Akonte Ekine is lead strategist at Absolute PR, a reputation management firm which he established in 2009 after two decades experience in brand management. Akonte who has managed top brands , in this interview looked at the Nigerian PR business landscape, what 2018 holds for the industry and the place of digital in the eco-system. Excerpts
How would you describe business landscape, especially for the PR industry, in 2017?
Last year is gone and therefore let us focus on 2018 as 2017 was a year of revival for the economy, largely on the fact that the consumers are coming out of that fear of the challenges of last two years and the government already said we are out of recession. Above all, we are going into the election year and naturally we see government, as the biggest spender, become more active. The macro-economic indices are showing positive signs. The capital market peaked as we commenced the year, manufacturers are saying things are looking better. We do hope that the year will be better as a result of the activities of companies and government with renewed interest from foreign direct investment.
Narrowing down to PR industry, we are not in isolation and as such we expect that the industry will experience positive influence from every other activities the same way it suffered from those activities in past year. We are one part of a whole so when we say the economy will experience some level of positive outlook it is only natural for it to happen to the industry.
What are your further projections for 2018 and what are the factors that would shape the New Year?
By the way 2018 is the year of the World Cup amongst many other sporting events. We know the World Cup is big event and it attracts great marketing and marketing communication activities which includes public relations. So in 2018 we are already on the upward swing. Aside world cup we know that companies at various levels and different sectors of the economy will have to wake up to the fact that life must go on in spite of the past challenges. We must exist because at the end of the day this economy is ours to grow and we must be innovative to grow it.
Secondly, technology will continue to shape the activities. It is a place consumers are spending much of their time as every 3 minutes people are looking at their gadgets for information or exchanging information, so it will be a great influencer in 2018.
For PR industry, where do you see opportunities this year and beyond?
Honestly, for PR, opportunities are enormous, from private to public sector. The biggest challenge is that most people and institutions don’t appreciate it and most of the time they are interested in quick fix. For instance, the country needs it most in all angles especially our internal communication as a nation is below par.
There are processes in engaging stakeholders along the line of conversation as well as messaging which should be based on a big picture but unfortunately we have decided as a nation to be reactionary in our PR methodology which results in the series of challenges we see across the nation.
PR practitioners are largely focusing on reputation management, what does this means for clients especially in this age of internet?
I beg to disagree, because while PR might seem to be focusing on reputation management, ultimately everyone in an organization is responsible for the reputation of that organization. Your experience in the course of a transaction with bank X or product Y will influence your perception of that company which shapes the reputation of that company to you and probably the people around you. Reputation management is not the only work of PR but one of the many things that is done in PR to influence reputation of the company. Reputation management is one of the end goals of public Relations.
With the advent of internet we are now our gatekeepers, we say it as we feel or act as we like or more importantly we react to issues without looking at our shoulders, thus we are all builders and shapers of our reputation based on what we say, post and share. So the internet to a great extent has made it extremely easy for us to build or destroy our reputation with one share or post. The internet is an enabler to building reputation subject to your desires as a person, brand or corporation, however it is not going to build that reputation in isolation but in conjunction with other people and activities as well as platforms.
Let me add that to build a reputation we must have an end goal in sight based on aspiration. We must also know that we have over 60 and counting social media sites that you can use, but again you need to prioritize which is critical to you and the kind of crowd in the space. Some are not even relevant to our environment or business, you have to be strategic about how you come across on the web and in the web world. Unlike football, golf brings out who you are, but the internet shows us who you are based on what you post, share and like.
Reputation building is not a six months or one year project, it is a lifelong work as long as you are alive you are working on your reputation. And in an organization it is everybody’s responsibility including the cleaner.
Plethora of unregulated Online media (blogs) is posing a challenge to reputation management with their unbalanced and un-verified content, how can PR and clients manage and handle this?
First thing is never forget that we are humans and we are in a world considered to be third world or developing world so it’s almost expected that we will find ourselves with such challenges and I think a couple of people and organizations are working to correct the past mistakes of some individuals. What we must know is that the internet will bring out the good and bad in you so if you are good it will be seen in your work online and if you are bad so will it be and you should realize that even with traditional platforms we have good and bad people and we see the things published here and there.
So recall that I said we are now our gatekeepers unlike when we have to be evaluated by another person or group of persons before a material is allowed out. As it is we will have to depend on self regulation to excel, because if you do not present your platform as responsible overtime, people will not come to it and if they do it is probably be people with your kind of mind.
We have equal power with the internet, the difference is probably the audience and messages, we do say God gave us equal time, now we can add that he created men that gave us the internet equality to say and do as well as share as we like it and we are left with the audience to decide who makes meaning, reasonable and worth associating with because we can both tell who we are by doing a little check on our internet activities.
So for clients and all of us it is about consistently presenting a front or position in the middle of the motion of activities within the context of the aspiration of the individual or brands. If all I see about you is face, I draw conclusion, if all we see are issues of country, we will draw conclusion, and if it is ball we will conclude. The same for client and brands must learn to own the conversation to a large extent such that members of the community can associate with certain content with ease thus when you have contradictory content with time the audience will see your true nature .
Companies are now, more than ever before interested in ROI. Will this be a challenge to PR industry? How does PR estimate/Calculate ROI?
I think you should look at it this way. Companies have always been interested in ROI otherwise there will not be statutory AGMs because it is simply meant for managers to come and tell owners what they have been doing for a whole year. What the internet has done to all of us in the world is to make life easier and that includes PR as a profession in marketing. We are part of the eco-system and we are faced with challenges like every other person in the field; however what the internet has contributed to our existence is that it has aided us in improving our measurement parameters using analytics. PR will not and cannot calculate Return on investment in isolation; it must be tied to objectives, that is why from the commencement of any PR activities we need to define objectives and set clear goals for ,sales or attitudinal change, knowledge, understanding or participation amongst others.
So at the end of the day measuring pr activities is about defining what you aim to achieve and you check if you did achieve them including numbers of “ clicks”
You recently entered into business alliance with ‘TheNetworkone’, Could you tell us more about this relationship.
Thenetworkone was founded in London in 2003, and it is considered the fastest growing network of respected independent creative, media, PR and marketing agencies. It is a radical, yet practical alternative to a conventional multinational advertising and marketing communications agency network. It is a custom built network on demand building bespoke networks of creative and marketing agencies around specific needs and requirements. As it is we are a member of the over 1,000 agencies in over 109 countries. It is a unique thing for Absolute PR to be part of the group of thought leadership in the industry across the globe sharing local insight and taking global insight with over 1,000 agencies in what we see as cross pollination for the greater good of our market and clients delight.