By Idorenyin Aquaisua
The recently concluded Round Table Discourse put together by the Akwa Ibom State Chapter of Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) on Thursday, September 29, 2016, in Uyo, could, for sundry weighty reasons, be largely appraised as seasonable, inventively unique and roundly instructive. This outlook, beyond other apparently essential considerations including: the timing of the event, the timeliness and import of its theme, the ingenuity and farsightedness of the Mrs. Elsie Udofia led leadership of NIPR Akwa Ibom State Chapter in organizing the event, and the array of outstanding cerebral minds that gathered to create form for the theme of the roundtable, is indisputably justified by the resourcefulness and rich intellectual contents of the Lead Discussant, Dr. Udeme Nana, a multi-dimensional and multi-faceted thinker, reputable for his peerless aptitude for creative initiatives.
However, it is arguable that the event could not have stimulated the ensuing generous dose of interests save for its theme – ‘Actualising Investment Opportunities in Akwa Ibom State through Public Relations’. This is premised on the grounds that given the popular perception about the traditional rudiments for creating investment, many nominal pundits and investment agents could have misconceived such a thematic construct as either selfishly ambitious or provocative. Or better still, controversial, unfeasible and an overt intrusion by Public Relations (PR) practitioners into a seemingly unfamiliar terrain. The Lead Presenter actually shared this concern when he observed that ‘some economists, finance experts, development scholars and professional in other fields may wonder about the relationship between public relations and investment opportunities or industrialisation.’
Nonetheless, it is edifying to observe that it has been the traditional business of PR, as a social phenomenon, to interface and moderate other social phenomena and institutions by facilitating or creating and maintaining cordial contact or relationships through mutual communication. Thus, there was nothing essentially controversial in the facilitation function of PR and its capacity to deliver save the object of facilitation championed by the Uyo roundtable – actualising investment opportunities. Be that as it may, the key burden on the discourse was not merely to determine the relevance of Public Relations to the actualisation of investment opportunities but more to examine the functionality of existing models and where necessary remodel or recreate a fitting and workable template that would ensure effective and efficient utilization of public relations tools for that purpose. This, obviously, was not a task for the ordinary intellect. And, the lead paper was, evidently, a rich intellectual mine that adequately discharged this burden.
A prelude to discussing issues concerning actualising investment opportunities would naturally require verifiable information on the source, availability and commercial value of the relevant material resources as well as the congenial quality of the prevailing social climate or investment environment. Thus, using investment information published in one of the commonly used public relations’ corporate item – the Diary, the lead paper approached the discourse not merely to underline the facts that Akwa Ibom State has: enormous economic resources that can hardly be outsourced; investment opportunities that are largely underutilized and the congenial atmosphere needed to drive meaningful investments, but to also establish a point of special contact or the link between public relations and the process of engineering consent for investment creation. In other words, the paper underscored the fact that investment information produced by the public relations arm of the government and published in a key public relations corporate item – Akwa Ibom State 2016 Diary, is a clear demonstration that public relations is a veritable tool for creating mutually beneficial communication that can fast track investments.
For copious reasons, the paper reproduced documented details of the unique resource endowments of Akwa Ibom State segmented into eight key industrial and fuel minerals and twenty agricultural resources spread across various locations in the state and further highlighted their industrial purposes and investment potentials as contained in the Akwa Ibom State 2016 Diary. From these efforts, it became discernable that the scope of information in the state diary has gone beyond the usual PR ‘gift-giving or a feel good activity or gesture’ to a deliberate activity to promote the unique resource endowments of the state.
Furthermore, the paper revealed that other corporate PR items including yearbooks have variously been used to generate positive perceptions about the unique resource endowments and investment potentials of the state. More so, that the capacity of these efforts to stimulate strategic interests for investment in the rich natural endowments of the state is measureable not only in their specialized style of presentation of strategic information but also the focus and intended purpose of such messages. Thus, as noticeable in yearbooks, state diaries and supplements on the state, PR efforts have deliberately been employed to variously dress the state as ‘a reservoir of wealth’, ‘a beautiful bride beckoning on tourists, investors in mineral resources and agro-based industries’, and to also highlight other defining features of the state including the ‘clement weather, exciting and splendid opportunities for leisure, investment and wealth creation, the hospitable disposition of its population, delectable cuisines, exotic culture, arts and craft’, as well as its exceptional coastline – the longest in Nigeria reputed for its ‘rich source for a wide variety of fishes and sea foods including barracuda, blue marlin, squid, sardine, croakers, shrimps, prawns, crayfish and oysters’.
Beyond this, it is gleaned that essential to the theme of the discourse was the primary need to properly situate Public Relations in a context that betrays or disabuses the seeming popular misconceptions about the mandates and focus of the profession. And as a seasoned Public Relations expert, the Lead Speaker, Dr. Nana, seamlessly addressed this need by properly situating Public Relations as ‘a philosophy and function focused at the engineering of consent among people, institutions, and organisations through mutually beneficial communication’. And in his element as a seasoned communicator and lecturer, he went beyond mere description to examine the functions of PR and traced the conditions that made PR possible to a situation painted in the 18th century book, “A Tale of the Hub” by the English Satirist, Jonathan Swift, who wrote: “whoever had an ambition to be heard in a crowd, must press, and squeeze, and thrust, and climb with indefatigable pains, till he has exalted himself to a certain degree of altitude above them”.
