Nkechi Ali-Balogun is an astute Public Relations professional and a distinguished leader in the field. She is a Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, a former Chair of the Lagos State Chapter of the Institute, the CEO/Principal Consultant of NECCI Consulting LTD and the Convener of Public Relations Roundtable. In this interview with Nsikak Daniels, she bares her mind on her career and what it takes to run a successful Public Relations firm.
What does Public Relations mean to you?
Quite honestly, beyond the professional answers given by many internationally acclaimed PR bodies at various global fora, especially the popular Mexican Statement, I’ve always said that we should be able to come up with our own definition that is value adding. PR is driven by communication. It is two dimensional communications. When you send messages you expect feedbacks, which give you insights to leverage on to the advantage of the organization you work for. Thus, PR is about analyzing the environment to enable you know the needs and wants of your organization’s publics. You feel their pulse, make necessary predictions and counsel the management based on the feedback received with the sole aim to create an enabling environment, create a win-win situation for both the organization and its publics. For me that is PR. There must be a balance. You must win and the publics must win too.
What sparked your interest in PR?
I am a people’s person. That is all.
Aside PR what career option did you have?
Law and PR; do they have any relationship?
There is a lot of Law in PR. The legal system governs our activities and those of our clients and organizations we work for. It is important that we understand and adhere to these laws. There are a lot of legal approvals to enable you carry out an effective PR practice. There are copyrights laws, registration laws, permission laws, state laws and privacy laws to adhere to. For instance, before you use someone’s picture in your brochure, you must have the consent of the person; if you want to take a photograph of a place you must abide by the laid down edicts and laws of the land were your operation or practice is domiciled. I am very sure you studied the legal aspect of PR principles and practice. There is a strong relationship between the two professions.
What is your advice to the practitioners who are aspiring for professional excellence?
My advice is that they should be well-rounded. Gone are the days when we believed that a Jack of all trade was a master of none. I am not sure the people who coined that adage had today in mind. Today, as a PR person you must be able to multi-task. You must be able to study and understand all the departments of the organization you work for. You must know everything about the firm and its industry. You must know how to speak the language of the industry. You must know the boardroom language and be familiar with board room politics. You must have a good knowledge of how to read and interpret statements of accounts. You must be capable of plotting and showing with charts what you have done with your budget and its impact on the company’s bottom line. You must know how to put together from A – Z the company’s annual report. You must be a good writer, reader and public speaker, because you would be called upon to represent your superiors. You must know print production and other forms of media production. You must know how to organize event. You should be able to translate goodwill into Naira and Kobo terms and measure its contribution to the achievement of organizational objectives. In summary, to succeed, you must study and be versatile in all the areas of the profession. PR is life to every visionary organization, and to be an impactful practitioner you must know your onions. You must keep on learning so you can contribute to your organization in very meaningful ways so that others do not see your office as one that only spends money, but one that also contributes significantly to making the money.
Many believe PR is all about media relations.
What is your take on this?
Many people don’t just believe that PR is all about media relations. It is the quacks that we have in the industry that narrow PR to media relations. Uninformed Chief Executives, who think that only when they appear on the front pages of newspapers is when their PR department is doing well, also narrow it down to media relations. This is just ignorance. Media relations is a tool, an asset for effective PR practice. It is a part of the whole.
As a PR Consultant, how will you use the social media to handle a client’s product defect issue or false alarm?
It is all about damage control, with emphasis. In a media forum recently, a question about how to manage the social media was raised. My answer to that was simple: You must have people who are qualified, passionate and Internet-friendly primarily dedicated to managing issues and crises that come out as a result of social media communication. This is a must. We are talking of real time communication… real time responses. In the days gone by, what we were taught was that in crisis management the golden hour principle should be adopted or engaged. There is no golden hour anymore. Nowadays, you may not even have up to a golden second before everything goes viral on the internet. Therefore, somebody has to be there to monitor what is going viral, and respond accordingly. The PR department must at all times monitor social media and be well
equipped to response proactively.
Social media is not the platform you will say ‘No Comment’. Such an approach does not work with it. There has to be a comment. More importantly, your department must be up to date with modern communication technologies. Your Internet must be supersonic, for promptness, efficiency and speed. And there must be enough and capable hands to work in the PR department. The organization must be on all platforms for a wider outreach. These platforms must be properly studied, mastered and monitored.
Do you share the sentiment that PR is for those who are not good at Mathematics?
I have never heard of it. I am not weak in Mathematics (laughter). I can show you my WASC O’level results. Even when I studied Mass Communication some years ago, I still had a B+ in Statistics. I don’t know about that. Perhaps, I am the wrong person to ask that question. I am very sure the records are there to show that it is not correct. I just heard of it for the first time.
How did you get into PR practice?
I stumbled into PR though all the courses I wanted to study had to do with people. Journalism was my first choice, followed by Law. I never knew the term PR then. When I took my first Joint Admission and Matriculation Board examinations, I went for Law, then something happened and I couldn’t continue. Thereafter, I went for Mass Communication. In those days Mass Communication was not rated so highly, and people thought it was all about being a journalist. How did I get into PR? I was working in NTA and I got a job which was to set up a PR department. Believe me, that was the first time I was going into PR; but I took the bull by the horns. To the glory of God, I think I made a success of it. That is how I started PR. I went into it and, I liked it. And here I am today.
Madam, what does it take to run a successful PR firm like yours?
It takes tenacity and commitment. There are ups and downs in the business environment. Sometimes, the downs are more than the ups. It is your tenacity that keeps you going. You must be resilient. You must be able to go through the downtimes and bounce back. There have been times I’ve been tempted to leave this line of PR practice, that is capacity building, to go into the mainstream of PR; but I know by the grace of God I will also succeed. However, there is a reason why I stayed on this side of PR. That reason is what drives me. So you have to remain focused, tenacious, resilient and committed. That is what it takes to run a successful PR firm.
What has changed in the PR profession today compared to when you started as a practitioner?
So much has changed. PR is embraced by a lot of organizations today. No longer do they see PR as a career meant for school drop-outs. They are beginning to actually know the implications of PR and what the profession really is. There is this deeper understanding of PR now. PR professionals themselves are now more enlightened, more sophisticated and more exposed. We are making more money. Our budget is getting larger and we are able to stand at par with other similar professions like advertising and marketing. We are more respected. The greatest thing that has happened is that a lot is being demanded from us from organizations. And we are not allowed to get away with so many things like before. Now we are called to account for a lot of things, that is why evaluation and measurement of our work is now a standard. Every PR person must be accountable. You must be able to defend with proofs why a certain PR programme should be executed. A lot has changed for the good of the PR profession.
As a practitioner, is it possible to ignore the engagement of social media in PR programmes just because traditional media is more of a familiar terrain?
That is impossible. Ignoring the social media is like digging one’s professional or career grave. You can’t. It is the trend today… and you must embrace it to stay alive. We are talking about real time communication here, which is an important key to success in today’s practice.
Why do you think that all the platforms are necessary?
Because, at every given time, you need to know who is talking about your brand and on which platform. For instance, if somebody posts an ugly picture of yours on Instagram and you are not on Instagram, how do you start responding? Your response has to be on the same platform. Yes, the picture might have gone viral; your counter-comment on the person’s platform and on yours is likely to resolve the problem.
What is your advice for young practitioners and students?
My advice to them is to get professionally and academically educated. They should be well-versed in all areas of the profession and be informed on current trends in the PR industry, business and political environment, especially as it affects PR.