Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

We ate our own dog food

Magna Carta is a reputation management agency, established in 1994. We are turning 20 this year and have grown in leaps and bounds since inception. We pride ourselves in professionalism and being one of the best in the communications sphere. With all that in mind, it came as an uncomfortable surprise when Brendan Seery awarded us the PR Onion in his Orchids and Onions column in the Saturday Star (February 15, 2014). The Onion, which is an award to a PR agency for getting something wrong, was for a basic PR101 procedure. (See PDF: SaturdayStarOnion)

As a reputation management agency – our own reputation is of utmost importance. No client would trust us with their brand(s) if we didn’t have the reputation we have – a reputation that took years to build and polish. But as the saying goes; every dog has its day – and it was our day. The Onion provided us with the opportunity to eat our own dog food. It was our turn to show how we handle ourselves when our reputation is being questioned – put to practice the advice we give to our clients.

Ignoring the Onion was an option with the hope that none of our clients saw it – but as Magna Carta CEO Vincent Magwenya states “perception can easily turn into reality”. Another option was to go on the defensive and blame it all on the intern in question. But that would be a contradiction to how we consult with our clients on matters similar to this one.

Take Responsibility.

For a brand to retain any credibility during a crisis, taking responsibility is the first step. “The Onion from Seery was a clear indication that something had gone wrong with our management protocols of interns and our interface with the media – we had to accept this fact and take action” explains Magwenya.

Magwenya, who makes it clear that “communication is about leadership”, did exactly that and made contact with the Journalist. Part of managing a reputation includes building and continually maintaining relationships. Ignoring the matter would have meant Seery would forever have had ill-feelings towards any mention of Magna Carta. The relationship between reputation consultants and journalists is the most important factor of our field – it affects our clients at the end of the day. Clients will not feel comfortable working with an agency that doesn’t have great relations with media representatives. “Media relations management is our bread and butter.”

In his message to Seery, Magwenya unpacked Magna Carta’s plan of action as to how we’ll ensure that such a slip up will never happen again. “It is never enough to just take responsibility and apologise. It is also important to show that measures have been formulated to remedy the issue at hand”, said Magwenya. This was simply not a “find the intern- fire the intern” issue. Being reactionary would mean that we solved the problem at surface level but didn’t get to the root cause of the problem.

Quick real-time action from Magna Carta’s CEO put the company back into the good books of Seery. After the response he awarded us an Orchid for our peace effort and most importantly we mended our relationship with him. (See PDF: SaturdayStarOrchid)

Budgets, even good ones, merely allocate resources

Solutions lie outside of the fiscal tool and key is in implementation

This year’s budget, the last of the current sitting administration and possibly the last budget of finance minister Pravin Gordhan, was a mix of conservatism as well as practicality given that we are in an election year.

While it did bring about an income tax relief of R9.3 billion to households, increased tax cuts and support to SME’s, incentives and funding for Special Economic Zones (SEZ), and continued funds for infrastructure development as well as to social services, it was somewhat conservative in its approach to the challenges South Africa faces in reducing the current 24% unemployment rate.

While the National Development Plan (NDP) is aimed at creating an equal society where all can partake of the economy the latest budget fell somewhat short in terms of reaching these objectives.

With an estimated economic growth rate of 2.7% predicted for 2014 we are still far off the 5% growth per annum needed as outlined in the National Development Plan (NDP) to make an impact on structural unemployment.

While many quarters of society, most notably labour, have not given their full support to the NDP, its implementation remains critical in order to get SA on the right economic path. While this budget did not allocate specific amounts to the NDP, key sectors outlined in the plan have been allocated their share of resources.

Infrastructure spending over the past five years has amounted to R1 trillion with R847 billion allocated over the next three years for numerous projects including rehabilitation of dams, refurbishing of Metrorail coaches as well as support for IPAP &SEZ.

Education remains the key pillar for NDP to be successfully implemented. As such it receives an allocation of R256 billion. Another key sector for the successful implementation of NDP is that of healthcare.

With the NHI pilot programmes already underway and R1.2 billion allocated to piloting general practitioners code, the sector still faces numerous challenges which no amount of budget allocations can resolve unless structural reforms are initiated.

Employment remains but the biggest obstacle currently facing the country. While strides have been made in creating employment for all, the negative theme far outweighs any good news on the topic. Allocations to employment include the expansion of the Public Works programme as well as the introduction of the youth wage subsidy, both of which needs some time in order to judge it a success or not.