Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have job titles that end in ‘EMEA'. It shows they have responsibility for Europe, the Middle East and Africa - yet remarkably few of them ever give the ‘Africa' part of their remit any thought, let alone visit it.
This is a serious oversight: Africa is a vast and untapped market, with a population of 800 million and an average GDP per capita of $684 (£362). Africa can be compared with China (1.3 billion people and $780 GDP) and India (1.1 billion people and $440 GDP).
Some African countries have enormous problems. It is this mix of needs and opportunities that makes managing comms critical to such a range of organisations: businesses seeking markets; charities or NGOs that see Africa as a mission; and companies wanting to operate as global corporate citizens, whether or not they are exploiting Africa as a market or source.
However, the continent is an extraordinarily difficult area in which to plan and manage communications.
Barriers to union
‘Africa' does not actually exist: it is a group of 53 states, ranging from prosperous Egypt to impoverished Angola, and from landlocked Chad to the Atlantic island state of São Tomé e Príncipe.
Beyond this issue, the development of a true sense of African-ness, and closer economic, social or political union between its countries and peoples, is hampered by five barriers.
First is the lack of physical infrastructure. As many countries' roads spread beyond the provinces, they degrade, often to little more than tracks. Trade and other contact is likely to be within national borders, or extra-continental, than between neighbouring countries.
This relates to the second barrier: cost. Most Africans cannot afford to fly, and hence are unable to travel far.
This, in turn, contributes to the third barrier: a profound, mutual ignorance of different cultures. It is very difficult for someone to acquire a real knowledge and understanding of just one or two of the countries that border their own, let alone all 53 ‘African' countries.
The fourth barrier - language - compounds this. South Africa alone has at least 11 recognised official languages; Nigeria has more than 390 dialects. Linguistic chaos is often the norm.
The fifth barrier is differential economics. Put simply, South Africa can afford a global ad campaign to build its national brand, and attract investment and tourism; Ghana cannot.
Clearly, organisations that want or need to use comms in African countries face huge challenges in deciding where and how to invest. As a guide, Gyroscope has developed the Africa Communications Index (ACI), a composite index giving a measure of the extent to which PR and corporate comms can be planned and managed in a given country, and the extent to which they can be effective in delivering messages to target audiences.
Factors within the ACI include ease of access to trained (or trainable) PR staff; the presence and development of a professional body for the comms industry; and the range and reach of media for editorial comms.
Unsurprisingly, South Africa and Egypt have the highest ACIs (89 and 81 respectively, with a maximum possible ACI of 100). The next group - Nigeria (75); Kenya (69); Uganda (67) and Ghana (62) - are countries with long-established economies and fairly robust media and educational systems. They are followed by Mauritius (52) and Botswana (50), where tiny populations, and tourism and mining dollars, have created relative wealth and stability.
A fourth group includes Algeria (50), Morocco (46), Tunisia (44) and, perhaps, Namibia (43): relatively wealthy countries, with tourist economies and a reasonable capacity for effective comms activity.
Then there are the troubled countries such as Mozambique (26), Ethiopia (22) and Chad (22), in which comms structures are weak or virtually non-existent.
Each country's ACI can be analysed against factors including the World Economic Forum's Growth Competitiveness Index (GCI). This is also a composite index, including factors such as the country's technological development; its public institutions; and macro-economic indicators.
This analysis shows a subtle but distinct relationship between rising ACI and rising GCI. This is not wholly surprising, but of real importance to the PR industry nonetheless. It underlines that countries cannot develop without an effective comms industry, and that an effective comms industry boosts social and economic growth.
The comms industry is developing rapidly, if unevenly, throughout Africa. Its benefits will be seen particularly in second or third-tier countries such as Gambia, Tanzania and Zambia, which currently have a low ACI but steadily improving PR education, training and professional standards; and a reasonably honest and accessible media.
Commentators on Africa are often described as either ‘Afro-optimist' or ‘Afro-pessimist', according to whether or not they think the continent's problems are solvable.
Gyroscope believes communicators with an interest in Africa should be Afro-optimists; they should proceed with caution, but with a sense of hope and purpose. The industry will continue to develop throughout Africa, and will contribute to the continent's wider social and economic development.
Tom Wells is MD of Gyroscope, whose report, ‘PR Landscape of Africa', will be available free, later this month, at www.gyroscopeconsultancy.com.