FAR back in 1990 when I entered for 10 courses in one fell swoop leading to the award of a certificate in public relations by the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), one of the first things I learnt, on my own through voracious reading for the examination, was that PR was a key management function. (By the way, I passed an unprecedented eight out of the 10 courses in one record sitting). And, if for any reason, the PR professional does not belong to the decision-making cadre in any organization, he faces ultimate frustration and despondency.
Once the PR fellow is not a member of the policy-making caucus in any establishment, he should consider himself a glorified office assistant on a messengerial adventure, whatever official title he bears notwithstanding.
Over the years, having worked in multifarious institutions at almost all levels, I can authoritatively declare that PR in this predatory environment is neither institutionalized nor professionalized, yet! Forget the decree (and later Act) establishing NIPR and all the tepid attempts at creating awareness, sanitizing the calling and elevating it to where it ought to be, PR in Nigeria is still to attain a core function profile in most workplaces here. The charlatanism is quite unfortunate.
While on the preface to this essay, let me point out that my knowledge of PR is not advertorial publication, journalistic mercantilism, media relations, press release writing, propaganda, disguised public relational feature (focus) articles which are paid for in one way or another, compromised newspaper editorials and cover stories, jaundiced column writing and outright blackmail depending on the circumstance and characterization. All these when clinically applied may be peripheral adjuncts of PR. In critical terms, they do not hold any significance in cerebral and informed circles.
Sadly, however, these dismissive offshoots are considered by gullible audiences as the livewire of the totality of PR. What then, in my view, is PR? Simply put, it is a deliberate, planned and organized programme aimed at cultivating and sustaining goodwill between an organization and its publics. It is not an ad hoc or perfunctory engagement that begins and ends with immediate cash disbursements and usually unfulfilled advert slot promises! There’s more to PR than just innumerable corporate press mentions, institutional fire-brigade resolutions and CEO pictorial superfluity.
When in February 2005, l left the soar-away Sun Group of Newspapers as a full member of its Editorial Board/Back Page Columnist to join the Corporate Communications Department of a bank, the first senior colleague and friend of mine to respond to my Friday Back Page valedictory article was Mr. Kabir Dangogo who, at that point, was on the verge of disengaging from Union Bank as an Assistant General Manager (Corporate Affairs) for copious reasons some of which constitute this contribution. He graciously cautioned me not to be unduly excited yet. This is an industry-respected man who should know having seen it all: in the academia as a senior lecturer, the television as a principal member of staff, one of the few Nigerians to have risen to the position of AGM (Corporate Affairs) in the big, strong and reliable bank in this country. Shortly after his admonition, I began to encounter even more disillusionments than he had foretold me!
The next person to express dismay at my professional hara-kiri was a senior family friend who was then, I think, a deputy general manager in the defunct Chartered Bank, Mr. Moses Uzoegbu. He wondered why my new employers had to start me on a low grade considering the profundity and versatility of my background, most especially as a former editor of a national newspaper and a celebrated dual columnist. His reservations, to be candid, did not mean much to me at that time apparently due to my frenzied move to banking and the associated pay treble, comparatively speaking.
As I round off this phase of my interesting story without being immodest, the third person to challenge me on my sudden sabbatical to the banking world was Mr. Steve Nwosu, the editor of Saturday Sun then and now Deputy Managing Director/Deputy Editor-in-Chief of The Sun. This brother, colleague and friend of mine wondered why a “General” in the media like me should opt to go and be a “recruit” in an entirely new domain. He said he could not imagine himself, no matter the attraction, taking such a fatal plunge. As far as Steve was concerned, it could only be a suicidal contemplation. He was damn right!
The scales have fallen off my eyes and I can now belatedly see clearly. For the avoidance of doubt, as you read this, I have returned to the media still trying to crave relevance and largely unappreciated, just being tolerated obviously because of my intimidating antecedents and rich resume. No self-adulation intended, please.
My experiences working in a bank confirm that the professional banker has little or no interest in communications of any sort. The adversarial banking community does not care a hoot about harmless communication. The only time a bank is rattled is when there is a negative mention about it. Otherwise, the PR team can go to blazes! It is an irony that the same management that will blame you for not preventing the hostile reportage will hamper your proactive efforts. Every PR initiative is seen as a waste of money. In fact, some top managers and directors will accuse you of giving (dashing) money to your friends in the media and possibly getting a cut from the supposed racket! Overall, the attitude of bankers (not bank workers) to issues of PR is shrouded in nonchalance and hostility.
As far as today’s bankers are concerned, anything other than streams of income does not make sense. They are all fixated on this. And this is why the PR employee is regarded as a drain pipe, a misfit in the system who comprehensively engages in cash disbursements routinely. In other words, the PR team does not add any value! These same snobbish chaps forget that some functions cannot be quantified or denominated in terms of revenue drive. This stereotypical generation of money, in most cases under the lieutenancy of the bank promoter(s), is the main criterion for supersonic elevation. Other criteria are tangential and hardly count.
The irony of it all is that the same bank that will not give you adequate budget to forestall or manage avoidable crises will be ready to unleash the treasury on arrow-heads when media issues are about to deteriorate! At times one begins to wonder indeed whether bankers are daft and specialize only in adding up figures with the help of calculators and computers. It is possible the monotonous and largely unchallenging nature of banking affects the entirety of bankers’ routinous lives.
It is apposite to point out here that the newsroom is the opposite of any bank’s office. Agreed there is no commensurate money in journalism when compared to the banking industry, but there is unparalleled occupational joy. Banking is sheer slavery. Because of the alleged fat pay with constant cuts and lay-offs in banks, especially these days, you are almost made to work round the clock in very demoralizing circumstances.
There is no regard for your person, family or time. Senior colleagues relate with you as if you were under their bondage! Bonding scarcely takes place only among equals, unlike in journalism where there is equality, joviality, brotherhood and fraternity. Nobody breathes down on anyone. Everyone knows his limit and responsibilities which gives room for reciprocal respect and camaraderie. In the financial world under review, any person who is higher than you by just a step or grade lords it over you magisterially with inexplicable concurrence by the warped system! There is a pedigree of alienation, subjugation and haughtiness; esprit de corps is clearly non-existent.