Ayeni Adekunle is the Founder /CEO of Black House Media, a member of BHM Group. Black House media is a full-fledged digital and traditional Public Relations Agency working from Lagos in Nigeria. Mr. Ayeni studied Microbiology from the University of Ibadan and practiced journalism for 15 years before setting up his PR practice about nine years ago.
Ayeni granted this interview in aid of an academic research – qualitative survey - which focuses on the assessment of the Public Relations industry in Nigeria questioning the adequacy of training and resource available to practitioners. He takes liberty to draw vivid examples and case studies from his BHM. Excerpts published below provide some instructive assessments and lessons for practitioners and students of PR in particular and marketing in general.
You studied Microbiology and practiced journalism, what course (s) did you take to qualify you to lead this organization?
I am a chattered member of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, a global affiliate of the Chattered Institute of Public Relations in the UK. I'm also a member of the Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria and I have attended almost every training that you can count as concerns social media, digital media marketing and PR in Nigeria, the UK and in the United States of America. The most important training that prepared me for a strong aspect of PR, which is Media Relations, is my years of experience and strong background in journalism.
What in your view is the relevance of training and development programs by PR professional bodies?
In Nigeria, I'm aware of the PRCAN master class, which I think is very important. We rose from our extraordinary general meeting this past week and part of our resolution was the importance of that particular training and how we need to take it seriously. I have also attended at least one by the NIPR, so I think it is very relevant in terms of understanding where the practice is. I remember also my Diploma in Public Relations from B.E.E.C which is trying to understand the relevance of PR, the ethics of the practice itself and the basic A to Z. That is to talk about Nigeria, but globally what I find when you attend trainings abroad is you understand trends and development and you can plot what the future of the profession is. You can tell which tools are relevant to the profession and how you can apply them to your business and also help your clients solve their problems.
How will you describe PR consultancy in Nigeria?
It's a mix for me. It's good and bad. Good because we are doing so much great work. I see agencies doing amazing work even with near zero budgets. I see agencies doing very good stuff. I see young people coming on board, I see what the future of the industry will be like. I can imagine where we were as an agency five/six years ago and I see where we are today. I picture all the young agencies I see now, all the young consultants I come across everyday and I imagine where they will be in few years, so it’s good. It owes a lot of promise for us as practitioners and also for the brands we work for.
It's bad because we are not telling our own stories the way we should be telling it. We are almost non-existent within the global scope of Public Relations, which is sad. We need to build case studies that will tell our own stories better. We need to elevate PR practice and even the association itself to a chattered association status. Those who work in public organisations will tell you the discrimination they face as compared to their contemporaries who are accountants and all of that. I think we have a lot of work to do in terms of getting recognition for the profession, in terms of being able to tell our own stories and being able to elevate our industry to where it should but in terms of practice, I think we are doing very well. I think we are going very fast in terms of adopting global best practices.
Are these training adequate for PR Consultants?
No! Absolutely no! Not in Nigeria. We need a lot of platforms for training and retraining, we need more workshops. I'm aware PRCAN is working on this. I am aware individual agencies are working in that line too, for instance, this is the first time I will say this to anybody outside the organization. As an agency, Black House Media, we are kicking off our own training series. I think it is extremely important to train people that are currently working, to provide training for students of Mass Communication, Communication & Languages Art and similar courses who may come out of school and practice Public Relations. It is important to train people who manage the brands we work for. In terms of training and capacity building, I don't even think we are scratching the surface yet but I know that just as Black House Media and PRCAN are working towards that, a lot other agencies are thinking in that direction.
Has this inadequate training contributed to consultant's performance on Client's briefs?
I wouldn't exactly look at it that way. I wouldn't exactly indict the practitioners in terms of performance. Like I said, we have done very great jobs. When we launched the BHM App last year, part of our intentions was to create a platform that can document some of the works we do in this industry and I have seen a lot of great works. If you are going to rate the performance you've got to put it in perspective - budget, scope and set deliverables.
