THE PUBLIC SPHERE with Chido Nwakanma
Reputation, image, and branding have recently been central to the Nigerian discourse. Corporate, individual, and institutional gaffes raised the topic. There was the matter of the gaffes of President Bola Tinubu’s spokesman and the brand and reputation tussle around a tomato puree brand.
They positively signal an alignment of the stars for Dr. Ike Neliaku, who took charge as the president and chairman of the Council of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations on 25 August 2023. His colleagues in the council unanimously made him President.
Neliaku’s campaign and governance mantra is New Era.
He outlined a nine-point action programme to realise a new era for one of Nigeria’s oldest professional institutes. On the table by the 17th president of the NIPR are the repositioning of the National Secretariat for effective administration, digitisation, empowerment of state chapters for greater visibility and sustainability and special revenue generation projects.
Others are enhancing membership value and professional development, elevating the national recognition of the NIPR, and initiating the development of the Nigerian Reputation House in Abuja. Under Neliaku, NIPR will also “facilitate the establishment of Africa’s first Public Relations University in Nigeria, “ensure regulatory compliance” and “strengthen the rank and status of Fellows.”
Neliaku’s initial steps have been beneficial, showing a willingness to chart the new course. He flew into Lagos the week after his election. He met with the consulting and business arm of the NIPR, the Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria. He was a guest of the president of the African Public Relations Association, Yomi Badejo-Okusaga, at a dinner at The Metropolitan Club.
Both meetings served at least two purposes: mollify any bruised egos from the high-octane presidential contest between him and influential Lagos NIPR member Nkechi Ali-Balogun and build bridges between the Abuja and Lagos wings of the NIPR. Nigerian public relations has dichotomised into Lagos and Abuja; Lagos is the home of corporate practice, and Abuja is the base of government and institutional communication.
The NIPR president has led advocacy for the institute. He met with industry leaders and visited a few more states. He also hosted eminent persons, including the Press Attaché of the United States Embassy, Mr. Robert Gabor and the Special Adviser on Media to the Senate President, Honourable Eseme Eyiboh.
He told Gabor: “As a professional body entrusted with the responsibility of managing reputation, relationships and regulating the practice of public relations in Nigeria, we are poised to lend our professional expertise towards sanitising the business of image management. We are calling on organisations to respect and comply with the law that established the NIPR by engaging registered and licensed professionals to handle their image and reputation and manage crises.”
Eseme Eyiboh brought a message of compliance. “I am here with my application form to signify my intention to join NIPR as a law-abiding citizen by complying with enabling laws establishing the institute. I believe the membership will allow me to upgrade my skills and add value in my new position as the Special Adviser on Media, Publicity and Strategic Communication to the Senate President, His Excellency Senator Godswill Akpabio.
“As a lawyer, a former federal lawmaker, and an obedient citizen, I didn’t come through the back door, but the front door, the only entry to NIPR as a professional body for reputation management in the country. I have over 20 years of experience in event management, lobbying, political communication, and strategic engagements”.
Mr Oyiboh’s message indirectly articulated a concern of the NIPR regarding all the political appointees in media management roles, notably the presidential spokesman, Chief Ajuri Ngelale.
Neliaku has come at the right time. Public Relations in Nigeria dates back to 1859, same as the Nigerian media, according to Otubanjo, Amujo and Melewar (2010). It means it is now about 165 years old, and the NIPR was founded in 1963. Public relations in Nigeria received a charter in 1990 and a legal basis to run the profession and the association.
The 1990 Act stipulated entry qualifications, stating that only persons qualified and registered by the NIPR can practise. Many breach the law.
The Nigerian public relations (PR) industry is experiencing a new dawn, driven by several factors, including the rise of digital media, the increasing sophistication of Nigerian consumers, and the growing importance of public relations in business and government.
A report in PR Review, the journal of PRCAN, in the early days of the change (2009) cited the rise of enlightened stakeholders and management, increased pressure on firms to account to stakeholders, the tendency to more open societies through democracy, more media channels that explore various issues and enable public discourse, many new channels, media, and non-media, such as GSM, WhatsApp, YouTube, and others, that empower the populace.
The rise of digital media brought significant change. Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram gave Nigerian PR practitioners direct access to their target audiences, allowing them to build relationships and communicate their messages more effectively.
Another key trend is the increasing sophistication of Nigerian consumers. Nigerians are now more informed and demanding than ever, and they expect brands to communicate authentically, relevant, and engagingly with them. This has led to a shift towards more strategic and integrated PR campaigns focusing on building long-term relationships with key stakeholders.
The growing importance of public relations in business and government contributes to the new dawn in Nigerian PR. Businesses increasingly recognise the value of PR in building their reputations, managing their brands, and engaging with their customers. Firms in the extractive industry deploy an extensive mix of public relations specialities to secure their social license from communities.
Similarly, government agencies use PR to communicate their policies and programs to the public and build trust with their stakeholders after years of aloofness. Of course, many holdouts in government and the private sector are reluctant to go with the trend and flow. The consequence is the Nigerian PR industry becoming more professionalised and specialised. Practitioners must have first-rate skills.
As the president of PRCAN in 2014, I conducted a survey that showed member agencies rendering service in 21 sub-sets of the discipline. Nigerian PR has gone beyond media relations even as the political actors and most of the public imagine that media appearance is the key success metric in public relations.
The emerging landscape features PR professionals rendering service in Advocacy, Behaviour Change Communication, Brand Building, Corporate Communication, Community Relations, Consumer PR, Corporate Social Investment/Responsibility, Crisis & Risk Communication, Digital and social Media, Documentation, Event Management, Government Relations & Lobbying, Internal Relations & Employee Communication, Investor Relations/Financial Communication, Research, Issues Management & Perception Audits, Media Relations, Reputation Management, Political Communication, Public Affairs, Publications & Editorial Services Aka Brand Publishing, and Strategy.
Challenges include weak regulation and enforcement, ethical concerns, such as using PR as shorthand for underhand financial deals, and low fees. PR fees in Nigeria are relatively low compared to other countries, and the presence of all comers moonlighting as sideliners worsens it.
Mr Neliaku brings considerable experience and clout. As he spoke at The Metropolitan Club, I surmised that this former senior officer at the Information Ministry knows where all the bodies are buried.
He has the tact and savvy to reach out nationwide as he did in organising a successful Citizens Summit for National Integration, Peace & Security in Abuja. The author of 7 Conspiracies of Power needs all the strategic understanding to steer the nation’s public relations ship.