Interviews

CHALLENGES FACING THE PR INDUSTRY AND THE WAY FORWARD.

Olusegun McMedal is a passionate Public Relations professional. His emergence as the Chair of the Lagos Chapter of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations reignited the flame for the Chapter that is aptly called the flagship of the NIPR. In this interview with Vincent Utere and Nsikak Daniels at Protea Hotel, Alausa, Ikeja, he bears his mind on the challenges that stand against the realization of the full potential of the PR industry in Nigeria,  and the way forward.

Sir, you are the Chief Reputation Strategist of Opticomm Marketing Company Limited,  and  the Chair of the Lagos Chapter of The Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR). How do you cope with the demands of these two jobs?

I want to put it on record that I appreciate your efforts. You are making a great contribution to changing the narrative in the PR profession through the publication of this magazine. Having been a publisher myself, I understand your challenges, so I must commend you for ensuring that it comes out as at when due.

Having said that, I had a sense of what it would take to run the Lagos Chapter and Opticomm Marketing when I had the opportunity to chair the 26th AGM Planning/PR Week committee.  I saw the impact it had on my business. During the period, we worked to surmount  members’ apathy to the Institute. We had to work round the clock to ensure the programmes we lined up were successful. I will not say that my agency suffered; rather, I will say it got recognition. However, this did not translate to more businesses; but one just had to make sacrifices to move the Lagos Chapter, and by extension, NIPR forward.

Interestingly, that was when many stakeholders approached me to run for the office. At the time I never thought of that at all. I was overwhelmed by the confidence they reposed in me. At the moment, Opticomm Marketing may have some challenges, but as a strategist, I think in the long term. I believe that in the long run, it will be a win-win for my agency and the Lagos Chapter of NIPR.

How will you describe your role as the Chair of the Lagos Chapter of the Institute?

Lagos Chapter is the flagship chapter of the NIPR. Over the years, the Chapter has been at the forefront in Public Relations activities. But there was a period when things were not what they used to be. During the period, there was apathy of members toward the Institute and its activities, and there were also factions in the Lagos Chapter. That was when we came on board. So, my role as the Chair of the Chapter is to bring all stakeholders together under one umbrella, resolve all conflicts and move the Institute forward. The first thing we did was to conduct a membership audit in order to update the database of our members and reach out to them easily. And we’ve been successful so far.

As the Chair of the Lagos Chapter of our Institute, I also work hard to enhance the brand equity of the Chapter and the Institute in general. This explains why we go for choice venues for our events, and work hard to bring high profile professionals to speak in our monthly PR Clinics. We have enjoyed tremendous supports of the EXCOs, and I sincerely thank them for it.

To what extent is the Chapter meeting the key objectives of the Monthly PR Clinic under your watch?

The idea behind the PR Clinic is three-fold. One:  to attract members and non-members to the NIPR. I can tell you that within three months, some non-members have become members of the Institute. Two: to sharpen members’ knowledge and skills. Some of them may not have the wherewithal to attend courses. The PR Clinics provide the opportunities free of charge, including the presentations at the events. Three: to generate publicity for the Institute directly and indirectly. Members and non-members take selfies against the events’ backdrops and post them on social media. You just can’t imagine the reach of such posts.

What do you consider the key challenges of the PR industry in Nigeria that has made it difficult for it to realize its full potential?

One of the greatest challenges is that most people do not understand or appreciate what PR really is. If you ask the average person what PR is, the definition they’ll give may upset you as a PR professional.

I also discover that a majority of organizations do not appreciate the value of PR. Perhaps, this is the reason PR professionals are under-paid, especially when compared to their counterparts in Marketing and other communication disciplines.

Another great challenge is that PR practitioners themselves are not keeping up with developments in the field. Most practitioners in certain age brackets are not in tune with the revolution in the social media and the digital sphere. This is not good enough for our profession.

What is your Chapter doing about these challenges?

We are working hard to update our members on developments in social media and the digital sphere through our Digital Summits. You will notice that budgets allocated to social media, for instance, is getting higher than traditional media. And most of the firms thriving in the digital sphere are not NIPR members, but are taking a big chunk of our business away. The Digital Summits expose our members to the opportunities in social media and the digital sphere so they can leverage on them for PR practice.

And in a bid to catch them young, we are engaging undergraduates through what we call “Collegiate PR Challenge”, which involves the universities and other higher institutions in Lagos metropolis. Six of them participated in the last edition of the programme, including University of Lagos and Pan Atlantic University.

We are also engaging the government and PR consultants to ensure that  we move our game to the next level.

What advice do you have for young persons who intend to make a career in PR?

PR, for me, is a lifestyle. It’s like being in sports, where you know that at certain periods you need to exercise in order to  do well in your job. So, young people who want to come into PR must be avid readers because PR is an intellectual profession. They must be good at networking and must learn to plan in the long term because PR is proactive in nature, not reactive. They should also have at the back of their minds that the field is evolving, and they’ll have to evolve with it. Now there are calls for specialization because the field is vast. They need to know that they’ll have to specialize in one aspect of the field or the other. I believe young people will need mentors to guide them.

After all the work in your agency, Opticomm Marketing Company, and the Lagos Chapter of NIPR, how do you rest?

Before becoming the Chair of Lagos Chapter of NIPR, I used to play lawn tennis, jog and swim on regular basis. Now, I have very little time for such. But when I don’t exercise for a while, my body reacts. I become slow in thinking and I’m left with no other option than to relax. Exercise helps to relax and renew my strength.

I know that you cannot give what you do not have. So, I read to keep myself abreast of the times. Sometimes I read up to three books at a time, not cover to cover, but by picking one or two chapters of interest here and there. This also helps me to relax.