African comms firms embrace the new world economy as the continent eyes growth

Underpinning Africa's well-documented growth have been numerous important factors: oil, commodities, China and the fallout from the global crash in 2008. Of these, the most important are oil and China.

African comms is embracing the new world economy and there are opportunities for smart UK brands, writes Mitchell Prather
African comms is embracing the new world economy and there are opportunities for smart UK brands, writes Mitchell Prather

As we look ahead, communicators in Africa are going to play an increasingly important role in economic development

Social media is in the mix, alongside highly strategised thought leadership campaigns and stakeholder engagement activities.

Africa is committed to maintaining economic growth and understands that it is its reputation that makes the difference.

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In the new reality of low oil prices, African countries desperately need economic diversity: for job and wealth creation, innovation, poverty alleviation and economic sustainability.

It is therefore with SMEs – particularly in the high-growth industries – that communications firms have another opportunity.

Young business leaders are being supported more than ever before, right across the continent.

New incubator hubs and venture capital funds are springing up all over the region; helping to create a culture of enterprise.

That is why they will actively engage with communications firms to directly support their growing businesses, and an additional role in attracting foreign investors.

The challenge for PR firms is to continue to work hard to support clients through the provision of world-class communicators with great skills and local insights that come from across Africa.

African companies and stakeholders are demanding agencies with strong local expertise, which is why we will see more home-grown network offices coming to the fore in the future.

Initially, governments and other big-spenders felt that they needed to tell the world how well they were doing so that they could push the ‘Africa development potential’ narrative.

That was, and still is, an important job because success breeds success and African countries rightly wished to court additional investors and money from the booming Asian economies.

Outside of Africa, the post-crisis Chinese boom was the primary contributor to global growth, which saw a meteoric rise in Chinese demand for African commodities.

During those years (2011–2014), African communications firms were very often charged with creating in-house teams and strategies from scratch – and quickly.

This presented agencies in the region with a rare opportunity to start with a blank sheet. The urgency and scale of the opportunities meant they reported directly to senior executives who looked to them for absolutely everything.

At the top of the pile was – and still is – reputation.

Since 2011, issues such as corruption, money laundering and the financing of terrorism have come to the fore.

For this reason, African communications strategies are now heavily bent towards thought leadership and reputation management.

For UK companies looking to do business with Africa, there are plentiful opportunities, because Africa has a fast-growing young population and a burgeoning middle class with an appetite for quality products.

Businesses from the UK can establish a strong foothold in the continent, provided they show their commitment to the region for the long term as opposed to the strategy of making quick returns.

Mitchell Prather is managing director of Djembe Communications

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