Tackling Dearth of Spend, Data in PR Practice
By Tunji Faleye
The first known practice of public relations, PR, in Nigeria in a professional manner can be traced back to the colonial era when the British were seeking for ways to convince the various ethnic nationalities to support the continuation of colonial rule against nationalists who were agitating for independence. The colonial masters spent heavily on the production of campaign materials in a bid to win the support of ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria. Posters, film shows and television programmes were produced to sensitize the local populace. The campaign, undoubtedly, laid the foundation for the practice of public relations as a profession in Nigeria.
Also, pioneers in public relations practice include the United African Company (UAC) which became the first company to have a public information unit in 1949. This was followed by the establishment of a public relations unit by the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) in 1956 where Dr. Samuel Opele served as the first public relations officer. Many companies followed in the footsteps of UAC and NRC and began to employ public relations officers such that by 1963, the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) was established as a regulatory body for PR practice in Nigeria.
In spite being one of the earliest established sectors in the marketing communication industry, the practice of public relations in the country has not moved in tandem with other sectors in the industry. The practice is bedevilled by daunting challenges such as dearth of spend and data. Each year, Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN), Advertisers Association of Nigeria (ADVAN) Outdoor Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (OAAN) as well as the new entrant, Experiential Marketers Association of Nigeria (EXMAN) usually release figures of spend in their respective sectors whereas the figures of spend in the public relations industry have remained elusive over the years. This has made it extremely difficult to calculate or have an idea of how much is going into PR activities each year.
Apart from dearth of statistics on PR spend, the general lack of data in the nation’s PR business is highly debilitating. For instance, when The Holmes Report of 2014 reported that PR grew globally by about 13 per cent in that year, there was no statistics for the growth of PR business in the Nigeria.
Many stakeholders have considered lack of data on PR spend and other data as the low sides of the profession which have affected the way many people including clients handle public relations activities. Though public relations is about reputation – with the aim of earning understanding, support to enjoy sustained goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation (individual) and its publics, it is remarkable that the Public Relations Consultant Association of Nigeria (PRCAN) and NIPR have been unable to take the profession to an enviable height in the marketing communication industry. This has made many to conclude that a situation where the PR profession, which is saddled with the responsibilities of managing the image of other companies, lacks accurate data and PRspend send a signal that the sector cannot be trusted and has many miles to cover in the present day PR practice.
Emeka Opara, director, corporate communications and CSR, Airtel Nigeria recently lamented that poor record-keeping, data collection and impact assessment of PR activities constitute huge lacuna in the industry. He asked, “How do we justify our budget? How do we even justify our work and the attendant pay? How do we demonstrate the impact of our work? How do we measure our work? The first lesson in research methodology is: What cannot be measured should not be done.
“One of the banes of PR practice globally is the proclivity to compare its work and effect with marketing. That is clearly defeatist, firstly, and downright laziness, secondly. Public Relations must do away with comparing its output with advertising column inches. In fact, it must move from output to outcome. Several research methodologies are available to serious-minded professional to demonstrate outcome and impact.”
Ismail Isah, General Manager, Bifocal Communications, Abuja, explained that it is difficult to have actual PR spend because of the misunderstanding of public relations among practitioners and some other people who claim to be practising PR. He said, “Most of the time, people present media relations as PR and a lot of adhoc arrangements including non-professional have taken up the job of PR and this has made it a bit difficult to get actual PR spend. Also, our general attitude to data and record keeping is another problem.”
He observed that the inability of NIPR to track actual professionals in the industry is another major challenge, adding that if clients continue to engage people who are not professionals to handle one or two things in terms of public relations, the situation will never improve and it will continue to have devastating effects on the profession.
He noted that a lot of PR activities are not being tracked or reported due to lack of professionalism. According to him, most of the actual work done as PR either by using Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) or the Amex standard of PR practice to document return on investment are not accurately recorded, making it difficult to know exactly how much a particular company has spent on PR unlike in ads where there are standard rates.
Apart from lack of required skill, industry analysts believe that foul methods being used to win accounts with the help of collaborators on the client side is also responsible for lack of PRspend and general sufficient data in the industry. They say while some practitioners win account on the basis of man knows man, others simply win with the promise of juicy returns to collaborators on the client side, thus making it pretty difficult to give accurate account on the PRspend. Also and most importantly, PR profession is being challenged by interlopers who are making value determination very challenging.
Indeed, practitioners are quite aware of dearth of PRspend and data in the industry. For instance, in response to a recent article entitled: Issues In Public Relations Practice In Nigeria written by Emeka Opara, John Ehiguese, Managing Director of MediaCraft and President PRCAN said, “it is imperative for us to begin to gather, index and process data on Nigerian PR, so that we can measure the performance of the industry, and therefore be able to take advantage of trends and insights elicited, and to plan for the future.”
Notwithstanding the challenges confronting PR business in the country, Biodun Fijabi, Principal Partner, Brooks+Blake remarked that Public Relations practice in Nigeria has evolved appreciably, adding that organisations that hitherto do not appreciate PR as an independent function are now calling for PR pitch. He added that for organisations who have embraced PR, their quest for more value has meant that PR agencies imbibe continuous improvement to ensure they add measurable value to the businesses of their clients. He said that although the industry still face a lot of challenges particularly in terms of regulations, PR industry in Nigeria has definitely left the starting point.
Other industry analysts are of the opinion that practitioners and other image makers should make necessary efforts to reposition public relations practice in the country. They also believe that for PR to contribute meaningfully to the marketing communication landscape and occupy it rightful position, both NIPR and PRCAN should move swiftly and address the issue of dearth of PRspend, lack of data and other associated challenges.
Isah said it is imperative for NIPR to stand it feet on the ground and insist that only professionals should engage in PR practice in the country. He added that there should also be a massive enlightenment as to what PR actually constitutes in the marketing communication mix in order to make sure that media relations is not mistaken for PR in spite being part of it.
He stressed that a situation where media relations activities take place, clients should insist on comprehensive report presentations by PR consultant documented in terms of the value in naira and kobo in order to easily track PR spend.
Also, PR firm should endeavour to track the actual value of the interventions carried out on behalf of clients and give accurate account for exactly what has been spent in times of crisis that may not be provided for in the retainer.
For industry watchers, these are imperative and it is only when concerted efforts are taken at addressing these challenges that public relations practitioners will be regarded as truly professional and clear the issue of identity crisis that the profession has suffered over the years.
In a paper: ‘An Image Maker’s Perspective of Rethinking Nigeria’ delivered by Mr. Yomi Badejo – Okusanya, Managing Director, CMC Connect at the 2015 Public Colloquium of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), Ogun State, Badejo-Okusanya said, “as a herculean task largely; NIPR in itself will have to do many things to undergo the change that will cause people to give it and its members due regard. The Institute must learn to put its best foot forward. The age of quarrelling and squabbling must be put behind. It must develop a road map which clearly communicates its vision to members clearly and ensure their strong buy in it. NIPR must give its members a strong sense of belonging and generally heighten its relevance among key stakeholders.”