All posts by Tiisetso Gama

The Future of PR

The Future of PR

It has never been better, or worse.

The public relations industry is not being left out of the digital innovation wave, but the need for the human touch – especially when reputations are at stake – will remain as important today as it always has.

Algorithms can tell you how your message is received by your audiences in a more accurate way than anything that has been tried in market research before. Algorithms can predict the reaction of your audiences, and help you smartly push messages to very specific audiences.

Media monitoring is a good example of ‘bots’ in action, where a piece of software seamlessly sends articles on your clients as they are published and gives you real-time analysis of how many people have read your tweet. All this at the touch of one button without the need for any human involvement.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is certainly giving PR professionals the market intelligence they need to do their job well. The implication is counterintuitive – you need people with human skills to make use of the vast intelligence that technology now avails cheaply and translate it into value for your client. AI does not replace people.

It takes people to fix things and express the necessary empathy and depth of understanding – especially when those people may be in the middle of a media storm. It is the why that AI will never be able to help us with. Why people love your brand often has no rhyme nor reason. Sometimes it is ‘just because’. It can, of course, be analysed using AI, which will still give you more of the who, what, when, how, where, but will never competently answer the why or the “so what” questions upon which the ultimate solutions hinge.

No matter what the future may hold from a technology perspective – it will always take a flesh and blood human being to understand the nuances behind a brand, its culture and ethos and to map out the strategic tactics to make it thrive. Similarly, when that brand is under pressure in the market or even worse, in the eye of a media storm – who are you going to call? I doubt it will ever be Mr Bot, however much intelligence is wired into his hard drive. The real answers will be teased out of data, from listening to people, observing people’s responses to words, understanding the underlying meaning of symbols, among others.

You begin to understand why despite ‘doing everything right’, your client’s reputation has sunk. As important is that fixing the problem requires a language that AI does not understand. For all the razzmatazz the PR industry is stereotyped with, reputation management is very much a game of strategic silence. Much like your eyes can see only if there is light, AI can only see data and silence is like darkness.

In the real world, people live in living rooms, they sing in the shower, they cry over nothing, they are jealous of the neighbours’ brand-new set of wheels, they fake happiness, they lie through their teeth and will be driven to fight like Muhammad Ali if you threaten their children. To accurately interpret the real life ‘data’ from these very human truths, one needs to experience it. People mimic similar things on social media. Looking at Instagram will make you think the world is a happy, stylish and prosperous place where life is lived in full colour. It takes a 60-year-old woman who has been married to the same man since her teens to tell you how the institution of marriage has changed.

AI is removed from actual human behaviour. Communication is about using words and symbols to change the behaviour and feelings of people. People are different. Sometimes the people you are dealing with are not a socio-demographic cluster. They are a real human being that has spent 28 years of his/her 30-year career running tough logistics operations, where profit is made if a customer receives a pair of shoes bought online in ‘3-5 working days’. For him/her, things either work or they do not. Her Board Chairman is a person who comes from an industry where things work on probability and risk, while a major investor is a 35-year-old billionaire from a country where CEOs are cool. It is easy to see where AI belongs. Geek won’t help you figure out the person that 38 high performances years moulded.

Where all this goes is counter-intuitive. AI makes it unnecessary for human beings to do work that AI can now do. For years, careers have been built on people getting machine-like levels of competence. AI has flipped the game. Machines today try to be like people too. People should leave machines to do what machines do well and focus on doing human things. What this means is that even as they invest in tech, the investment only makes sense if it is matched by human talent to translate it into something valuable that will make a meaningful difference in the lives of living and breathing human beings. In fact, the rise of AI demands that agencies show more empathy to people and their struggles, internally and externally.

About Moliehi Molekoa:

Moliehi Molekoa is the Managing Director of Magna Carta Reputation Management Consultant. She has over 18 years’ experience in the communications industry, having worked across the spectrum of PR for both public and private sector clients.   She has a mix of skills including strategy development, reputation management, client service management, media relations and crisis management.

The cutting edge of African Communication

With fake news on the rise, Africans need to tell authentic stories on their own platforms

There are so many authentic African stories that aren’t being told because they don’t fit the “mould” of existing media platforms. We, as Africans, need to own our platforms to start telling our stories in the way we want them to be told, writes Moliehi Molekoa, Managing Director for Magna Carta.

In the last two weeks, coverage of Africa in global media has been dominated by a distasteful remark about Africa, by an unrepentant US president. After 12 months in office, Donald Trump is yet to articulate a clear foreign policy position on Africa, yet with one word has managed to distort global news about Africa. It is a tragedy, because the ignorance of his statement should be obvious.

Africa starts 2018 on a strong footing. Liberia has for the first time gone through a peaceful democratic transition, with former soccer star, George Weah taking over from Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as president. South Africa’s ruling ANC has elected a new party leader, respected businessman Cyril Ramaphosa. Zimbabwe is under a new leadership after former dictator Robert Mugabe was forced to leave office in November last year without a single gunshot. Despite a drawn out and messy electoral process, Kenyans are back at work, with most global institutions projecting a robust growth in the year ahead.

