Fifty-four countries, one heartbeat

In a dusty corner sits a drum, a piece of decor. Long gone are the days it was used to celebrate good news, signal war and accompany stories passed from one generation to the next. There isn’t another symbol so truly African, that unites us and inspires emotion. Every African country has its own drum, its own beat and own story to tell. It’s time that we dust off the cobwebs, start to beat the drum in unison and tell the African story.

Storytelling and changing the narrative of Africa was again the central theme at this year’s African Public Relations Association (APRA) conference hosted in Kigali, Rwanda. The conversation and debate inspired the almost 200 delegates representing 15 African countries.

We, as Reputation Matters, were thrilled to again be part of the conference. We contributed to the future narrative and Africa’s reputation by conducting research about ethics and reputation on the continent. This was the second year that we conducted and presented the research. We received insights from 225 CEO executives, directors, senior management and public relations (PR) individuals across Africa, this is still not enough data to draw enough of a comparison between the countries and regions. However, it was important to underpin and highlight the importance that research plays when it comes to communication and how it should contribute to building PR strategies and plans. If you don’t have a measure in place, you will not know whether you are achieving your goals.

I caught up with Yomi Badejo-Okusanya after the conference, to share his insights from the week. Not only has he been the President of APRA since 2016, he is also the Group Chief Executive Officer for Nigerian based CMC Connect, perception managers. He is also an advocate for all things PR, spreading awareness about the importance of PR on a local, national, continental and global level. He is passionate about elevating the image of PR and the value it adds on the African continent, as well as the impact we have at global level. It has been his mission to bring African PR into the mainstream of global PR practice.

Each year, the APRA conference is hosted in a different African country. What made you decide to host it in Rwanda this year?

There is no better example of a country that has changed its narrative and working in unison than Rwanda.

What was the main objective of this year’s conference?

There were two trajectories. Firstly, to expand the influence of PR. Public relations, especially African PR, has not PR’d itself well. It is time that the gap between PR professionals and stakeholders are narrowed and that the true value of our profession is recognized. PR practitioners often sell themselves short. Lawyers and engineers bill for all their hours; there is no reason PR practitioners shouldn’t do so either. It’s time that we draw attention to PR and the value that we hold.

The second objective was to equip and empower our delegates with knowledge and tools that they can then implement when they get back to the office.

What are the three key take homes for you from the APRA conference?

We are not too far from where the global practitioners are; we are faced with the same challenges.

Building consensus and professional practices on the continent are key.

We need to start practising what we preach. There is a huge appetite for capacity building and for PR in Africa. We need to continually redefine, reinvest and challenge modern day practices.

Rwanda has managed to rebuild its reputation. For other countries to follow suit, what is the first thing they need to do?

Without a doubt, it comes down to the leadership, no question.

Three things shared during a panel discussion during the conference about the image of Rwanda included:

1.    Umuganda days, which translates to coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome. This is something that happens on the last Saturday of every month. Every single able-bodied person between the age of 18 and 65, including the president and cabinet members, participates. Two hours are dedicated to cleaning up; afterwards the community sits together and discusses the vision of the country.

2.    Every person in power makes their performance agreement public. If they don’t meet their objectives, they are fired. They are accountable to the people and if they don’t meet their targets, they understand that they will be dismissed.

3.    Media played an incredibly negative role to incite violence during the genocide of 1994. Today, the media isn’t supressed, but understandably, it is controlled to avoid repeating the past.

The Reputation Matters research also showed the important role that CEOs need to play and how fundamental values and ethics for a good reputation.

The research found that there is a disconnect between how top management (CEO’s and directors) perceive ethics and reputation versus junior and senior managers: top management scored their organisations’ ethical practices 12% higher than junior and senior managers did.

Also, leaders need to be the example in all activities, and ethics should be the driving force in all decisions. Now, more than ever before, leaders of countries have the responsibility to lead by example in order to influence the narrative and drive the way that stories are told on the African continent. Ethics should be part of every individual’s, organisation’s and country’s DNA and needs to be communicated from the top down, on all levels, in order to have a positive effect on storytelling.

Furthermore, leaders should become the custodians of ethics and reputation, which will in turn have a positive impact on the narrative of the African continent. It is vital to enhance Africa’s narrative, as this will have a positive impact on the continent’s reputation. This will ultimately impact the story that comes from Africa that will stimulate foreign investment and tourism, which is the catalyst for economic growth.

Finally, the APRA conference needs to be on the agenda of all CEOs to attend. PR cannot work in isolation and needs leaders’ understanding and support, and in this way getting practitioners and leadership to build consensus of PR practice to build better businesses. 

What do you think the biggest myth is that people in the PR industry need to contend with?

I would say that the biggest myth is the unimportance of investing in research the role of data to help tell the story.  

Reputation Matters walked away with two SABRE Africa awards for measurement and evaluation for the work that they do with the Institute of Waste Management (IWMSA); they have been using the data and insights from the stakeholders to refine the key messages per stakeholder group. They have helped the IWMSA to increase their membership numbers by 5% each year. So, there is certainly a link between research, building reputations and seeing a positive impact on the bottom line. 

If our leaders work together to drive ethics and reputation on the continent, we cannot help but move forward in the global economy.

There is a lovely African proverb: “if the rhythm of the drum beat changes, the dance step must adapt”. Fifty four countries, one beat: isn’t it is time that we all start beating the drum and change the story of Africa?

Credit: Regine le RouxReputation Matters

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