The Africa Practice PR brief and why PRCAN should step up their game

 

By Alesh Adeduro

I was told that life isn’t fair. That you sometimes don’t get what you deserve but, what you negotiate, and for you to be successful at negotiating you must display certain attributes, one of which is a clear understanding of your worth and value. When you’re not clear on these elements, you’ll be given anything and you’ll be left with no choice than to take it.

I read PRCAN’s reaction to the recent revelation that the ministry of Finance hired Africa Practice to manage its auctioned Eurobond and to say the least, I was disappointed in their emotional outbursts. The association shouldn’t really come out to say anything on this issue until they’ve put their house in order. PRCAN should look in the mirror and tell themselves the truth; no matter how uncomfortable it makes them feel.

Let’s examine the issues raised in their response. PRCAN “described the action as a disservice to the “Buy Nigeria, Save the Naira” campaign.” That is fair enough. I agree with them on this one.

 

Two, the association also stated that the finance ministry’s action-“ undermines the economy as it further put pressure on scarce foreign exchange resources and encourages capital flight.” Again, this is a valid point that I agree with.

Furthermore, PRCAN has requested that- “the President Muhammadu Buhari to compel the Finance Minister to explain if the process of choosing the firm was in line with the provisions of the Public Procurement act regarding competitive bid from other equally qualified Public Relations consulting firms.” In Punch newspapers of today- 27 April, 2017, the minister of Finance responded thus- “the key criteria used in the evaluation of the technical bids submitted by the appointed transaction partners, including Africa Practice, were company track record and credentials; evidence of valid licenses to operate in the market or jurisdiction in which they are domiciled, global presence, and transaction history with the Federal Government or any of its agencies.”

So, let’s further breakdown each of this selection criteria and juxtapose it with what some PR agencies (read errand boy) in Nigeria like to boast of-

 

  1. A) company track record and credentials. What is the track record of some of the PR agencies in Nigeria, other than press release writing and distribution? What do PR agencies in Nigeria do beyond organizing press conferences and product launches? I’m willing to learn, please let PRCAN share some of their members track record with us and let’s see if it matches what Africa Practice have in their kitty.
  2. B) Evidence of valid licenses to operate in the market or jurisdiction in which they are domiciled. No PR agency in Nigeria has a license to operate outside the shores of this country. So, why should they hand the business of managing the Eurobond over to them. As an aside, how many even understand what a Eurobond is and how it works?
  3. C) Global presence. This criteria is tied to the one above. Again, not one agency in Nigeria has a global presence and I stand to be corrected on this.
  4. D) Transaction history with the Federal Government. Again, how many PR agencies in Nigeria have done this kind of business or something similar in the past such that they can leverage on their skills, competence and experience to handle this brief with excellence and professionalism?

 

In the news report I read this morning in Punch newspapers, the minister of Finance further stated that- “…the representative of Africa Practice was in Washington DC in continuation of the Eurobond programme, and in support of the country’s outreach with international investors, who showed great enthusiasm to do business with Nigeria.”

 

Again, how many PR agencies in Nigeria have the required manpower armed with the requisite skills, experience and attitude to engage international investors outside the shores of this country? I can count only two or three MDs of PR agencies that can pull this off successfully. Let’s not forget that our image and reputation as a country is in tatters and there’s a need to tell our own stories and drive the narrative but, the key question is- do we have what it takes to do this creditably well?

 

A quick search on Africa Practice’s website describes the company as “a strategy and communications consultancy”. Please note it didn’t position itself as an Agency. It further went on to say- “we ADVISE (not beg them for briefs!) some of the largest institutions, companies and investors on the continent”. I’ll like to suggest that PRCAN takes a careful look at the website of Africa Practice and compare its content with what you’ll find on the websites of a Nigerian PR agency.

 

Agencies in my opinion are handed briefs and are meant to execute. No need to interrogate the briefs, ask the client hard-hitting questions and come up with compelling debates that’ll engage the client. There’s something about how PR agencies are positioned in Nigeria that make companies not to take practitioners seriously. I recall an encounter I had a long time ago with a lady who heads the communications function of a major infrastructure Bank that has presence in Africa. In her words: “you guys talk a lot and do very little. Your people send me articles and written materials that are riddled with errors and ask me to review and approve. I’ve had to rewrite a three paragraph press release from some of your so-called best PR agencies”. She went on to tell me that they’ve been using the services of a British-owned PR firm in all their communications and reputation management. This lady further went on to tell me that, PR agencies in Nigeria do not understand business and commerce as “all that your people are interested in is in writing press releases that I’ve had to rewrite, run around to print calendars and dairies and organize events”.

 

I think PR agencies in Nigeria have a lot of work to do. First, we need to re-examine the skills and competence of our people. Writing and distributing press releases shouldn’t be all that we do. Thumbing through newspapers every morning and sending clippings to Brand Managers shouldn’t be what we hang on our walls as achievements.

 

Two, there’s a need to pay more attention to how our services impact the business of our clients, we need to understand our clients’ business objectives and identify how we can use our expertise to help them achieve their vision, goals and objectives.

 

Three, we have to be ready and willing to spend good money to train and expose our people to what is happening in other parts of the world, staying in our little shed and “making mouth” will not help us in any way and please, let’s stop seeing affiliation with foreign firms as an achievement.

 

From my interaction with folks who have been “fortunate” to have affiliation, some of these foreign firms invite them to their home offices to drink coffee, take pictures, impress them with their big offices and grammar and take them shopping. Four, we need to make a conscious effort to learn outside of PR and communications.

 

We need to have relevant and up to date information on different industries and sectors, such that when you engage decision makers in such sectors, you can have meaningful and sensible conversations with them. Also, so that our clients can always rely on us for counsel, because really and truly we’re supposed to be strategic advisors to the clients that send us on- “boy-boy” errands.