Funso Aina is the PR Manager of MTN Nigeria Communications Limited. In this interview with Vincent Utere and Razack Olaegbe, he shares his thoughts on what the top management organizations expect from PR professionals

The management of organizations expects different things from Public Relations. What does your top management expect from you and your department?

Primarily, in my job function as the PR Manager of MTN, I and my team use communication to drive top of mind awareness for the MTN brand; for its products and for its services. We try to gain traction across all media channels to optimize reach and engagements. We identify and manage issues before they become a threat to stakeholder engagement. And we do this with the recognition that different stakeholders have different expectations, different ways through which they want us to communicate with them, and different needs. It is not a one-size-fit-all situation. So, we try to meet each and everyone at their different points of needs. All these speak to what we do on a daily basis and what our management expects of us.

Are you saying that you are meeting their expectations?

Yes. But it can be very challenging. We are in a very peculiar business. What we do touches the flesh. It resonates across all spectrums of life. Imagine what life would look like without your phone. You find that when a person wakes up in the morning, the first thing he reaches out for is the phone. That tells you exactly how communication has become key and intrinsic to what we do as individuals or as businesses. And when you are in a market where MTN accounts for about 50% of the market share, and over 50 million subscribers , a number close to the population of the United Kingdom, you should know there are lots of stakeholders and lots of issues to manage. I think under the circumstances, we are doing well.

Would you say that the results you are getting can be traced to the position of PR in the chain of command of MTN?

Yes, I know about the age-long issues around letting PR managers sit on the board and be part of the decision-making process. Here, it is just like that. And that is because our management recognizes the important contributions that PR brings to the business. Although my boss who sits on the board wears many hats-under him. You have regulatory, legal, commercial, MTN foundation and corporate communication under which you have PR, our management recognizes the crucial importance of stakeholders’ intelligence which PR brings to the decision making process. They know that we are the channel connecting them to stakeholders. They recognize that for our company to improve at what it does, we need to be close to stakeholders, especially subscribers. They see the importance of what we do; that is why they give us the pride of place we deserve on the board.

Does the new digital ecosystem pose any challenge to you in any way?

Yes, it does. And I will tell you why.

Fareed Zakaria, the host of GPS on CNN has written a fantastic book called The Future of Freedom.  In the book, he describes the internet as the place where everybody is in charge and nobody is in control. The internet has also been described as the Arab Spring Communication. Of course, you know the history of the Arab Spring, which started in Tunisia and gained traction across the Arab world. And before you know it, governments were toppled through the power of the social media.

We are in an age of what I prefer to call information obesity, when you are buffeted with turrets of information from different news platforms and you cannot ascertain their veracity. Everyone can write and post anything without adhering to the ethics and basic tenets of journalism. It is also known as the age of Citizens Journalism.

Where it is a challenge is that there are no structures, which makes it difficult to reach out to those online writers in order to engage and fill them in with accurate information. What we do is to monitor the media, track their sentiments and issues, come up with our positions and our messages, target credible platforms and drive traffic there.

MTN has developed and implemented many creative campaigns and initiatives.  Which of them would you say has made the most impact on your market position and met or surpassed the expectations of your management?

The Campaign that stands out was when we decided to give a Cessna airplane. We did it and it rocked everywhere. Initially, we achieved “talkability” but not credibility because many people did not believe we would actually give out the airplane. The problem was that the campaign was advertising-led at the initial stage. When we realized it, we went back to the drawing board, tweaked the message to include a cash equivalent of the airplane in naira or dollars to make it believable. And we included third party advocacy, involving highly regarded aviation industry experts such as airline pilots to talk about it. While advertising was going on, we identified people who were using the plane for different purposes and encouraged the media to reach out to them to learn more on its uses. We also encouraged reaching out to the suppliers of the airplane to confirm our intention. We wrote and placed series of articles addressing several issues on the matter. And we were able to achieve both “talkability” and credibility.

It turned out that the winner was a student struggling to pay her school fees. When we paid her, she traveled out of the country and many media practitioners who were able to track and interview her confirmed that we actually paid her the equivalent of a Cessna airplane.

What advice do you have for PR professionals on how to deliver on the expectations of their management?

I will advice them to focus on PR outcomes not PR outputs. They should invest in personal development; know how to use the metrics of Barcelona Principles which is more scientific instead of Advertising Values Equivalent (AVEs) to demonstrate the values they bring to their organizations. They should try to understand trends in their industry, broaden their scope, reach out and know what global best practices are, and bring them to bear on their works.