Campaign: Launch of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance
Client: Mo Ibrahim Foundation
PR teams: Portland and in-house
Timescale: Mid-September to mid-November
Budget: Undisclosed, but estimated to be in the region of £75,000
Telecoms entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim set up his eponymous foundation two years ago to promote good governance and support leadership in sub-Saharan Africa. It publishes the Index, a study compiled each year by Harvard University on the state of governance in Africa, charting progress in areas such as road building and adult literacy rates.
The foundation also awards the high-profile US$5m Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, awarded annually to a former African head of state or government. The inaugural prize was won last year by the former President of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano. At the beginning of November, the 2008 winner was announced as Festus Mogae, former President of Botswana.
In September, Portland launched a campaign to boost the profile of the award, the Index and the foundation itself.
- To gain better recognition of the Index results, particularly in the African media
- To generate debate about governance issues in Africa.
Strategy and plan:
Groundwork for the campaign was lengthy because of the notoriously poor telephone links with African journalists. Many can only be reached on mobile phones.
Using the study results - which ranked 48 countries - Portland produced 48 targeted news releases.
A press conference to launch the Index in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, drew both print and broadcast media. Along with the help of the in-house team, Portland set up interviews with the foundation's board members. The findings were released on the day in Africa, but the news story had already been sent out and embargoed in Europe.
Eight Portland team members worked the phones for two days in London to brief the hundreds of African journalists who had been sent the news release.
The team had also placed advertisements on the launch day, announcing the news in 42 national newspapers in Africa to make sure the message got across.
Opinion pieces under Ibrahim's byline were placed in eight key African newspapers to follow up the launch.
Soon after the event, Portland organised a news conference in London's City Hall, where Kofi Annan announced Mogae was the 2008 winner.
As well as targeting the wire journalists, Portland set up interviews with all the major global broadcasters such as BBC and CNN and sold in Q&As with Ibrahim to 12 African newspapers.
Measurement and evaluation:
Newspapers, radio stations and websites in 32 African countries reported the Index launch story, including The Voice in Botswana, The Cameroon Link, Ghanaian Journal, and Madagascar Tribune. Pan-African news agencies and websites such as the African Press Association, Afrik.com and AllAfrica.com carried stories.
International media coverage included BBC News, Time magazine, The Independent, CNN and Le Figaro online.
The campaign resulted in debate on governance and leadership on radio station phone-ins, online and in letters pages of African newspapers.
A number of organisations across Africa are already using the Index as a tool to evaluate the performance of their governments and hold them to account, such as South Africa's opposition Democratic Alliance, which used its country's Index scores to highlight the government's record on security.
Sputnik Kilambi, media consultant at Contact FM, a radio station in Rwanda, says: 'We are trying to have a more pan-African perspective to our news so this was very relevant. We ran news pieces on the Index and the award.'
Marcus Smith, Head of internal comms, Weber Shandwick
At face value, you cannot lose with a project like this. Who could possibly oppose a philanthropic programme that seeks to advance the cause of good governance in Africa? What right-thinking person could be against such a lofty goal and what media outlet is going to turn down that story?
Except that things are never quite that simple, particularly when a key target is the African media. There are considerable challenges in first identifying the key individuals and then in connecting with them. When the challenge encompasses the placement of carefully timed advertisements in key African publications as well, then the obstacles are immense.
Which is what makes Portland's achievement all the more impressive. The agency committed significant resources to the project in order to reach out to many African journalists. And with the subsequent event in London - the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership - the agency showed the importance of engaging the influential Western media alongside the African so that this is positioned as a genuinely global story.
Western journalists still tend to concentrate on the negative stories about Africa: the civil wars, the famine, the corruption and the crime. They miss the fact that many African countries have made astonishing progress. Portland's success is in communicating a sense of this positivism across the broadest possible spectrum of media.