in PR whereby you are required to do the needful: you have to provide the service, execute your programmes and policies, which naturally attracts third-party endorsement. In third-party endorsement, you shouldn’t be seen as the person triggering or gingering the endorsement. It happens when they assess your services and products, and you are commended.
Q: THE GOVERNMENT IS AN UNDERLINING FACTOR IN BOTH PRACTICES; DO YOU THINK THE GOVERNMENT IS DOING ENOUGH TO ENABLE PR PRACTITIONERS SERVE AS THE NATION’S REPUTATION MANAGERS?
Well, the NIPR is there to regulate the practice, and there is the law that guides who should practice as a PR officer. What can assist in ensuring this law is being followed is the government, because it has control over government agencies.
The government is not doing enough. Have you ever seen a Minister of Health who is not a medical doctor or from allied field? Or a minister of justice who didn’t study law and go to law school? PR is a profession like any other that needs to be respected and regarded. So, PR practice is being abused by the system, but whose fault is it? We the PR practitioner and the Institute are not making the appropriate noises. We have to be sincere and tell ourselves the truth. There is a law guiding this profession on who should be responsible for PR, image making, image management and reputation management. Many are flouting the law, but we keep quiet. So, these are some the issues.
Q: YOUR PLATFORM, PR NIGERIA, HAS RECEIVED SERIES OF CONTINENTAL AND NATIONAL RECOGNITION OVER THE YEARS. PLEASE TELL US, HOW DO YOU DRIVE THE PROCESS?
Well, we thank God for everything. In the last two years, I think we have won some of the major awards for PR practice in the region and at international level, and it’s a thing of joy.
Basically, we have been doing well when it c o m e s t o public education, crises communication and management, as well as social media engagement. We are very passionate about PR in this organization; we see PR like those who take passion in football. Some of our staff, their work is just to analyse and study the media on daily basis in order for us to know the marketing trends and advice our clients appropriately.
From day one, our motive has always been to be among the best, if not the best in the industry, and we are doing the best we can. Many people may not see what we are doing. The profit is there, but to some extent, some of the services we provide for our country are more in the area of volunteerism.
Q: HOW MANY AWARDS YOUR AGENCY HAS WON RECENTLY?
We won the Golden World PR award of the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) in 2016 and 2017. This year, we have won one on crises communication, based on the campaign we did for the Nigerian Prison Services; and another on the book I authored: the Spymaster, which was on the publication category. In fact, our firm is the first to be the recipient of that category from the IPRA.
Q: HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH YOUR CLIENTS?
Like I said earlier, we are very passionate about the job, and one thing we try to do is that, any time our clients tell us their challenge, we try to detach ourselves from the issues; we try to be frank and sincere with our clients. As much as we can do some element of advertising, we always tell them we are PR people.
As PR people, our job involves a lot of things: you have to be innovative, creative, and you have to do a lot of analysis and research. If you come to me for instance that you want me to tell the world that you are the richest man in the world, I will ask you, let’s be sincere: are you truly the richest man in the world? Our campaign must be sincere and truthful; we shouldn’t be seen to be fraudulent in our campaign. When you find out, you now define the objective of the campaign: is it to tell the world about what you do? Then, what’s your pedigree, what are your services and products; what’s your relationship with your customers and employees? So, after collating this information, we can now take it up from there.
Q: HOW DO YOU HANDLE CSR?
As PR people, we always talk about CSR, because we always insist that there must be performance, positive result about what you are doing (your activities). But if you didn’t do anything and you want the world to believe that you are the richest, it’s not possible, it’s not done in PR.
The bottom line is that PR people, after analyzing the situation, will advise a client that, instead of making noise promoting yourself, why don’t you do some of the needful: the relationship with your customer, your products and services. In fact, we try to advise, why don’t you go and make donations to some IDPs? Then from there, we can take it up: so and so company or brand has donated so and so things to so and so people. When you appeal to the public this way, they see you as someone they can trust and rely on, because they can see how positively you are impacting the society. So that’s how it should go.
PR is more innovative and creative. I believe what practitioners need is that we need to keep on updating ourselves about the latest trends and truths in engaging with our publics.
Q: NOW ONE OF THE ISSUES CEOS HAVE WITH PR IS THE PROBLEM OF MEASURING PR IMPACT IN AN ORGANIZATION LIKE ADVERTISING AND MARKETING. WHAT DO YOU THINK PRACTITIONERS CAN DO TO GET CEOS TO COME TO TERMS WITH THE VALUE OF PR?
When you monitor the trends, when you are executing a programme, the best thing is to track it to know what is going on, and most of the time, the activities of PR are not much about the size of the story, unlike advertising that you may have a full page to make an impact. In PR five paragraphs may likely be what you need in the press. You can measure the success of an appeal with just five paragraphs, one small inch.
