- By Chido Nwakanma
The award of a brief to a foreign firm for the public relations campaign for the Debt Management Office of Nigeria in its effort to sell Eurobonds has understandably drawn the ire of the Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN). PRCAN protested, and the Ministry of Finance has responded, claiming some criteria, none of which address the issue.
One writer in BRANDish has since taken up the cudgel on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Finance and against Nigerian communication professionals, publishing a piece that argues the case for the ministry’s ill-informed decision (“The Africa Practice PR brief and why PRCAN should step up their game”). A closer examination of the matters would show otherwise and the need for a universal call to the Ministry of Finance to defend the best interest of Nigeria and for PRCAN to raise the decibel of its advocacy.
The first point to note is that in matters of national briefs across the world countries give preference to their citizens. Plain and straightforward. Check out other countries of the world. Blueflower Limited only recently handled a brief for the European Union in Nigeria, as did a few other firms. The EU gave the contract to a company based in Italy. They, in turn, sub-contracted to Blueflower Limited as the agency with an understanding of the Nigerian market. Since the job was for the Nigerian market, the EU Office in Nigeria could have approached Nigerian firms directly. Nay. Not in the interest of EU nationals! They followed global country practices where knowledgeable patriots run the bureaucracy. They gave the job to an EU firm who then decided the best way to handle the assignment.
It is disingenuous to hear the Ministry and apologists argue that they carried out this disservice to Nigeria on the grounds of requisite experience, professionalism or presence in those countries. A Nigerian public relations agency would have subcontracted a company in the United States, Europe, or Asia to carry out aspects of the assignment specific to those geographies. It would also in the process gain experience and knowledge of those markets. We learn to do by doing.
It is stacking the odds in favour of foreign companies ab initio for the Federal Ministry of Finance to add “global presence” to the qualification criteria and even worse for any Nigerian, no matter how negative or uninformed, to applaud such a measure.
The Ministry of Finance skewed the bid from the beginning. They interviewed three overseas registered companies following the RFP for the USD$ 4.5billion FGMTN Issuance Programme (2016-2018) and issuance of USD100 billion Eurobond. They interviewed the firms in London: Africa Practice, Bell Pottinger, and Citigate Dewe Rogerson.
Check it out. The Chinese are all over Africa and the developing world granting loans for projects. What do they do? They give contracts for those jobs, even in Nigeria, to Chinese firms. Even for the smallest portions of the contracts. The Chinese companies can then subcontract the jobs or bring in their personnel all the way from China. We have already mentioned the European Union. It applies similarly to other institutions, groups and nations.
Countries call it affirmative action, a term the writer of the Brandish opinion and the folks in the Ministry of Finance may pretend not to have heard. Countries across the world practise it. According to Wikipedia, “Affirmative action (known as reservation in India and Nepal and positive discrimination in the UK; also known in a narrower context as employment equity in Canada and South Africa) is the policy of favouring members of a disadvantaged group who suffer or have suffered from discrimination within a culture.”
Nigeria now has a Local Content Act because of discrimination against Nigerian service firms in the oil industry. At a point, there were about 400 firms of British origin in the Nigerian oil services sector. Now, because of legislation and advocacy by groups similar to PRCAN, the oil and gas industry gives opportunities to Nigerian firms. They, in turn, are growing their sinews, acquiring experience and increasing in skills and knowledge.
Skillsets of Nigerian public relations agencies
Do Nigerian public relations firms do more than press agentry? Yes, they do. A PRCAN survey of members in 2014 showed that they offer services in at least 21 areas of public relations. PRCAN under my leadership even ran a thematic campaign on the service offerings of our members.
Agencies under the umbrella of PRCAN offer services in 21 areas. These are Advocacy, Brand Building, Content Development, Community Relations, and Corporate Communication. Others are Corporate Social Investment, Crisis Management and Communication, Digital and Social, and Event Management. Member agencies also offer service in Government Relations, Internal Relations, Investor Relations, Issues Management and Lobbying. Services include Media Engagement, Perception Audits, Public Affairs, Publications & Editorial Services as well as Reputation Management, Strategy and Trade Promotion.
Responses to the 2014 survey show that PRCAN agencies offer service in six areas per agency on the average. That survey noted:
- The 17 respondents collectively service 132 clients.
- Respondents have 258 staff. Core staff are 146 and support staff 112.
- PRCAN agencies collectively hold 57 retainers and carry out 83 project-based assignments.
- Our agencies render service in an average of six areas per agency.
- Event Management is the most common service offered by Agencies that responded. It accounted for 7.6% closely followed by Corporate Communication at 7.4%.
- Other key service areas are Crisis Communication, Media Engagement, Reputation Management and Brand Building.
That survey also showed most importantly the absence of government on the client list of Nigerian agencies. Government communications in Nigeria suffers from unprofessionalism and philistinism. It takes the form of failure to engage Nigerian professionals or even any professionals at all across state, local and federal government. When they do, they go low with inferiority complex and corruption, seeking foreign firms. The colonial and succeeding initial governments in Nigeria understood and carried out best practice in communications, involving professionals. The government gave the nudge to public relations practice in the country at the onset.
The weak response to the survey is one area where the writer of the Brandish article makes a point: not enough PR firms in Nigeria take themselves seriously. However, anyone involved in insights would be familiar with a low response rate as a generalised behaviour.
So, Africa Practice describes itself as “a strategy and communications consultancy”, and the writer celebrates it? Amazing. Let us examine how Nigerian agencies describe themselves in contradistinction. Mediacraft Associates, affiliated to Fleischmann Hillard, says it is a “public relations and brand communications firm”. C&F Porter Novelli is part of the Porter Novelli “global” network. It says “We are a strategic communications consulting firm, with over 20 years experience in Nigeria and West Africa”. Chain Reactions says it is a “Strategic Public Relations and Reputation Management” agency. It holds affiliation with the world’s number one agency, Edelman. The Quadrant Company is Nigeria’s first full-service PR agency. It has won the Sabre Award for African PR practice. It proudly says it is a “Public Relations” firm. We could go on to show that the description of Africa Practice is beside the point. Non-sequitur.
So a few clients have experienced poor service? Welcome to the real world globally. It is not a sufficient or necessary condition to subvert a country.
Government as Enabler
The economic history of the world shows that government is an enabler. Government enables professions and its citizens through positive discrimination, favouring its citizens with contracts that allow capacity development. PRCAN is therefore not asking for any unwarranted or unheard favours. PRCAN is calling for the enthronement in Nigeria of best practice and doing away with the inferiority complex mindset evident in articles that celebrate discrimination against Nigerian firms by a Nigerian government ministry or agencies.
On its part over the last ten years, PRCAN has run a capacity building programme, the Public Relations Masterclass®. It is best practice to do so. It is also best practice to insist that government in Nigeria do right by professional groups in the country. It means obedience to the letter and spirit of Nigerian Law as encapsulated in the NIPR Act, 1990 and its bye-laws. As in the oil sector, there should now be a local content provision in the award of government bids for the provision of communication services in Nigeria. Global best practice so dictates.
Nwakanma is a past president of PRCAN and chief executive of Blueflower Limited