John Ehiguese is wearing two enviable caps of excellence. He is the numero uno PR consultant in Nigeria as the President of PRCAN. He is also the Group Managing Director of Mediacraft, a leading public relations consultancy. Ehiguese is an interviewer’s delight anyday, anytime and anywhere. Most especially when the topic of discussion revolves around public relations, his familiar terrain, you see Ehiguese in his elements reeling out facts and illuminating examples both within the country and abroad. Acclaimed for his excellent service delivery in public relations at the unveiling of Starcomms, a telecommunications brand into the Nigerian market almost two decades ago, Ehiguese before winning the Starcomms account which launched Mediacraft into fame and acclaim had worked on the MTN account as an executive of Corporate and Financial. A graduate of Mass Communications and an alumnus of the Lagos Business School and IESE Business School, Spain, Ehiguese was a broadcaster before veering into public relations consultancy. The seasoned image and perception expert bares his mind on burning professional issues in the industry. Excerpts:
Standard of Public Relations Consultancy Practice
The standard of public relations practice in the country is rising by the day. This is because the economy has opened up. Moreover, the inflow of Foreign Direct Investment into the country has in no small way helped to boost the economy. Much bigger, international organizations are coming to do business in the country. These organizations are coming from a background where they are used to hiring professional public relations consultancy firms to leverage their brands. Hence, when they get to this environment these organizations will start making such demands from PR consultants.
In addition, as professionals, we have no choice, but to rise to this occasion. To that extent, I can confidently say the standard of PR consultancy in Nigeria has risen. In addition, technology like the GSM and Internet are also helping to raise the standard. The third factor, of course, is the increasing number of PR consultancies going into an affiliation with foreign, and more experienced consultancies. Again, you will notice that there is a rise in demands for such Below The Line (BTL) initiatives like PR in contrast to core advertising, which is globally declining in patronage. These days BTL initiatives like PR and experiential marketing are employed for their cost-effectiveness.
Challenges of PR Consultancy
There is a very glaring dearth of qualified, well-trained PR practitioners in the industry right now. Almost everybody I know running PR consultancies are looking for especially middle-level management personnel in their organizations. That is a bit of a challenge here. In addition, on the clients’ side, and this is even more serious, we also have a dearth of capacity and knowledge base of PR. What we found out in most cases is that people who manage PR on the clients’ side are not as knowledgeable in the business as they should be. So getting to relate with them on an even keel is difficult. That is a bit of a challenge.
Impact of Democracy on PR practice
Obviously, democracy has contributed positively to the growth of PR practice in the country. As you’re quite aware, media relations is an integral part of PR practice and what has happened in the recent past is that the media industry has grown tremendously both in terms of scope and also in terms of depth. The liberalization of the media industry, the privatization of the media sector with entrepreneurs streaming into the media industry through both print and the granting of broadcast licenses have widened the pitch. In addition, this has made the job of PR practitioners easier. It has also helped to improve the way PR practitioners express themselves. And from the macroeconomic point of view, democracy has helped a lot. You will recall that before the advent of democracy, in 1999, Nigeria was regarded as a pariah nation. Now, the country is opening up. Moreover, some of the things we did not have access to then are now becoming available.
Differences between PR practice in Private and Public Sectors
Fundamentally, the perspective of the public sector about the bottom line is different from that of the private sector operators. The private sector practitioners are driven by profit. While the public sector practitioners are driven purely by information management. They are driven by public service motive. Overall, from both sides, I think the level of practice has grown. You will find out that through its various agencies and organs, the government is becoming more responsive, dishing out information. Also in the public sector, the capacity building problem is being addressed. You see journalists that are more experienced and senior editors being appointed as media advisers by the government. This too has lifted the practice of PR in the public sector.
Role of PR in Brand Building
Public relations, if you ask me is the most important factor in the brand building process, which must be adopted or utilized before a product is launched. This is because public relations has depth. Public relations have a better endorsement than advertising. Public relations is much more truthful. In the seminal book, ”The fall of Advertising, The rise of PR” written by Al and Laura Ries, the authors in their views underscored the importance of public relations in the brand building process. I subscribe totally to the views expressed by the Rises. I believe that PR is indispensable in building the brand. And more people are becoming aware of this.
Strategy for Launching a New Product
I will strongly recommend a combination of both advertising and PR to launch a new product. Also, my recommendation is predicated on the kind of product being launched. It depends on the calibre of audience or market being targeted. It depends on what the objectives of the producers or marketers of the products are. And of course, it depends on the kinds of budget you have. If you have a small budget, I will recommend PR. However, if you have a big budget, why not? I will recommend a combination of both. Fundamentally, a advertising is just for creating awareness.