There are problems, but these are the big events that are happening in Africa. Yet in the global media landscape, they are “Trumped” by a crude and racist comment. The reason is simple – on the global media landscape, Africa makes the news if it bleeds! The tragedy is that Africans can do nothing about it. It raises important questions for Africa’s PR industry.

The role of communications professionals is to translate information into clear, compelling messages that change perceptions and behavior. In this way, we make information consumable. We build bridges between what our clients do and how they are perceived. We help brands improve their relevance. We do this by helping clients tell their stories in authentic ways.

That sounds like PR insider talk. It is not. Making stories authentic is about making them resonate with the real lives of consumers, so that they relate with products that improve and add value to their lives. The logic of it is that consumers only buy things that they believe improve their quality of lives.

It is no different when you think about Africa’s story. The African story that is told by Donald Trump is fake and dangerous. The authentic story about Africa speaks of our realities as we live and experience them. This story can only be told by Africans who live it, how they live and in words that have meaning to their lives.

Today, Africa has problems – corruption, mismanagement of the economy, a handful of dictators that refuse to go and frustration among youth who choose to migrate to Europe – are just some of these problems. But these are very different problems from those that we had 20 years ago.

In the mid 1990s, South Africa was going through a delicate transition, Rwanda was on its knees after a genocide that killed a million people, millions of Somalis and Sudanese nationals were scattered in the world as refugees, Angola was in full civil war, a dictator was refusing to step down in Nigeria. The scale, complexity and impact of these problems are very different from what we are seeing today.

The story is in how Africa covered that distance through the lives of people that lived through the last 20 years. Liberia, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Angola and Mozambique are countries that came back from the dead in only 20 years. It is the story of a single mother that took her 3 children through university with the salary of a menial worker, the entrepreneur who built up a retail business from only one makeshift shop. It is about the youth who after dropping out of school now has a PhD, or the story of people that risked everything to own the future.

It is your story, and it is my story and that story is not being told. Telling that story begins by Africans speaking for themselves. Each of us has a fascinating story to tell of how we lived the last 20 years. We can’t tell these stories if we do not own the platforms to do so. Of course global media houses carry such stories, but often, the headlines, the perspective and the voice that tells our story is so unfamiliar that it is impossible to identify with. And it’s only ever bad news or Trump induced news about us that makes the front pages!

There is little that is valuable or interesting in explaining to Africa why Trump is the way he is. Africa has a very long and intimate experiences of racism. The real story is in how Africans are harnessing technology, creating their own channels, and communicating their stories.

This is the role African communications professionals must own as ours to play. This story is told through the success of companies like MTN and Standard Bank across Africa, Iroko in Nigeria, that has over 2 million followers, M-Pesa in Kenya, Ecobank from Togo, Tanjet in Tanzania, Quality Chemicals in Uganda, Chocolate City in Ghana, Guanomad in Madagascar. These clients will come to us if they know and trust that we will tell their story in a powerful, authentic voice and with the force and genius that match their own inspiring journeys. They won’t pay for us to prove ourselves, they will pay because we have proven ourselves.

And what better time to tell than right now when technology makes it possible to record and broadcast to millions an inspiring story through a smartphone and a democratic social media? The story about Africa’s response to Trump is not in the interviews by talking heads, nor is it in the trolling of Trump. It is in the million brilliant ways that Africans subverted Trump’s insult, and used it to have a conversation about themselves among themselves.

Our future is bright and full of potential – but the rest of the world will never know that until we begin to tell our story as it must be told.

Moliehi Molekoa, Managing Director for Magna Carta.

It’s true what they say: prevention is better than cure

In light of the recent H&M debacle, I think many in the industry will agree that it’s time a chair is permanently reserved for a Public Relations or Reputation Management Specialist at the table where Marketing and Ad Execs conceptualise, build and sign off campaigns. This, I believe, is a critical move, especially as multi-national companies are fighting for relevance and market share in different markets – markets with varying sensitivities and histories.

Being aware of and sensitive to market nuances where a campaign will be launched, and having PR approve – and sanitise, if need be – the campaign could mean the difference between its success and having your PR team later writing holding statements, answering a barrage of media queries and putting out social media fires lit by incensed consumers inspired by what was once thought of as a genius idea.

Taking a moment to reflect on a potential campaign by applying the PR and Reputation Management lens will save a lot of people a lot of trouble, including that poor junior staff member who is always thrown under the bus in place of incompetent senior executives too drunk on their own brilliance to have someone look through their work with said lens.

(I should, at this point, express that judging the credibility of campaigns is not necessarily an exclusive function of PR; in the absence of a PR or Reputation Management Specialist, bouncing the idea off any qualified third-party person or group should suffice.)

However, it’s not enough to let your PR and Reputation Management team know of a campaign when all has been finalised or at roll-out stage. A good brand campaign is one that has been tested on all marketing elements to whom reputation is critical. PR teams generally have access to case studies from different industries and markets which they can consult and from which they formulate probabilities that may impact specific campaigns.

