- By Ikem Okuhu
As an undergraduate of the University of Nigeria, I remember a discussion among a number of my friends then where one of us defined diplomacy as “the art of telling someone to go to hell in such a manner as to make him look forward to the trip.” It was a statement that stuck in my head, especially in the light of how smarter people got their way with less endowed friends and colleagues.
Having grown in Journalism and Public Relations practice in Nigeria, it became clear that this definition of Diplomacy may just also be applicable to PR practice in Nigeria where lean pay, or a total absence of it, has increasingly forced those in the media to depend on their colleagues in PR to run through the day.
Open your mail any day, as a journalist in Nigeria and you are accosted by sundry mails from sundry PR agencies pitching stories using what has become a familiar template of “Dear Media Partner,” and “Dear Boss.” Those who want to be condescendingly servile will even address you with the words, “My dear honourable Editor.”
I am not sure it is important for this very brief contribution to waste space on the definitions of a “partner”, a “boss” or even someone’s honourable “editor.” Suffice that PR has over the years cultivated a trait for hanging these feel-good festoons on the necks of journalists a key to unlock the doors to stories that otherwise should never have made it to the press.
For clarity, a journalist cannot be a partner to PR. Matter of fact, the two should not be seen to be working in close cahoots, especially because their interests should ideally run parallel. While PR has the interest of the client to protect, the journalist, by the demands of his job, should be working for public interest.
What this means is that rather than pitch stories and allow the value of each to determine which and what aspects of “the which” is exposed, PR has created a situation where the best stories do not make it to the press.
Which PR agency in Nigeria still pitches stories and sits back to allow the traditional criteria for news selection to determine what makes it to the press?
Things have changed and digital is the prevalent media these days. But even with its pervasiveness, PR still finds its way to selectively reward some while ignoring those they consider to be on the fringes.
Stories have become more of commercial items, just like advertising and this presupposes that PR and the media people should find a way to sit around a table to renegotiate how news stories should be treated. Thanks to PR, we have what we call Paid Media and Earned Media. From what has become of the practice, it does appear most of what PR passes off as “earned” are actually items that should sit better in the “Paid” section of the column. This is the only way to properly measure the milestones of the practice. It may just be a way providing due compensation for a media industry that often take the flak from PR in cases of any failure.
A rejection of this new paradigm should be interpreted as an acceptance of the need to return to the old ways of allowing the media to decide on who should make it to the pages and who should have his “pride of place” in the editors’ “killed” list.
Okuhu runs a Brands and Marketing publication, BRANDish