COVID-19: PR Practitioners Must Leverage on Social Media – Maryam Sanusi, NIPR FCT Chairperson
Hajiya Maryam Sanusi, the first female Chairperson of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Chapter, Abuja is a graduate of mass communication from the University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID).
Sanusi, the Head of Communications/Public Relations at the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA), had served as Press Secretary in various federal ministries.
The FERMA image-maker, says her and her excos have been resolute in fighting a just and purposeful battle against the menace of quackery in the PR profession, among other diverse issues, in this exclusive interview with Isah Ismaila of Spokespersons Digest.
How do you feel when you were elected as the first female Chairperson of NIPR FCT Chapter?
Let me begin by saying that I felt highly honoured to be elected as the Chairman of the flagship Chapter of this great Institute of highly respected communicators who are managing the reputations of their bosses and organisations. I have onerous responsibility of ensuring that the Chapter remains focused in delivering PR values to the various stakeholders by consolidating on the achievements of my predecessors, and as well as to bring in new ideas on board that will reposition the Chapter as the numero uno.
How is the journey so far?
The journey, I would say, has been smooth, especially when one is surrounded by like-minds who are passionate about raising the bar. We have seen a renewed interest among existing practitioners, new and intending members of the Institute. Within the few months of our assumption of office, we have set the ball rolling by executing some short-term initiatives before the Covid-19 pandemic. Notwithstanding the Pandemic challenge, we have restrategized to cope with the new normal.
Any development in membership drive?
Our idea of encouraging and bringing more people on board is not just to have the number, but to also begin to train them on the rudiments of the profession and make them better professionals.
The first induction of the year was to be held in the FCT before the current crisis. Nevertheless, we have substantial number from the FCT coming into the profession. We hope to build on that so that in the long run, we will have more people exiting the “quackery stage”.
What is your view on gender-balancing in PR profession?
My election was historic and interesting that since the creation of the Chapter about thirty years ago, I am the first female Chair. I must thank my professional colleagues who entrusted me with this position, which to some extent is a substantial compliance with the current drive for gender equity in leadership. I am proud to be a member of a professional body that is at the forefront in trusting women leadership positions, and even more proud in the Flagship Chapter (FCT) that believes so much in competence and ability of women to deliver on assignments. I am happy to say that at the Executive Committee we are putting some programmes and measures in place to ensure more women develop interest in the non-discriminatory image-making profession. My Chapter has demonstrated that equality by electing me to lead, and I have a responsibility with my team not to disappoint or betray the trust.
Are you reaching out to key stakeholders in fulfilling your campaign promises?
We have done stakeholders mapping and we have strategies in place to handle each of them for the greater interest of the Chapter. We have equally activated some of the strategies even before the Coronavirus issue erupted, which we have sustained not minding the challenge of the pandemic. For example, we have used the virtual options in reaching out to our various stakeholders.
How do you intend to tackle the menace of quackery in the profession?
While we sensitize the public and prospective members to join, which is yielding results. We have firm resolve at the chapter level to work assiduously with the national body to ensure that the menace of quackery is dealt with in the profession. It is a problem that must be fought with all seriousness and with available legal instruments. We will ensure that only registered and qualified members practice PR in both public and private sector in the country.
Every profession is going digital, what are you doing in ensuring that your members are up to date in ICT and digital PR skills?
Yes, as a proactive leader, on assumption of office and through research, we identified a problem of knowledge gap, which this question on ICT was part of. We have set up a very strong and competent Committee known as “Policy Analysis & Capacity Building Committee (PA&CBC) headed by a seasoned PR practitioner, erudite scholar and reputable Nigerian, Dr. Ike Neliaku to drive the process of upscaling the industry knowledge of members.
Through the valuable work of that Committee, we are now re-defining PR practice not only in the FCT, but the entire country. On the 3rd of May 2020, the FCT Chapter made history by launching a “Weekly Online Capacity Building Series”, which was declared opened by the President & Chairman of Council of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), Mallam Mukhtar Sirajo, fnipr.
What was the objective of the Online programme, the Webinar?
The programme is designed in line with the objective of bridging the identified knowledge gap. It has attracted quality participants from across the country. It might also interest you to know that the current Director General, NCAC, Otumba Segun Runsewe was the Guest Lecturer, and he dealt with a very critical aspect of Public Relations, which is “Leadership PR”.
Does it mean you may sustain the online activities?
Sure. I must confess that the feedback from members is quite encouraging, with many saying that the Chapter has introduced them to the era of digital PR. We have already deployed the option of virtual meeting for our monthly general meetings. With these initiatives and more in our lineup of action, we are adequately addressing the ICT problem of our members and non-members alike within and outside the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
How can that address Digital PR?
In this season of social distancing, I strongly advocate that the PR personnel should outline a digital communications plan for engaging the media and other major stakeholders. Real-time monitoring system of websites and social media can also be useful to guide in further narratives. In fact with the ongoing campaign against COVID-19 infection and its associated fake news proliferation, the best tools to tackle the trend is through the social media engagement. I am glad to observe that public relations personnel are now supporting their organisations with expertise in social media activities and Crisis communication strategies.
With COVID-19 ravaging many states, what has your chapter done in raising public awareness on the pandemic?
As a professional body, we have produced public service advocacy jingles to address the rising cases of fake news about the pandemic. We got some of the media houses to air the jingle as part of their institutional Social responsibility and we share the same on many social media platforms. We also monitor situations, advise relevant authorities and encourage our members to support the campaign against Coronavirus infection. I must commend the efforts of the Hon. Minister of FCT and his team for their relentless efforts towards ensuring that FCT residents are safe in the face of COVID-19 reality.
What should be expected of PR personnel at this period of Coronavirus Pandemic?
From my personal perspective, I must commend the roles of various organisations both in the public and private sectors who have deployed their PR people in navigating internal and external communication strategies in preparation and response to the Coronavirus Pandemic.
A general principle in strategic communication, especially when dealing with a matter of public health and safety, the life and death situation is to always be proactive. While we must acknowledge the sustained management of the pandemic and the effective information dissemination, organisations should develop relevant messaging templates for pre-crisis and post-crisis. They can do that by identifying members for a crisis team and their roles as well as the Spokesperson that could provide timely and articulate responses in crisis communication.
What is your advice to young mass communication graduates, particularly female students who want to go into PR?
My advice to female students and graduates of Mass Communication, is to develop passion for the public relations, the relationship building and reputation management profession. They should be focused on what they want to achieve in building their career. In fact, they need to join student membership of NIPR at the initial stage to have the advantage of seamless full membership. Today, I am almost at the peak of my career as a PR person and the Chairman of PR Chapter which means our profession does not discriminate. There is equal opportunity for all.