Are we where we should be yet? No. Are we doing good work? Yes. Are there agencies that are not doing good stuff? May be. But what training will do is to help us do even greater jobs and keep our talents. The most brilliant people who should remain in PR just like in journalism, have moved to the client side where there is more exposure and better compensation. At Black House Media, for example, we place priority on three things and it is as a result of knowing that, yes we think we are doing great jobs but we want to do better. We place priority on Compensation, Capacity building and Convenience. Like I said it's because we think we are doing well, but we want to do better, because the Nigerian PR agencies and I use Black House Media as a case study, is not bench marking against the average Nigerian or South African agencies, we are benchmarking against global agencies, so for example: a Christian will ask 'What will Jesus do? We will ask what will Edelman do? What will the top 10 agencies in America do, how will they approach this? We won't say their budget is in million dollars and we don't have as much. We will say within the limit of our circumstances, how we can do such great work that will resonate globally?
How will you describe the relationship between agencies and clients in Nigeria compared to other climes?
The only relationship between agency and client I know is the one in Nigeria, I have not experienced such in Dubai, America or China. I will use Black House Media as an example, we have partners not clients. In nine years, we have not had a cause to fight one client. The reason is that we've found people whose business we understand, appreciate and add value to. In return, we've found people who understand us, appreciate us and have added value to us as individuals and as an organization. What I think is that PR agencies need to tell their own story better, understand the client's brand better so we can add more value to the client and they can respect us more.
If I use my experience, I will say the relationship has been fantastic but I know it's not the same experience for every PR agency. I know also that it seems like the advertising agencies or the media agencies have a better relationship than the PR agencies so we need to be able to justify more the value we bring to the table in terms of ideas and measurement. PR is supposed to be an umbrella under which there should be experiential, media and advertising but as it is, PR is subsumed under advertising. So I don't think the relationship is bad but for it to be better than it currently is, we need to do more and show in clear terms what we bring to the table.
Would you say the PR Practice in Nigeria is based on a sound theoretical background?
Yes, for those who have studied and have the training. I didn't go for formal PR training until about after my initial five years in practice because once you are a journalist, you feel, after all I've done this forever what other training do I need? When I got to the class room, I realized I didn't have the theoretical background, so I think to a large extent, yes. Dr Phil Osagie who ran the first PR agency in Nigeria is a visiting lecturer at the Lagos Business School today. However, I dare say that PR has moved beyond the theory of practice to understanding demographics, psychographics, Information Technology, trends and sociology. Yes, the ethics and the formal training are instrumental to where we are today but the PR consultants that will survive the current tsunami we are in today are those who understand habits, who are hands on, who can look at a campaign and take lessons from it and apply to the next campaign. They won’t teach you that in school. To understand how the print media works, how broadcast media works, what impact the advent of social media is having on the profession and how we can use that knowledge to make our work better.
How does each of these positions affect the practice?
The theoretical aspect is like the seed that you plant. At Black House Media, we insist that to practice, you must have fundamental PR training. You must know the principle. It's like planting a seed, but you know for the seed to germinate, you must do some things, you have to water it, you have to get fertilizer and make sunlight available. I don't think they can be taken in isolation, in fact, if I have my way, I think the seed should be high breed seed. For example, PR people are not trained to do finance, meanwhile it is a very important aspect of our work. You must understand budgeting, billing, statistics, how do you measure to show what you bring to the table? I've worked with you for eighteen months this is where your share of voice and equity is. We must understand clearly and be able to state to clients, “this is the growth and this is what PR has contributed towards that growth”. The advertising and media guys are doing it. It's a bit more broaden that If I had my way, PR itself should be a stand-alone course that you introduce people to from primary to secondary. To round off on that point, whatever you do, whether you are the President of Nigeria, the governor of a state or the MD of a bank, I strongly think everybody must go through PR training at elementary and secondary levels.