The PR ecosystem has changed, and is changing fast. The times are also changing. The old structures and old ways that served us yesterday cannot enable us deliver real value to clients today. Mr. Israel Jaiye Opayemi, Managing Director/Chief Strategist, Chain Reactions Nigeria, a leading PR Consulting Firm, speaks on his company’s new strategic positioning and several contemporary industry issues in this interview with MarketingWorld. Excerpts…
You recently re-structured your agency; let us in on the thinking behind that?
Let me begin by saying, with all due respect to my colleagues who have chosen to answer to that appellation ‘agency’, that Chain Reactions Nigeria is not an agency. We have never been an agency and we will not be one. We did not set out to be an agency. We were clear from inception never to bear the label ‘agency. We are a consultancy, a firm of consultants and we pre-determined to function as such from the word go. We like to be seen as consultants in the sense in which a Consultant Gynaecologist is seen as a specialist and well respected in the field of medicine. In Africa, names are powerful. In Nigeria, it is even worse once you accept to be treated like an agency, a client would have decided what he or she wants to do about a campaign and a PR agency is just invited to do what they now call, “amplification”. That is not the way we run things here.
Our relevance as consultants is determined by how our work sits at the very heart of everything the client does. For example, how can we use our access to immense data and analytics as well as trends to guide our clients? How can we use our knowledge of the economy to advise our clients on how they position their brands? How can we use our deep insight into psychographics to help our clients? Let me give an illustration, if your brand is a smart phone for example, if your PR agency designs a campaign for you in the Nigerian market based on the old rule of demographics and income segmentation, your campaign has already failed.
Nigeria is a peculiar market. By the rule of demographics and income segmentation, a female under-graduate student in a Nigerian university will never be captured as a part of the primary targets of a campaign meant to sell a brand of smart phones. But if you take a dive into psychographics and behavioural analytics as we do for our clients, a female under-graduate will be one of your primary target as you will understand that owning a Samsung S7 that sells for about N254, 000 is not just an aspirational thing for her, but a status symbol and a lifestyle toy.
Advancing the kind of thinking we bring into our clients businesses was the driving force behind the restructuring we have just done. It’s a process that has taken us about two years. So in Chain Reactions, we tore down the old ‘agency’ structure most marketing communications firms still operate under. The business, technological and media worlds have changed since the start of the 21st Century, yet many of the world’s largest networks and midsize PR firms have continued to operate as if little or nothing has changed. PR firms have continued to operate the same structure and same silos such as Client Service, Media Departments in the 21st Century as though nothing has changed. The structures of most PR firms today have become vestiges from the past. Examples of those vestiges of yesterday are what we still reflected in what we call our departments today and the designations we give to our people. What is happening today around the world is that, each time PR firms operate this old model, they increase their v
ulnerability to new firms with new thinking. The same structure of client service departments, media departments and so on we inherited from the founding fathers of our profession at the outset of the 20th Century is the same structure many marketing communications agencies till run today. Like I said, we still operate as if nothing has changed in our world even in the 21st Century!
So, how have you reflected this thinking in your new structure?
We brought in a firm of seasoned HR Consultants with international exposure. We described the set objectives we wanted to achieve to them. They conducted a thorough job and skills audit. The audit showed us what we have and the skills gaps between what we desire to be and what we have. We shut down what used to be our client service arm and converted it to a Strategy and Business Group populated by Business Analysts, Strategists, Pop Culture Specialists, Trends Analysts, Research Analysts, Experiential Specialists and so on. This is the new norm if you must interface with a client and do “client service” work in our Chain Reactions. You must be able to crunch data and draw meaningful insights that will guide a client.
So for us in Chain Reactions going forward, the minimum any client-interfacing Executive of any rank must be is an Analyst. Every client-interfacing Executive must be a Data Analyst or Data Miner. We are putting this at the very heart of our business. We will go into new strategic partnerships and strengthen our existing relationships with best-in-class research agencies and knowledge centres within and outside of the shores of Nigeria to give our people access to research and cutting-edge resources.
Every Analyst working with us must be able to crunch the numbers in the client’s market and help him make a sense of that for his or her brand. You must be able to analyse trends and predict their consequences to clients. If we take aviation brief today, some people in our team will take a dive into the issues in that sector. They must understand what drives growth and profit in the aviation sector. They must understand emerging lifestyle trends that will shape traveling and demands for aviation services. It is not just about you going for a client meeting, returning to the office to write a contact report and other PR 101 functions. PR practitioners in Nigeria must wake up and smell the coffee. Hey, the ecosystem is changing fast. The times are changing. The old structures and old ways that served us yesterday cannot enable us deliver real value to clients today. Old ways can’t lead to new doors.
Secondly, we have twined what used to be our media department into a content and creative department. This is where we deal with message development, message management, content development, copying writing, creative design, video production, earned media and paid media.
Thirdly, we have restructured the digital arm of our business into what we now call Data and Digital group. This is peopled by Data Analysts, Infographic Specialists, Online Community Specialists, Online Reputation Managers and Content Marketing Specialists and they are headed by a Consultant on New and Emerging Media. This is also where our Creative Technologists who will deal with App development and other mobile solutions will function. So, again you can see the importance we have placed on big data.
