Agencies of the
future need to understand how businesses are changing and new demands for
public relations. As a young man, I knew I had to do communications to
influence people. I had dreams about agencies and corporate affairs departments
and these dreams came to reality. I have started living the flamboyant life of
the people in PR; and I also got into the nitty-gritty of the profession. I
also found out that the annual billing in the profession is shrinking.

I would like to
share some of my observations of how this has come about and the future of PR
industry. With the way PR is practised, if care is not taken, it can become
morbid. I used to have a lecturer that said PR has gone morbid. But my thoughts
and with present realities on ground, I would say it is very much alive, but
some things need to be put in place.

Structures need
to be developed to allow specialists to thrive. According to a recent survey of
top PR employers in the UK, findings show that the candidates with
certifications in PR were less attractive to employ. Bringing this to Nigeria,
how many agencies or corporate affairs departments make it mandatory for their
staff to be Nigerian Institute of Public Relations certified? Not many.

The PR industry
has been prone to poaching. As soon as new talents are discovered, you find
people from banks, fast moving consumer goods and telecommunications industry
taking away bright talents. Today, many of the marketing functions established
in telecoms, FMCGs, and banks are manned by people who have left PR agencies.
So there is huge challenge of constantly discovering new talents. Thus, if
proper structures are put in place, PR can blossom.

Agencies need to
also invest in skilled practitioners and even train students on long term basis
so they will be well equipped to practice the profession. PR schools can be set
up within various agencies to give people first-hand experience. Even if there
are schools in Nigeria, how many are there?

Today, many
companies are setting up in-house departments in order to cut expenses they pay
to agencies. Many clients now have creative and production departments; thereby
making it difficult for PR agencies to survive. So if agencies want to be
relevant, they have to add value to what they do and make sure there is return
on investment for the client.

This brings us to
the question more PR professionals shy away from – Are advertising and digital
industries eating the launch of PR and threatening its future? Well, I don’t
think so. But in looking at so many briefs from clients, I found that most
times the advertising budget is usually more than PR’s budget; if you agree
with me? But except in rare cases where the client does not have much spending
power; they tend to use wholly PR. PR people thus need to know to handle the
competition with digital and advertising. They have to know how to use digital
advertising in their PR strategies.

PR people need to
start celebrating themselves. How many awards for PR do we have in this
country? Not many. We have to celebrate our ideas, especially the ones that are
conceptualized originally by the Nigerian agency. So, if PR is to truly
compete, the PR ideas need to be showcased and celebrated. Sometimes briefs
from clients would show the advertising campaign done in other countries and
they tell the Nigerian PR agency to do media relations from the advertising
idea. By this, PR is giving so called competitors a PR platform to show their
creative brilliance. Although brilliant creative ideas can come from anywhere
and it is what you do with that idea within your discipline that makes the
award winning difference.

Here, an
integrated PR campaign is advised. With this, there will be brilliant sales for
the client and brilliant creativity. The PR industry must embrace change and
learn how to work for clients. In 2011, the total billings of the top 15 UK PR
and AD agencies: £540 million versus £3billion. Also, Stephan Loerke, Managing
Director of World Federation of Advertisers noted that world advertising spend
in 2010 was $700 billion. The figures have been rising between 3 per cent and
10 per cent in the last 10 years. Nigeria, according Media Facts, a journal
from Media Reach OMD put advertising spend at N102.75 billion Naira in 2010.
The advertising and creative industries are not going anywhere – advertising is
also not dead but very alive.

Agencies have to
include digital and be more creative in their deliverables. Where PR needs to
be is in the digital space. They have to be in the areas of social news content
creation and activation; influence relations; social intelligence, that is,
listening and analytics through news and community; and social customer
relations management. Today, we have moved from the TV industry to the digital
and social industry. This has injected massive growth into all creative
industries. PR people should further equip themselves and be in tune with
modern technologies. In fact, what digital content managers say is that one
does not have to be a professional PR person to use the internet. So, we as PR
practitioners have an obligation to put professional touches to our works using
the digital space.

The persistent
parade of new technologies is unfolding on many fronts. Almost every technology
advance is billed as a breakthrough, and ends up in the list of “next big
things” for communications. Not every emerging technology will alter the
business or social landscape—but some truly do have the potential to alter the
way people live and work, and rearrange value pools. PR professionals thus need
to use technologies to their advantage.

If I may ask, is
there vision, energy or commitment to tackle what these mentioned effects mean
for the industry? Collaboration is therefore needed to create more detailed
approach with measurable actions and outcomes. The NIPR is going to elect
another chairman and I hope they will elect the one that has vision, energy and
commitment to challenge the huddles ahead for the industry.