PR Should Lead in Marketing Communication Efforts- Bolaji Abimbola, MD Integrated Indigo Limited


What is Integrated Indigo?

Integrated Indigo is a marketing communications consultancy founded to offer public relations, events management and experiential marketing services for clients.

It was established by fresh thinkers who felt there is a paradigm shift in the practice of public relations, especially with the growing influence of social media and internet penetration and that there should be an approach that will work with the integration of the new and old media.


With regards to the name, Indigo is the name of a colour and is imbedded in the Yoruba tradition of tie and dye. Public relations is image making, synonymous with taking old clothes and turning them to new with colours. Integrated means we fuse public relations, events management and experiential marketing together.


Integrated Indigo’s vision and mission

Integrated Indigo’s vision is very clear and is encapsulated in our five-year plan which simply states that we want to be in the A-League of the new generation public relations and marketing communication agencies, not only in Nigeria, but in Anglophone West Africa. And our mission is to be a priceless extension of the marketing communication department of our clients.


Why Integrated Indigo sees itself as an extension of clients’ marketing communications department

Except some large organizations, blue chip companies and multinationals, how many companies can actually employ a wide array of experts in marketing communications? The reason agencies exist in the first place is because companies want to outsource. So we must be seen beyond being just an agency that sees the client as different.


If a company is working with an agency, that agency naturally becomes an internal public of that company. So our client is our internal public and we want him to see us as same. We want to be part of their marketing communication department so that the relationship is not really the conventional client/agency relationship. We want to hold their hands, we want to work together. It’s not a situation where clients just send us briefs and say we want to do this. We want to think with them and say “let’s reason together, what if we do it this way?”


The convention is that agencies wait for clients to generate written briefs. For us, there’s nothing stopping us from coming up with a brief and sending it to the client. The client would then make some input, suggestions and the brief is good to go.


What makes Integrated Indigo stand out from other public relations agencies?

Integrated Indigo has the youngest crop of highly skilled professionals. We are passionate. We are wired to adapt to changes. We are determined to challenge the status quo because we want to see things from all sides.


There are three sides to every issue – your side, my side and the truth. That’s our approach to our work. We want to see the client side, our side and in-between the client’s point of view and what we think, strike a balance and know what we should do. That is actually what is working for us – our passion, speed and most often than not, we under-promise and over-deliver.


Perception of public relations

At the launch of the Nigeria PR Report, there was this issue about other service providers eating our lunch. What this implies is that other service providers are taking over the job of public relations and so public relations is relegated to the background.


Oftentimes, people equate public relations with media relations which should not be. Media relations is just one component of public relations. In Nigeria, an average marketing manager will love to see his story in the papers. And that for him is more valuable than the advisory services offered that can save the company a lot of issues in terms of its perception out there.


Public relations involves advisory and other services such as crisis management, crisis communication, investors relations, community relations and all these factors are expandable beyond media relations.


There is no good story for a public relations man to tell without a fantastic event. And the event itself is another activity that the client embarks on like activation. They are actually part of the entire gamut of storytelling of the brand. So if you leave events in the hands of other people, you will have no control on the entire storytelling for that organization or client.


What arm of marketing communications should lead in a communication campaign?

Most of the communication campaigns one sees internationally are PR-led because public relations is like the Air Force in the military set up. There is no country that goes to war fighting with its foot soldiers first, or the Navy. It’s not done. In most communication needs, public relations should take the lead. So it is from the public relations idea that advertising would take its learning, that events would take its learning, that experiential would take its learning. Because everything is about communication, everything is about the image of the brand.


There are some cultural nuances that are very sensitive to the people. You must observe them. For example, if you give some crazy experiential company the freewill to do activation, they will go out there using girls in their bikinis to promote your brand. That would send a negative perception to the public. It would create a crisis and the client would then come back to public relations. Even if the public relations agency is not handling those beats for you as an organization, for you to take any decision on those aspects, your public relations agency must be seated to tell you the public relations implications, liabilities or plus that will come with that thing you are doing. That way, you are able to gate-keep and prevent problems. So public relations is everything because image is everything.


