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Public relations in Africa - growth and challenges

Growth and development in the communications industry continues to rise in all sectors of the market. Public Relations firms are reaping the benefits of the move towards digital and social media activity, with over 70% of consultancies reporting that these are the main drivers for growth. This is especially true for the African market where opportunities are expanding as the economy in the region continues to strengthen and grow.
Jacqueline Boulos
Jacqueline Boulos
The World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects report lists six African nations in the top 13 countries around the world with the highest projected compounded annual growth rate from 2014 to 2017. This kind of growth along with the associated interest and increased investment from local and international companies will undoubtedly create a greater need for quality Public Relations and communications on the continent.

The effect of this is already being seen with global agencies moving away from just having associates in these countries to opening fully fledged offices to allow them to operate more efficiently and effectively. For example, last year well known agency Hill+Knowlton opened an office in the key West African market of Nigeria.

The success of these agencies however does not end with having a presence in Africa, it is about ensuring that they are able to understand and adapt to the needs of these markets.

Too often agencies try to mirror what they do in their home market in another market – simply changing the media list and angle but otherwise keeping everything else the same, only to find that success is limited and not lasting.

Localisation does not merely mean including some local facts, quoting local representatives and adding a bit of local ‘flavour’, but rather attempting to truly understand how the media and business landscape work in order to correctly position the brand and build a local business reputation.

To understand how the politics, geographical location, religion, cultural backgrounds and even the weather influence communication and your strategy is true localisation. Each market (broken down into various regions) has its own personality and rules of engagement and needs to be understood and adhered to if one wants to establish a credible presence in the market.

The other challenge is finding the kind of good local communications talent that is needed to create and deliver good communications strategies and campaigns. New media skills, sophisticated content development, crisis communications and effective social media strategies are all required. This kind of talent may not be immediately available and may need to be trained and nurtured.

This includes new media and social media skills which are critical nowadays as digital media continues to be the fastest driver for growth.

Ironically despite the impression that Africa lags the rest of the world when it comes to technology, mobile marketing is massive on the continent. This is due to high mobile usage and access to desktop computers is comparatively low. Further more mobile penetration is increasing all the time which presents public relations and communications companies with massive opportunities. Mobile marketing is no longer seen as an add-on but rather as an essential platform for reaching target audiences, especially the rapidly growing and digitally connected under 35 middle-class demographic.

Having said this, traditional media should not be ignored as many companies still want traditional coverage in print and broadcast as well. Agencies therefore need to be able to combine print and cutting-edge digital skills to satisfy their clients’ expectations.

It is also a good option to look for an agency to partner with – one that is already operating in the local market and therefore has contacts and knows the local industry, taking into consideration that it is important to create a real partnership where knowledge and experience is shared rather than one dominating the other.

Regardless of how the challenges and opportunities for Public Relations agencies are addressed, Africa represents an exciting and fresh opportunity for agencies, which are willing to adapt and approach the market strategically.

About Jacqueline Boulos

Jacqueline Boulos is the owner of Innocomm public relations consultancy.

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