Chief Executive Officer and Lead Strategist of AbsolutePR Limited, Akonte Ekine, says that corporate organisations usually see marketing communications units as cost centres and are quick to reduce their budget spends, but the reverse should actually be the case, if businesses must survive the competition and remain productive, he told EDU ABADE in this interview.
What have been the major challenges and prospects of brands and marketing space this last decade?
Let us start specifically with the scenarios of the last decade from health to economy. Within this period, we recorded recession and Ebola, which disrupted the country significantly. Within this period came the Corona Virus that we are all contending with now on a very large scale.
One critical reaction of marketing communications across board is the tendency for organisations seeing the department or business unit as cost centre, and therefore, quick to reduce budget spends, when ideally, the reverse should be the case.
The last decade to us specifically is a mixed bag of the good, the bad and the ugly since we started out, like life itself generally. We have been opportune to associate with great brands and we have been burnt by the kind of people and businesses we associated with. We are evolving from doing core FMCG business to more tech businesses and lifestyle brands.
The market is opening up again as the world comes to terms with COVID-19 and concept of new normal, as well as the dynamics of new consumer behaviour and media consumption pattern.
How rewarding has partnerships of local brands and marketing firms with their foreign counterparts been, especially in the 21st century?
Highly rewarding. The essence of partnerships with brands at local and foreign levels is to engender greater development and growth. Market penetration is the key goal of brands, from awareness to sales and winning in the battle for share of pocket. Notably, our partnerships are productive and we are glad to be associated with the various brands that trusted us with their work. As of today, we have four telecommunications and technology partners that we are proud to say we contributed to their present market share. We are also involved in the management of Financial Communications for FinTech, while also working for Insurance Brand, as well as health and health technology brands.
While we celebrate our partners for trusting us, we also commend them for the bold initiatives, steps and directions they have taken in the market to build their brands with sustainable conversations with various stakeholders in the market.
As a firm, we have been able to consistently express our local understanding of the market, the people and the environment in developing business strategies for the benefits of the brands.
Are there new frontiers to explore in the Public Relations space, especially for promising firms like Absolute PR Limited?
Let me state that when we started out, we said to ourselves that we will not be friend of the status quo and since then have always tried to evolve through deliberate actions towards ensuring that we are not the same in our actions and output. We seek opportunities to be different in our actions and work. We are associated with dynamic brands; our desire is to remain as young and dynamic as possible in the management of our clients’ businesses. There are series of potentials from the way the world is reshaping itself through health and environmental challenges such as climate change. We are adapting to the new challenges and proffering solutions within our competence, as a firm of experts.
Beyond names, logos and colours, how has big brands fared in keeping their promises to their consumers?
Now, it is important to note that customers of these brands are different set of people with different needs, so I will say from a general point of view that the reason you have classified them as big is because you have subconsciously accepted that they are doing well to a certain degree. The ease of recall of the name alone is a pointer that they delivered certain level of values that could enable you refer to them with ease and I will like us to leave it like that. That is because satisfaction is relative when you talk about customer satisfaction quotient in a particular market category. So, keeping promises is what these brands attempt to do daily and I think you are right to score them high with the ease of recall.
What are your recommendations for a more robust and viable marketing communications and Public Relations practice in Nigeria?
We must continue to work together as experts. We need to encourage the structures that the founding fathers have established to flourish with appropriate support. Like everything else in the country, we need to ensure that institutions are allowed to function as expected so that structures will take the right shape within the society for us all to have a strong and viable practice. At the end of the day, if we all follow the rules and regulations guiding the profession, we will have that robustness that seems to be elusive.
What, in your opinion, are the most challenging aspects of managing COVID-19 pandemic from the marketing communications and Public Relations perspective?
Let me start by commending the government, particularly, the Presidential Task Force and the Ministry of Health for the daily conversation to bring the country up to speed in understanding the situation, as well as daily educating the public on personal safety in relation to COVID-19.
I think the most challenging situation is probably at the early stage of the pandemic where it was a major challenge for members of the public, particularly getting the people in the rural area to accept the news. Personal and research findings showed clearly the issue of acceptance of the message, which is a fundament problem in our environment due to the difficulty in believing the government or its officials. And it is still there, if you visit some communities across the country, they don’t seem to accept the reality of COVID-19, which boils down to people speaking and how they are engaging the various segment of society.
It took the government quite some time within the period to adapt messages to local languages and even at that, the issues that came out from stored items didn’t help the conversation. What I am saying is simply that in management of such crisis the dynamics of the conversation should not only be transparent, but also evidential for the public to have a level of trust in the message and the messenger.
Are there lessons to be learnt by practitioners and governments from the pandemic experience?
Oh yes, we are seeing the new behaviour of people, we are seeing how citizens absorb messages and respond or react, we are even seeing the power of citizens journalism. It is a situation that confirms the new power of the consumer in every narrative. Once upon a time, you could just drop your message, but now you need the message to be driven by the consumer. The lessons are endless depending what you are looking for but most importantly it is that we have same measure of power now in expressing our minds.
One of the most excruciating experiences for PR practitioners is trying to persuade consumers with advertisement during economic downturn. How has Nigeria’s harsh economic reality affected operations of your sector, especially under this dispensation?
It will always be there as a challenge because what is important to one person, may not be so to the other and so, the work is about making people shift perspective of importance to make purchase decision. Now in the middle of the various economic challenges there will be scale of preference and the work of the expert is to be able to make the list of preference of the consumer within certain period. We can continuously drive messages to get the consumer to have recall within the time of need, we have to remain creative in dropping our messages to ensure visibility at touch points such that when he or she wants to make decision within the time frame that brand is in focus as a solution provider. At the end of the day, within the harsh economy we must sustain our conversation to win the mind of the consumer for the product.
What innovations can industry regulators like NIPR and others bring to bear on improving public Relations practice in Nigeria?
I think the regulators are doing the best they can within the ecosystem to sanitise the industry. They can also be more creative in ensuring that the practice is as modern, as possible as things evolve and situation changes, especially with technology.