Last but not least, we have reorganised our Finance and Administrative department into a Finance and Strategic Planning group. That arm of our business deals with resource allocation, resource management, operations, priority management, team welfare management because our HR Unit is domiciled here. One of the most important responsibilities of this group is what we now call “outcome management.” This is how we now do self-assessment. A client has paid us to deliver XYZ as value, these guys check to ensure that is what we have delivered. This is piggybacked by a Consultant whose job involves Planning and Integration. He is the connector within our system who ensures the qualitative inputs from strategy, digital, content and creative all come when they are needed so we can deliver the value we have promised to clients. Our clients are in for a better deal with our new 4G model.
So what we have done with our new 4G model is, seeking ways to future proof our business. It is an intensive process inspired in me after attending the Global PR Summit in Miami in 2014. It changed even our recruitment policy. We hired our first Creative Director with an advertising background about that time. It has determined how we perceive the roles of Psychologists, Sociologists and what role a Psychiatrist has to play in our team. It’s been a two-year journey. What we are doing is to prepare Chain Reactions Nigeria for the next 10 years from now!
About a year ago, your company shocked the Nigerian marketing communications community when you won the prestigious Etisalat account by defeating strong incumbent and other revered giants of the PR practice in Nigeria. What did you do differently to win that pitch?
This will be the first time I will be speaking about the Etisalat pitch publicly. First, let me say there was something very divine about that contest. Interestingly you have used the word giant to describe the companies we pitched against. Unknown to many people, I was reading Malcom Gladwell’s book, David and Goliath when the Etisalat pitch was called. Immediately the pitch was called, I flipped back to the beginning of that book and started reading afresh and making notes. Interestingly, the outcome turned out just as Malcom Gladwell posited- underdogs do win! I have always loved to be treated as an underdog in any contest. I love to be under-estimated. I also love when the competition under-estimates any client we work for. Any telecoms company under-estimating Etisalat today, must be ready for a nerve-cracking shocker.
What did we do differently? In the military, you don’t give out your winning secret. Don’t forget I am a strategist and the word strategy itself has its origin in the military tradition. So, I will take cover in the military tradition by speaking less on what we did differently. But it will suffice to say, we were audacious, we invested heavily in research, we drew vital insights from the research, we crafted a winning strategy for the brand and we showed with clarity how all that would impact their business.
Handling Etisalat PR account has been for a year now. How do you feel?
I am very passionate about Etisalat. It is professionally rewarding managing a prestigious brand like Etisalat. I used the word professionally rewarding deliberately because people often focus more on the money side. Nothing makes a PR professional feel good than to know the CEO of the company you work for appreciates the role of PR to the success of his business. The CEO of Etisalat has an amazing understanding of the role of PR. He appreciates how we have deepened the narratives. Etisalat is not just a talking brand but a listening brand. The narratives are shaped by how we listen to consumers. We have invested heavily in social listening tools. Again, nothing can be more gratifying than to know that the Vice President, Regulatory and Corporate Affairs under whose purview PR falls, understands what we are doing and is always there to support our team. It is a great delight to work with such a dynamic PR team Etisalat has assembled within. They are never fixated and are always receptive of new ideas. It is not a quality I take for granted. Most big brands are set on their ways.
Big brands are often criticised as set on their ways. What do you think is responsible?
It is an addiction with the familiar. This is why we hardly see exciting disruptive campaigns any more in Nigeria. Big brands like to stay with the familiar. Unfortunately by so doing, they become vulnerable. My time tested counsel to clients is, competing in the marketplace is warfare. One of the earliest things I learnt about strategy is, don’t ever become predictable in any war. When you become predictable, you become vulnerable to the competition. It is not just a prescription we make to clients; it is a medication we take ourselves. You can never predict what Chain Reactions will do during a pitch presentation. You won’t be able to predict if we are just coming in to sing. Brands need to get more audacious and unpredictable. A moving object cannot be easily targeted.
As a company, we have had the honour of having some of our young Executives fly the flag of Nigeria in 2014 at the Cannes Lion which is for young PR practitioners. The experience they came back with was awesome. The brief was about child trafficking. The PR agency that came first simply came into the room with the creative of a child with a price tag around his neck. That image was to become the anchor of the campaign. The agency that came second actually came in to sing an accapella theme song to promote the campaign against child trafficking.
A client once invited Chain Reactions for an Issue Communication/Management pitch. All the agencies we pitched against went in with 30 to 40 slides. We walked into the room with only one slide and an A3 printout of a syringe and needle around which we then listed various stakeholders. It was an Inoculation Strategy we had developed for the client and we needed a very graphic way to sell it to them convincingly. The client’s problem was, those opposed to their project were going round spreading ill-formed and false opinions about the project to critical stakeholders. So we counselled them, you need to inoculate your stakeholders so they know the truth and become impervious to falsehood just the same way children are inoculated against infectious diseases. It was as if we lit a bulb in a dark room. Of course, we won the business. The project is still running smoothly till today. I am speaking about the Lekki-Epe Expressway Toll Gate by the Lekki Concession Company. Gradually, that project has become one of the
new landmarks of Lagos, it is not only used in Nollywood films but by the international media.
You said what you are doing now is to prepare Chain Reactions for the future. Where do you see the company in 10 years from now?
We want to be one of the top three PR consulting firms in Nigeria by 2026. We want to be the preferred Consulting firm for International clients wishing to do business in Nigeria. We want to be the “go-to” Consultants for brands that want to play strong in the youth segment. I am an incurable optimist about the future of Nigeria. That is the only thing that can explain why we are recruiting in a recession when the new normal is to downsize. We are attracting the best talents now. We are re-thinking our processes to future-proof ourselves and be relevant in the future. The eco-system is changing and PR firms that refuse to change will become irrelevant to the needs of clients sooner than we can imagine.