Interviews

WHY PUBLIC RELATIONS TALENTS ARE IN SHORT SUPPLY

You are the Country Manager of Weber Shandwick Africa, one of the leading PR firms in the world. What does your job entail?

As Country Manager, Weber Shandwick Nigeria, my role includes growing the business in Nigeria and the West African region. The mandate involves reinforcing the Weber Shandwick corporate culture and service hallmark in-country, which has positioned the Weber Shandwick brand as a leading global agency, and leveraging on this strength to grow the business within the region.

Tell us more about Weber Shandwick Africa.

Weber Shandwick Africa is a team of 22 dynamic individuals that are creative, innovative and well acquainted with the local markets in the region. The office has been in existence for 5 years; based in South Africa, Johannesburg and full time employees based in Nigeria.

The team works very closely with partner agencies to execute world class strategies and plans while re-enforcing WS best practices on a global scale. The team partakes in a number of formal and informal training sessions organized by the company to ensure that they are always in tune with the latest global trends.

We have conducted and delivered campaigns across West Africa, working with affiliates who understand the cultural nuances of the region, providing insights with amazing results to our clients. One of our strengths, and one which we pride ourselves, is belonging to an organization with network of experts spanning 121 offices across the globe. This set-up ensures complete synergy across markets and guarantees that we are all taken as one brand with clear messaging.

In recent times, some researchers have pointed to a continuous convergence of PR and Marketing. Do you foresee PR losing its identity in the process?

We have been talking about integrated marketing communications which provides the platform for these disciplines to converge as one. We are in an era where communications has evolved into creativity, strategy and impact. It’s not about whether this is marketing or PR but more importantly about how what we’re doing is able to create the desired impact. For instance, in Weber Shandwick we are pushing the boundaries and creating unique solutions for our clients that ensure they remain top of mind in their businesses. That is why in Weber Shandwick we’re ‘engaging, always’.

If not, does PR have anything to gain from the development?

The first approach is not to try and delineate Marketing from PR; otherwise, there’s already a restriction. The point I’m driving here is to see PR and Marketing first as communications – everything is in a mix. What should interest you is being able to build a strategy that fits the problem and provide solution. As PR practitioners in Africa and Nigeria particularly, it is time to explore the options in communications and evolve winning campaigns that will make an advertising or marketing specialist green with envy.

Globally, finding and retaining the right PR talents remains the single biggest business challenge the PR industry faces. Why is this so?

We’re used to doing things the same way; so new ideas are not being created, new technologies are not being explored. We’re in a tech era where young people are pushing the boundaries of innovation and doing what ordinarily was impossible 20 years ago. No one wants to associate with a profession still living in the Dark Age. What we have now is a line of PR practitioners who have done PR the same way in the last 15-20 years and are being recycled from one agency to another. So the industry is saturated with people who are no longer relevant.

Do you think the PR industry has positioned itself well as an inspirational career choice? If not, how can it do that?

We’re in an era where word-of-mouth referral has overtaken any TV or billboard campaigns. Right now, it’s about influencers and social media. This is what we do in PR. How do you position your client/service/product to get endorsed by relevant public so much that someone other than yourself is willing to speak on your behalf without being sponsored to do so? Not many practitioners know how to get a brand to this point. So, first thing is knowledge. We’re limited in the depth and height and width of what we can achieve in this profession. Until we bridge that knowledge gap, the industry will still be looked on as a profession for everyone else who has failed in other professions.

It is generally believed that PR will gain more respect if it effectively demonstrates its value within organizations. What advice do you have for PR professionals to ensure this is achieved in the organizations they work for?

Every organization, whether big or small, needs Public Relations as long as the organization has customers and stakeholders. Why organizations are not engaging PR agencies is either they do not understand what PR is about, or existing agencies are not delivering value, therefore, the organization has not seen the need for a sign on. These days, clients want to justify spend and therefore need evidences of PR outcomes. Measuring outcomes in PR is a recurring discussion and until we’re able to crack it, demonstrating PR values will still be in contention.

However, demonstrating value is a function of many factors which includes documentation of case studies – how company X moved from point A to point B using PR services. In Nigeria, I’m yet to see empirical evidences to show such outcomes. If the PR industry is to grow in Nigeria, practitioners need to come together to document campaigns evidently showing selected PR outcomes and institute a platform for such campaigns to be celebrated with the clients in attendance.

Given your wealth of experience in PR, what advice do you have for those hoping to make a career in the profession?

Public Relations has become a sought-after profession all over the world. Bolstered with advancement in technology there is no limit to what we can achieve using PR. For anyone who desires to take up PR as a profession, it is not because they failed in other professions, it’s about passion. Passion drives performance.