Prevention is always better than any of the strategies PR can employ to stop the brand haemorrhaging any equity should a campaign cause widespread offense. Consequences are just too high, and the road to recovery that much harder. A temporary inconvenience could potentially save a brand’s reputation and millions in revenue.

Reserving a chair for a PR and Reputational expert will add value in more ways than one: having campaigns that are likely to surpass expectations, take consumers on a journey through on-point messaging, and build brand affinity are only a few.

Thandukwazi Gcabashe – Account Director 

Corporate reputation in the financial sector – Insights by Magna Carta  

The banking industry was turbulent in 2016. Among many other high profile events, Barclays sold its shares in Barclay’s Africa, announced in March 2016[1]. The banks became embroiled in the volatile political climate of the country, and banking for the working class became more topical, resulting in the South African Post Office being granted approval to establish its own bank[2], while African Bank was relaunched after being placed on Curatorship in August 2014[3]. The prevalence of these crises and the importance of this industry to the South African economy inspired Magna Carta Reputation Management Consultants to include this sector in our recent research project on corporate reputation.

The Africa Reputation Index (ARI) is an instrument designed to measure corporate reputation in 5 separate industries, including the financial sector.  We began with a focus on South Africa and plan to roll the index out to additional countries in Africa in the future.

The ARI found that the top driver of corporate reputation in the banking sector is ‘being available and responsive to customer needs’, a driver of customer satisfaction (CS). In fact, collectively, all drivers of customer satisfaction are highly ranked, resulting in the CS attribute coming out as most important in this sector. In general, banks should prioritise the service acumen of their staff, especially those who deal directly with clients at the first touchpoint.

There is no doubt South Africa has a well-developed and well-regulated banking system[4]. We tend to talk about the big 5 banks, with the recent addition of Capitec to the traditional big 4 (Standard Bank, ABSA, Nedbank and FNB)[5]. Capitec is not a full service bank, but with a 26% increase in headline earnings at the end of February, 2016 to R3.2 Billion and over 7 million clients[6], Capitec is now established as a major contender in the consumer banking industry. Consumers agree that our banking industry is well-established, and according to the ARI, most are known for maintaining a good standard.

Capitec’s strategy has been to focus on customer service and this is reflected in the results of the SA Customer Satisfaction Index (SAcsi) by research firm, Consulta, where consumers consistently rate Capitec has having the highest customer satisfaction scores[7]. When looking at corporate reputation, Magna Carta’s ranking of the banks varies somewhat from Consulta’s customer satisfaction scale, but customer satisfaction is just one element of corporate reputation.

Meanwhile, the decision by some of the top banks to close the accounts of certain politically connected people in 2016 landed them in the middle of the South African political narrative. Consumers may hold diverse opinions on the banks’ position, but either way the action links to overall integrity perceptions of this industry. Integrity was found to be the second ranked reputation attribute in the financial services industry, according to the ARI.

As a close third to integrity, offering a good working environment is an important driver of corporate reputation. In general, none of the banks stand out on their employment offerings.

The banking industry has dealt with a series of retrenchments over the years which may influence perceptions around job stability at these companies. Surveys conducted by organisations such as the Top Employers Institute do not see South African banks in the top 10 employers, unless divided by industry where the major players stand out over lesser known banks[8],[9],[10],[11]. Standard Bank received recognition for having best employee policies in the SAGEA Employer Awards, 2016[12].

Consistent with other industries explored, Corporate Social Investment (CSI) drivers were rated as least important in driving corporate reputation in the financial services industry (motor vehicles was 8/9). This is not to say that these drivers aren’t important, but others are more likely to improve reputation perceptions. CSI is often recognised more by employees and is part of the internal corporate culture than external corporate reputation. Despite the extensive CSI undertakings that banks engage in, they are generally not well defined on giving back to the community or other CSI initiatives. CSI is often deeply connected to an individual’s value systems and so, while these initiatives may do wonderful work, they are perhaps less impactful when viewed from the broader societal viewpoint. Insights from our qualitative research showed that CSI is more important to middle income consumers than lower or higher income individuals.

By taking research and insights provided by the ARI on board financial services companies can radically improve their reputations. It all starts by closing the gap between what they perceive they are doing right and what consumers actually believe.


About Magna Carta’s Africa Reputation Index

Magna Carta Reputation Management Consultants, in collaboration with Yellowwood, a leading marketing strategy consultancy, developed a Reputation Index with the aim of measuring corporate reputation in the African context. Data was collated using a robust research study from a sample of 1 304 South Africans. Respondents were asked to select an industry, identify different companies in the industry, and then rate the companies on a series of 44 reputational drivers that had been identified from the focus groups and in-depth Interviews.

About Magna Carta

Magna Carta is a seasoned African consultancy that thinks globally and delivers full reputation management solutions to organisations and individuals that take their reputations seriously. We have affiliates in 18 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, and are part of the Omnicom group which has 265 offices in 100 countries. We have also been named African Consultancy of the Year 2016 by The Holmes Report.

Founded in 1994, the year of South Africa’s democracy, Magna Carta understands the value of freedom and liberty for all people as well as the responsibility that comes with that freedom, and has since grown into one of Africa’s largest and most respected reputational management consultancies.