From a public relations viewpoint, Nigeria remains a paradox. Negative news informs perception of the country. Positive developments, and there are quite a few, hardly get above the international message clutter.
It is the largest economy in Africa. Nigeria’s financial services, communications, technology and entertainment sectors are fast expanding. A top 20 global foreign direct investment destination, it has recently been classified as one of the MINT economies (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) that will be among the economic giants of the future. This paradox stems to some extent from the relatively low level of attention that the government pays to reputation management.
However, there is a growing acceptance of the importance of PR outside of government. A report published by the Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN) attributes this to the rise of enlightened stakeholders and management, increased pressure on organisations to account to stakeholders, a tendency towards more open societies through democracy and the explosion in media channels and types, with the attendant empowerment of the populace.
The multinational companies and indigenous players in the fast-expanding sectors of the economy are the major users of PR. Services are provided by a combination of in-house practitioners and external consulting firms, some of which are affiliated to international PR companies or in a few cases are owned offices of these international firms. The level of professionalism in Nigerian PR has improved in the past decade. Although media relations continues to be a major practice area, services are now provided in a broad range of areas.
PRCAN lists 21 services member firms offer. They include advocacy, brand building, content development, community relations, corporate communication, corporate social investment, crisis management and communication. There is more use of research and planning in the development of programmes, and an increasing foray into social and digital media.
Specialised practice areas such as tech,investor relations and healthcare do exist, but these are still early days.
Despite the strides that have been made in PR practice, it is yet to achieve the same status as the traditional professions, a factor that has curtailed its deployment as a strategic management tool even in the private sector.
There is also the challenge arising from the relatively low level of appreciation of PR by the public sector. Communications by most government agencies is therefore below par. The public sector, as the dominant player in the economy, does not effectively use the services of professional PR practitioners, meaning the PR industry has not grown as it should.
The industry has a number of internal challenges. Ensuring availability of adequate talent is paramount. There is also the matter of setting and enforcing standards. The hybrid nature of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations as a regulator and a trade association has not helped in riding this challenge.
Finally, there is the issue of advocacy for the industry. There are many uses to which PR can be put in the growth and development of Nigeria. PRCAN has been the foremost advocate for the industry, acting more like the locomotive pulling the rest of the rolling stock. When all is said and done, the potential for PR abounds in Nigeria, but there is some work to be done.