Something happened recently in PR Nigeria, we are the one who broke the news. There was some advertisement in some newspapers, about three or four popular newspapers, but guess something, many people bought the newspaper but they did not even see the information. But along the line, we were just checking one of our client’s paper, we saw that advert in which there was one very important story. When we saw it we just picked it, it was an advertisement and they paid almost five hundred thousand naira for that story in about four/five newspapers, that’s over two million.
We Google searched that issue and we found that it was not online at all, despite the adverts. The next day also it was not online, and we saw that it was serious news, breaking news. We called one of our staff to change the story and bring out the news. By the time we published it on our platform, PR Nigeria, it went viral. In fact most of the major traditional media were all carrying the story.
What I am saying in essence is that as PR people, we always know where the story is and how to work it out. So talking about result, look at it now, advertisers spent almost three million naira and the public did not see it, until we came on our own, we did it, we dug it out and we reworked it, and guess something, in just less than seven paragraphs, it went viral, and for three days it was trending. So, the question is: who made an impact, the advertisers that spent almost three million or us that did it voluntarily, without charging and it went viral? We made an impact, and the impact was made because there were reactions.
Nobody saw it, we were the one who picked up the story, and went viral to the extent that SGF and the presidency responded.
Q: SO DO WE SAY THE TREND IS CHANGING, AND PEOPLE ARE BEGINNING TO APPRECIATE THE VALUE IN PR?
Yes, in fact, even this season, l think the politicians, the gladiators are beginning to appreciate what PR can do, and some of them are now talking to some of us. They want to know how we go about it. We only tell the truth; and before you start your campaign you must do your research. We plan what we do; even visitations, courtesy calls, facility tours, event management, reputation management, social media engagement, etc.
Like l keep on saying, silent communication doesn’t mean that you don’t have to do anything, but you have to do the needful without necessarily saying it.
Q: AS A SEASONED PR AND MEDIA PRACTITIONER, WHAT HAVE YOU IDENTIFIED AS THE LINK BETWEEN THE TWO SECTORS?
There are some in the media and journalism that have found themselves in PR, but the challenge is that you can see what they are doing and their performance, because PR, image making is not about reporting. Journalism is about reporting news. What makes news, you know, are crises, conflicts, sectional issues etc. These are what a reporter believes makes news: when there is a problem. So the journalists are trained to report anything they see; but in PR the emphasis is on responsible reporting. Responsible reporting is what PR entails. That’s why in describing PR, you define it as a process of establishing a mutual and beneficial relationship. In PR, the subject of mutual relationship is very important.
Q: SO YOU ARE OF THE OPINION THAT A GOOD JOURNALIST CANNOT NECESSARILY DO WELL AS A PR PRACTITIONER?
You cannot compare a PR person to a journalist when it comes to reputation management. Many of our PR handlers in the current dispensation are not from PR, and that’s the reason why there are crises, because we have people who don’t know how to manage information. Because of their background, they believe everything is news, and then to manage news (crises) when they have already broken, it ultimately becomes a challenge.
Q: SO, MOVING FORWARD, WHAT ROLES DO YOU THINK THE INSTITUTE AS A BODY SHOULD PLAY IN ENSURING A RESPONSIBLE PROFESSION?
The Institute has done very well with the recertification of the membership. We can see now that the certificates have numbers unlike before, which is very good. I think there is a need for closer monitoring and enforcement, whereby if you are not a certified practitioner, you have no need to practice, and people who are practicing without the certificate need to be called upon to join the professional body. We also need to have the courage like other professional bodies; they are highly respected. You can’t just practice it without getting certification, but how come that all the people that are in the top level of our profession are not certified members of NIPR?
As a body, we should have the courage to tell them that what they are doing is wrong, and we need to let them know that to join the body is not as tedious and rigorous as they may think; all it requires is to attend the training, and I am so happy that there is the Master class which will richly equip them to practice aright. Honestly if some of these big guys who are claiming to be PR practitioners go through this training they will see a lot of loopholes in their activities; so by the time they leave the class, they will realize that there are a lot of things they need to change, as their principles will be guided by PR.
The NIPR needs to do more in monitoring so that quacks who are not supposed to practice are weeded out of the profession, and appropriate penalties for people claiming that they are professionals while they are not should be spelt out.
Q: SIR, WHAT ARE YOUR FINAL WORDS?
I strongly believe that PR practice will still remain a profession that will live for a very long time. There is no organization or institution that does not have a PR department. As practitioners, we must always ensure we exhibit good conduct when we relate with people; that’s what PR is about. So, l have the belief that PR is a profession that will be valued for a long time.
Culled from PR Monthly, a publication of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, NIPR, FCT Chapter. You can reach the Editor-in-Chief on: 08039652051, [email protected].