State of PR in Africa influenced by investment and development, says Magna Carta

April 2013

    State of PR in Africa influenced by investment and development, says Magna Carta
    Public relations, although still in its infancy in many African countries, is assuming new significance as international investors and South African companies expand operations on the continent. Taking the step of creating a presence through a PR network, however, is still not for the faint-hearted, says Magna Carta.

    One of the major downfalls for entrepreneurs entering the African market is that many proceed on the mistaken belief that the continent is an integrated market with few differences between countries. It is assumed that a ‘one-size’ fits all approach to businesses and services ensure success. This belief is far from the truth in a continent that is home to 54 states, each with its own challenges and local economies that range from ‘developed’ to emerging status, says Vincent Magwenya, CEO of Magna Carta.

    “The state of PR in Africa varies widely, something that is not surprising when it is considered that barely 20 years ago the industry was virtually non-existent on the continent.

    “Today, although PR is becoming part of the business fabric, extensive research needs to be done before a commitment is made to opening dedicated operations in various countries,” says Magwenya, who has extensive experience in Africa and is presently guiding the expansion of Magna Carta, through the existing partnerships and TBWA African operations.

    “Partnerships with local agencies are essential in Africa. However, taking this step requires that you have an in-depth understanding of who you are partnering with and their various affiliations, if any, with international agencies.  Magna Carta’s research showed that four broad categories of agencies exist in Africa,” says Magwenya. These are:

    • Local offices affiliated to, or affiliates of, global PR/Advertising groups
    • A limited number of Africa specialists with claims to actual experience of working across African countries
    • Local agencies with genuine PR specialists on staff, and
    • Local one-stop shop agencies that claim to have PR expertise as part of their overall offering

    “The final category forms the majority in most African countries. Most agencies offer everything from advertising to marketing and simply include PR as one of their offerings. The growth of this sector was natural, given that specialisation in specific markets was often not possible because of the small size of markets on the continent. This forced entrepreneurs to take the ‘one-stop shop’ approach to doing communications business.

    “The structuring of these companies is in marked contrast to the growth of communications entities as they are known in South Africa. Here, each company within a large group has a defined structure, specialist staff and the ability to integrate with other specialists to meet clients’ requirements.

    “In the rest of Africa, practitioners can often be found housed in a single room with single individuals assuming responsibility for disparate communications functions. Again, this approach is defined by market size and requirements,” says Magwenya.

    When approaching PR in Africa the basic requirement therefore is to understand the maturity levels of individual markets. The next step is to cluster countries into defined, categorised markets to ascertain what levels of quality service and competition could possibly be encountered.

    “Broadly, when examining opportunities available to Magna Carta and TBWA, we found four categories of African markets we could clearly define,” says Magwenya. These were:

    • Developed markets
    • Emerging markets
    • Semi-developed markets, and
    • Under-developed markets

    “South Africa is a developed market as it has a mature PR market whose services are rated as amongst the best in Africa. Emerging markets include Nigeria and Ghana. In these countries little was known about PR as a practice two decades ago. However, due to increased international investment and participation in these economies, growth in marketing and PR activities is taking place.

    “In this context it is interesting to note that the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) recently held their third ‘Golden Eagle’ awards for the PR industry.

    “Semi-developed PR countries include Kenya, Uganda, Namibia and Botswana. These countries have mature and independent media environments, but have a PR industry that is focused on delivering events, rather than providing strategic counsel to companies and governments.

    “The use of PR consultants, many of them originally journalists or media workers, is growing. In Kenya the primary driver for this increased activity is that the country is used as an ‘East African hub’ by multinational businesses and is also home to many NGO’s including the United Nations.”

    The under-developed markets cross territories such as Angola, Tanzania, Mauritius, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho and Zambia where media are generally under-funded and under-skilled. Where companies do exist in Angola or Mozambique they have strong Portuguese links.

    “Although PR and communications-based activities are growing strongly in the emerging markets, it must be generally accepted that their success and growth is tied to the media, which because of issues of ownership and funding, can have wide-ranging quality.  Where media outputs are poor, PR is generally disregarded as a necessity. Consumer consumption of newspapers also plays a role by limiting circulation figures – another pre-requisite for PR and advertising practitioners.

    “Consumer consumption of newspapers is entirely different to that of mature markets like South Africa. In some markets it is not uncommon to see groups of people huddled around newspaper stands. They literally ‘rent to read’ newspapers and then hand the publication back to the news vendor when they have completed reading.

    “The repercussions of this are that communications professionals are unable to get accurate readership figures or audience ratings. Having an understanding of local factors like these is essential if the opening of a PR company is being considered.

    “Although it is undoubtedly Africa’s time to take the international spotlight and the continent boasts a burgeoning middle class that is driving prosperity, entry into markets must be thoroughly researched and carefully considered. Ensuring that all factors have been taken into account will ensure success,” concludes Magwenya.

    Issued by: Magna Carta
    Contact Person: Hilary Macaulay
    Email: [email protected]