Africa: the final PR frontier

The PR world is abuzz with excitement about the opportunities for growth in global markets such as China, Latin America, India, and Russia, but there is one market that could usurp all these over the next two decades.

The PR world is abuzz with excitement about the opportunities for growth in global markets such as China, Latin America, India, and Russia, but there is one market that could usurp all these over the next two decades: Africa.

Unlike China and many other areas of the world, the population of Africa is increasing, and it will continue to do so. It is set to double in the next 30 years - from one to two billion. It's the “China of 30 years ago,” or the next frontier for PR growth - some would even say the final frontier.

Clearly, Africa is a complex and disparate continent, with large swathes of it not stable enough for any business to consider entering. But there are also significant areas with developed or developing economies and stable democracies.

The House of Representatives last week introduced a new bill aimed at tripling US exports to Africa within a decade, and Congress is actively targeting more trade.

Corporations, brands, and agency networks are also eyeing up the region and deciding how to invest to exploit these new opportunities in the future. Mobile telephony is a particular growth area, and there are set to be 600 million cell-phone users by 2014.

South Africa is obviously a notable starting point. Then there are stable countries such as Uganda, Ghana, Tanzania, Senegal, Kenya, Angola, and Botswana. Nigeria is also becoming more stable.

There have been well-documented hiatuses in countries including Egypt, Libya, and Democratic Republic of the Congo. And there are some areas that are simply no-go zones, so the continent remains volatile and problematic in some respects.

But it was promising enough for Burson-Marsteller to last fall take a controlling interest in South Africa-based Arcay Communications to create Arcay Burson-Marsteller. The agency had had more enquiries about Africa in the last 18 months than the last 20 years.

Arcay's chairman Robyn De Villiers has been working in the PR business in Africa for 18 years. Her agency spans the region through a network of 37 affiliates, working in 52 of the 55 countries on the continent.

She points out that the key is to have local people working on your campaigns, because the continent is so disparate that what works in one country doesn't necessarily work in others.

The largest PR player in South Africa is actually Magna Carta, a subsidiary of ad agency TBWA, and Ketchum's exclusive affiliate in Africa. Other agency players already in Africa include Hill & Knowlton, Edelman, Ogilvy, Weber Shandwick, and Fleishman-Hillard.

By 2050 there will be 1.3 billion consumers on the continent – and that's a market no global brand or agency network can afford to ignore.

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