Perhaps, the artistic beauty of his scholarly height is better appraised from the magnificent altitude of the elevation from where the lead presenter, Dr. Nana, adopted a donnish perspective to effectively address issues of global significance. Thus, as a thinker, he pictured the global community as “a crowd”, ‘with more than 7 billion people in several continents, trade associations, unions and countries’. And in analyzing the content of this crowd, for the purpose of the discourse, he noted that ‘there is noise; there is competition; there is an urgent demand for trade and for investment and industrialization’. The wake-up call here is that these conditions provide various great opportunities for public relations to engineer and facilitate the needed trust and cooperation for meaningful investments. However, as an analytical scholar, his evaluation is that despite the strategic advantageous preconditions for success, ‘public relations efforts have not yielded the expected dividends so far largely because public relations practitioners are ‘still applying 20th century Public Relations models in the 21st century’. Pointedly, he listed: ‘the Public Relations model which he considered obsolete, blunt and outdated but which are still employed in attempts to attract investors as: The Research, Action, Communication, Evaluation (RACE) and Research, Information, Communication, Evaluation (RICE) and The Operational Matrix, Information, Public Affairs, Communication, Marketing (OP-Matrix ICPM) model…’.
As an ingeniously forward-looking intellectual, the way out is far from mere criticism. The situation demands a fitting solution and prompt action. Thus, in a bid to redeem the time, Dr. Nana presented to the PR profession a new model which he developed and aptly described as “Research and Development Action, Communication Campaign, Evaluation and Technology (RADACCET)’ with a guarantee that the ‘model is sharper, more all-encompassing and 21st century compliant’. Yet, the immensity of his resourcefulness need not be measured by this feat alone but more by his near endless capacity to evolve noble and innovative thoughts that could activate dormant talents and stimulate immeasurable force of creative aptitude in others.
Be that as it may, from an enviable pedestal as one time Director of Press Affairs and later Senior Special Assistant to Governors Victor Attah and Godswill Akpabio, respectively, Dr. Nana deeply understood the tremendous importance of effective publicity as a strategic PR activity. And, undeniably, there were in his perspectives that underlying demand for a paradigm shift from the commonplace or rather an expansion or modification of the focus of PR to enhance development communication. Thus, as a seasoned lecturer, he offered valued contributions to fine tune the various everyday public relations strategies and approaches employed by PR professionals to create and disseminate information intended to woo investors to the enormous investment opportunities in the state. To further this goal, he selflessly recommended ‘development publicity’ as ‘a veritable panacea for actualizing investment inflow into the state’. The development publicity model is designed to promote both the efforts by government and the governed. It ‘appeals to citizens to change for the better and showcases spectacular efforts and achievements which could inspire others to change their circumstances.’ To underscore the import of that model, the paper also conveyed a timely instruction that ‘no sensible investor will undertake a business trip to a location where its leaders and prospective business partners are perceived as corrupt, unworthy, lacking in credibility, integrity and competence’ and appealed to ‘journalists to move away from negative reportage which shows the state in bad light and profiles public functionaries negatively’.
Further than developing a model, certain critical issue needed to be addressed. And one of such was how PR personnel in government manage opportunities that could actualize investment in view of the enormous potentials and opportunities available in the state. Clearly, the paper admitted that many such opportunities are often created during special events which include trade fairs, investment expositions and match-making business meetings, business fora, special productivity awards etc., and enjoined the Chamber of Commerce and Industry to play a leading role in organizing these events. The paper further acknowledged that meeting between state chief executives or economic delegations often provide a special events to market economic and investment potentials of the states to investors. Reference was made of the recent visit by Governor Udom Emmanuel to China to shore up investment in the Ibaka Deep Seaport project as one key event that government PR agents could have utilized to actualise investment in the state. However, the question as to whether successive government media teams have often been equipped with the needed capacity to maximize the PR benefits of such special events was not strategically addressed. This could trigger the meet for another discourse. However, it is considered that Public Relations is a unique management function executed through planned and well coordinated actions to realize definable goals. Thus, the conventional reactionary media teams of successive government are manifestly not cut for such duties and are often bereft of the required capacity and needed professional PR acumen to discharge such duties. There is need to review this situation.
Additionally, the paper made a strong case for the corporate branding of the state to highlight its essential economic values and define or redefine its corporate uniqueness to attract investments. More so, in sync with the technological age and as an acknowledgment of the overbearing influence of digital communication and the social media on the global community, the paper postulated that ‘the world and particularly, the target groups of Public Relations efforts to actualize investment potentials are now digital citizens’. Wittingly, the paper emphasized the imperative for Public Relations practitioners to employ Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to promote information that would create investments. Perhaps, the point to stress here is that a precondition for achieving this is the recruitment of experts with the required competences, mental aptitude and creative focus to maximize the vast capabilities of the digital media platforms to achieve optimal results. Thus, rather than assemble a routine of appointees basically on political considerations or as political compensation, there is a compelling need for government to refocus on the relevant competences and productivity of those appointed into publicity and PR positions.
Nothing could have conclusively served a timely lesson than the well-worded instruction in the discourse on the need for evaluation – a deliberate effort by government and PR professionals to assess or re-assess what has been done with a view to judging effectiveness. That ‘critical evaluation will help establish where to go, who to work with, and the cost of doing business’. This is indeed a timely call for proper evaluation of what has been the trend with the view to ascertaining their effectiveness and outputs compared with projected results. The message is simple and direct – we cannot afford to do the same thing over again and expect a different result
It is candid to conclude that so many considerations have fittingly scaled the instructive substance, intrinsic value and impacts of the lead paper of the NIPR Akwa Ibom State Chapter 2016 roundtable aptly titled, ‘Actualising Investment Opportunities in Akwa Ibom State through Public Relations’, and what made that exceptionally remarkable is the rich intellectual pedigree and vast professional background of the Lead Presenter, Dr. Udeme Nana – a media guru, tested PR practitioner, creative thinker and seasoned academic. Manifestly, his paper represented a holistic blend of his multifarious parts.
* Idorenyin Aquaisua is the Editor, Media Post International and could be reached on 07037518224