Ekine Akonte is lead strategist of Absolute PR Limited. In this interview with Vincent Utere, he bares his mind on the state of Public Relations in Nigeria and why Public Relations agencies need a new business model.

Sir, could you tell us about your journey in the field of Public Relations.

It started with an encounter with a lecturer in Plateau School of Accounting and Management Studies.  I was in the Department of Mass Communication. He introduced it to me and members of my set back then in 1990; and since then, I have had to study it and live it till date.

As you can see, we are a full service PR firm with strong bias for strategy, creative and content, based on the objectives of the client in embarking on a campaign. Absolute PR as a business entity will be a decade in the coming year(2019), and we have been responsible for a series of communications activities with different clients within the various economic sectors; from oil and gas through technology, telecoms, banking, insurance and FMCG. It must be said that it all started with a white plastic table and chair in my apartment.  So, really, it has been a beautiful journey, and the experience has been amazing.

Our first major client was the Ion International Film Festival in Port Harcourt. One Italian lady got our name from someone and behold we got the call to manage some part of the festival from communications perspective.

We are a multidiscipline brand and reputation management firm, and our focus, as a business, is to be a great partner at every point in time we are in bed with our clients and stakeholders. Our area of core competence is  Marketing PR/ Consumer Engagement, Brand Management, Floatation Marketing, Investor Relations/Financial Communications and Government Relations, and we are not saying it for the sake of it, we have verifiable evidence of work to show our expertise in these fields.

Personally, my journey is well over two decades in the industry. However, AbsolutePR has four decades of experience which is a function of the aggregation of work experiences of team members.

The journey is still young, fresh and global. We are on a journey to be the best we can be. We have been privileged to work for clients in the United Kingdom, the USA and Hong Kong, and we are looking forward to bigger and exciting challenges.

How would you describe the state of Public Relations practice in Nigeria?

Public Relations practice in Nigeria is in a constant state of evolution. It is growing positively and gaining acceptance in various circles including the C suites. I don’t think we can look at it in isolation of the nationhood as everything about the country is tied together. The Public Relations industry is affected by the socioeconomic dynamics of the nation.

What factors do you think are accountable for the current state of the practice?

You cannot ignore factors such as political ideology, level of media development, culture, level of economic development and conceptualization of Public Relations itself when examining the state of Public Relations practice. Democracy promotes dialogue and opens the door for sophisticated PR practice. A developed and free media enhances the dialogue. Culture determines how you design and present your messages. And competition, fuelled by economic development, creates enormous need for PR, and takes it to a higher level of practice. It is important to recognize that when your target conceives PR merely as publicity, the tendency for the practice to be limited to media relations is high. Of course, the level of internet penetration is also a factor. It determines whether your practice more of traditional PR or the digital dimension.

The explosion of the Internet, Social Media and Big Data is changing the way Public Relations is practiced. Do you think PR practitioners in Nigeria are keeping up with these developments?

Yes, they are keeping up with the developments, but at various levels. However, I am sure we don’t expect everybody to be on the same page. Since Public Relations’ existence as a profession is about human interactions, the various changes happening within and among us as a people is definitely happening to the profession. Certainly, you are aware that consumer behaviour is ever changing based on media consumption habits. The consumption habits are not limited to customs and traditions; they are also influenced by the environment. These factors exert impacts on the practice. To deliver a message effectively, the practitioner(s) must take cognizance of these factors.

Tell us how these developments are affecting the traditional PR agency model.

Prior to the advent of technology as we know it today, the average agency will be set up without a unit or department that will focus on use of technology as both a platform/channel and engagement tool. It was a case of understanding the fragmentation of the audience and subject of listenership/viewership against primetime for content deployment. Today from strategy to deployment, the audience psychodynamics must be used along the line of the message with strong emphasis on time in the context of immediacy. So, today’s agency model is focusing on content from a story telling perspective with a narrative that should be a walk with the target audience in building a mutually benefiting conversation. Most importantly, today’s agency is also easily able to fulfil the part of Public Relations that is about hearing from the Publics which is the age-old Public Relations philosophy of talking to each other

Do you think PR agencies need new business models to survive and grow?

Well, it is no longer a question but the reality. If PR is about people, then we need to chase the people appropriately, get them to listen and act in accordance with the plan of the business. The reality is that the model will always cause a change; my take is that PR is always in a state of evolution and so agencies will naturally remodel to stay afloat.

Some experts are advocating for the return of social science into Public Relations practice. What is your take on this?

I think it is only appropriate to look at it contextually. From inception, everything is about engaging the human mind. Public Relations should be a combination of arts and social science especially when you look at various issues around the human or consumer psychology as well as behaviour. What we do in Public Relations is ultimately contributing to the thinking of man, his decision making process such that he arrives at that good conclusion.

Sir, we’d like you to share your thoughts with us on how the PR industry in Nigeria should position for success in the future.

I commend the efforts of the leaders of regulatory bodies such as Nigeria Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) and Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN) at the national level as well as state chapters for what they are doing to position the Profession.

It is difficult to talk about positioning in an interview; it requires a series of research efforts across regions and states to arrive at an appropriate positioning from different findings. This is in view of the fact that the size of Public Relations is huge and diverse. Assessing PR position will require having a basket of data on understanding of PR across the country, industries as well as society to be able to start a genuine conversation in an attempt to position the profession.