Interviews

HOW TO WIN A SEAT IN THE STRATEGIC DECISION-MAKING ROUNDTABLES

Samuel Adurogboye is a quintessential Public Relations professional with several years of experience in the aviation industry. He is the General Manager, Public Relations, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). In this interview with Vincent Utere and Nsikak Daniels, he shares his thoughts on what it takes for PR professionals to win a seat in the strategic decision-making roundtables in their organizations.

Let’s start by asking you what your job entails as the General Manager, Public Relations, in a world-class regulatory organization such as the NCAA.

I will start by telling you what we do in the NCAA. Our work revolves around ensuring that every aircraft that is flying in the Nigerian airspace operates safely. We are interested in the aircraft and those who work in them — the pilots, flight engineers, cabin crew and other personnel. We are also interested in the environment the aircraft operates; the airport and the airspace and all of the institutions that make the operation possible.
There are institutions that train the personnel who work in and on the aircraft. We make sure that those institutions do the right thing we ensure they are accredited.

Having said that, whatever goes on in all other institutions is of concern to me. What goes on in the Federal Airport Authority, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency and other relevant institutions in the aviation industry are of serious concern to me. It is our business to manage the totality of relationships including that of the aviation journalists.
We recognize the fact that, even as a regulatory body, we are equally being regulated by the expectations of stakeholders. So I begin every day by going through the newspapers in the morning. We monitor the media generally, and, when I find anything of interest to our organization, I draw the attention of the relevant directorate of the organization to it. I think this is why we rarely have crisis. I prefer to identify the issues and address them instead of managing crisis.

What Role does your department play specifically in making your organization succeed?
I’ll answer this question by expanding on what I’ve already said about what my job entails. The role of my department is basically about managing relationships with all stakeholders to ensure there is understanding amongst all parties for a seamless operation. This involves identifying issues and managing them. You won’t believe that I look around places like the toilet for issues. I know that if the toilet is not okay, people using it will not be happy. And that is an issue. If a vehicle bearing our logo is not well maintained or is overloaded, that is equally as issue. We believe in identifying and managing issues that may pitch our stakeholders against us or bring about a crisis. Though some people may want to have crisis and make money out of it, I don’t want crisis at all.

Have you always worked in PR Department? I asked this question because in most organizations like yours, people from HR or Legal Department often get drafted to manage the PR functions.
Yes. I’ve been very privileged to start with this organization. NCAA started operations in January 2000. The then CEO, Dr. Haruna came to me and asked me to man their PR department. Before then, I was in the media; but I had a relationship with him. He wanted me to be part of their history. 40% of the core staff were invited before the rest were employed. They knew what they wanted. Perhaps, that is why we have a mix of private and public sector orientation. This explains why the bureaucracy often experienced in the normal public sector organizations is not here.

Practicing PR in the Public Sector is said to have some unique challenges. What specific challenges do you face in NCAA and how do you manage them?

Thank you very much for that question. Every organization has its own unique challenges. The main challenge we have is in the area of funding. But when it comes to empowerment …what you need to work… I’ve been be privileged to have them.

I think I can understand that we are a government agency that is autonomous. We are financially self-sustaining. When you travel by air, 5% of the airfare comes to us. The money is not coming in as expected, particularly from domestic airline operators. This is where the financial challenge comes from.

There are some industries that are said to be more prone to crisis than others; and aviation is one of them. What are your statutory roles in crisis management in the aviation industry?

What we often have in aviation industry is fund-induced or manage-induced crisis. Airline business all over the world is capital intensive. All aircraft are subject to scheduled maintenance. Each must have a certificate of airworthiness. Maintenance must be done at NCAA approved institutions. We still send inspectors to see how the maintenance are done; and a certificate of release stipulating the kind of maintenance done is issued. Everyone that flies the plane has a license we issue for a certain period which must be renewed after simulation training. We ensure airlines update their insurance. Everything from insurance to training of personnel is done in dollars. This is where crisis can come for the operator, especially if they cannot fly. There are also issues of corporate governance in airlines. We exist to ensure that all aircraft are safe to fly. So, what we do to stem crisis when we see that an operator is not meeting up with the standards is to enforce the law. When that is done, an erring operator may be forced out of business.

In PR, we believe that crisis can be prevented if relationships with stakeholders are managed properly. Do you have any mechanism for stakeholder relationship management?

The way we manage stakeholders is unique. I will even recommend it to the Nigerian government. In aviation, there is what we call notice of rule-making which is specified by International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as the minimum standard you should observe before you introduce any new rule. It means you must create a platform to bring together all stakeholders to deliberate, make submissions and adopt a rule before it becomes a regulation. Through such platform, we get to know the thinking of all stakeholders on all issues; and, together, we resolve them. Enforcing the regulations then becomes easy.
Aviation is a unique industry. Are there any special or unique approaches to managing public relations in the sector?

At the beginning of this interview, I said that our operations guide what we do in PR. As a PR person, you should know how aviation industry works. You should be able to speak the language of the pilot, the flight engineers and aviation in general. If someone says you are killing us with multiple charges, you should know what obtain internationally to be able to deal with that issue. You should study and understand aviation.

The emergence of new communication platforms is changing the way we practice PR today. How have they affected your work?

A few years ago, I was sent back to the classroom to study social media. It’s supposed to be a positive development but I know there are abuses here and there. Unlimited access by all sorts of people is an issue. You have a situation where people who have been dismissed for one wrongdoing or the other create blogs and call themselves experts. You have people who came to look for work in our system and were turned down because they would make decisions that could cause an airplane to drop from the sky call themselves expert, just because they have access to social media to publish to a global audience. But social media is helping PR professionals to reach more of their stakeholders in real time. I believe that PR practitioners should care for integrity and honour in the way they use the social media.

Does one need any special qualities to work in PR Department in the aviation sector?
I don’t think so. Understand the demands of the office, be ready to learn from anybody, be teachable.

Many young people are looking for direction in choosing a career. What advice will you give them about how to make a career in PR?

I will advise them to know what the career entails, know themselves as individuals and know what they have passion for. And ultimately, if they believe in God, let Him be their guide. Like the Bible says, “The expectation of the righteous shall be granted”. The fact remains that what you have passion for ,,, what you like is what you desire. And God will make it come to pass.

Sir, from our discussions so far, it is clear you have a seat in the strategic management roundtable of NCAA. So you can make PR inputs into top management decisions. What advice do you have for other PR professionals who find it difficult to achieve that feat?

To a great extent, it depends on the number one person in the organization, the CEO. It depends on his or her appreciation of the powers of PR. When I started, I was not part of strategic decision-making; but, along the line, I was sought for. My advice is straight forward: know your boss. Find out if he or she understands and appreciates PR. If not, get your boss to do just that. Make your job relevant. This, of course, is based on the level of knowledge and the quality of information you bring to the table. Don’t hesitate to lobby when necessary, but be sure you have something to offer.

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