Image is a perception game and you must constantly be on top of your game. Everything you do as a brand, actions and inactions, especially now that consumers are very knowledgeable, sophisticated, well-informed, must be well-managed to avoid a backlash. If you do anything perceived as negative, the social media is there to pick it up and you will be in serious trouble.


The job of public relations is actually to shape perception for advertising to sell. Until the ground is soften, until public relations wets the ground, advertising will find it difficult to sell.


How the different arms of marketing communications should operate

Some clients have marketing communication agencies that never get to work together. The public relations agencies work with corporate communications, the creative agencies work with marketing, the experiential agencies work with media departments and they are all working in isolation. Meanwhile, these services are supposed to be working towards the same goal.


It is important for brand owners to see that there is actually strength in collectivity and it is better to work together. They should also put the figures behind and look at the task because they always see agencies as looking out for the money. When you put the money first, before the idea, you will not actually see the potentials of the idea.


There are ideas that have won millions of impressions on Facebook that cost less than five dollars. For example, the Olajumoke thing is good PR for her. She did a CSR, impacting on the life of somebody and that has become a good PR for her.


Some core challenges facing the PR industry

As a public relations consultant, the biggest challenge is that the place of public relations in the entire marketing communications gamut is not yet totally appreciated. Organizations earmark less than one-fifth of total marketing communications budget for public relations.


Meanwhile, if they actually budget just one-fifth of the entire marketing communications budget for public relations, public relations will deliver more value than the entire four-fifth of marketing communications.


Another challenge is accepting the fact that public relations should be a management function. In many situations, you find the public relations person carrying the files of the CEO whereas the CEO should actually be relying on the public relations person because at the end of the day, when the CEO goes somewhere and does something that will bring down the organization, they come to public relations.


Who is responsible for this low esteem of public relations? Practitioner or client?

It’s both ways. We have our own fair share of the blame in terms of how we position ourselves. If you don’t find relevance for yourself, nobody is going to create relevance for you. You cannot buy respect. You must earn it. And before you can earn your respect, you must be up and doing; you must be active, otherwise you will mess yourself up.


The client also needs to look at it from the flip side and see how organizations are run in other parts of the world. Especially in our present economic situation, this is the time organizations should re-think and do more of public relations and spend less on other aspects of marketing communications.


So I would not say it’s all the fault of the practitioner or the client. Rather we should have a forum where we actually sit down together to discuss issues and have a mid-point and work together.


Way out

If every client in Nigeria spends one-fifth of marketing communications budget on public relations, the one-fifth will help the four-fifth to deliver far better. For instance, a telecom comes up with an idea that for every recharge, it will donate 10% to internally displaced persons (IDPs). What that will tell the consumer anytime he recharges his phone is that he is contributing money to the IDPs. And if when you recharge, you get a text message that says “you have recharged with N500, you have contributed N50 to IDPs.” What advertising message can be that compelling? What other message can be that impactful?


We need to see public relations practitioners as not just those guys who put stories on papers. Everything we do in marketing communications is actually storytelling and there is no storyteller better than a public relations person. And a well-written public relations story for a brand has a far more reaching effect than a full page ad. Because at the end of the day, it is possible for one to read through a newspaper and miss the same full page ad of a particular brand.


An example. If Stanbic IBTC had used Olajumoke as a model for a conventional advertising before now, one is likely to miss the advertising. But because the narrative of that campaign is public relations-led, you can now relate to it. You must have read the story of Olajumoke and have seen her picture as an ambassador, so you can connect with the brand.


In every organization, the head of public relations should be seen as a management staff so that when decisions are being taken, he is there to present the public relations perspective. That way, there will be greater respect for the practice.


So public relations persons should not be seen carrying the briefcases of CEOs. In very activity of the CEO, the public relations person must be there, not as an addendum, but as playing a strategic role. For instance, it is the job of the public relations person to prepare the speech of the CEO because you cannot write a fantastic speech like a public relations person because it is about storytelling.

Culled from Adnews Magazine