Right Of Reply: “PRCAN, PR Practice And Six Things….”

John-Ehiguese

John-Ehiguese

My attention has been drawn to an opinion piece on the above subject-matter, published on the online platform: www.brandish.com.ng on August 16, 2015. To the best of my knowledge that platform is owned and operated  by Mr. Ikem Okuhu, and since the author chose to remain anonymous, I claim the license to hold Mr. Okuhu directly responsible for the contents of that article. I therefore feel obliged to respond directly and personally to him, given the several denigrating references to my person, and the Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN), of which I am currently the President.

Dear Mr. Okuhu, it is very easy for me to proffer some theories as to your possible motivation (or is it ‘inducement’) for writing that article, just as you have yourself liberally hinted at some sinister and uncomplimentary suggestions regarding my own motives for some of the recent actions I took to fight for my profession – from which I earn an honest living, and of which I am very proud. But I will resist that route, tempting as it is.

I will begin on a general note, to put the issue in perspective: when the leadership of the NIPR and PRCAN recently decided to jointly take on a couple of mighty and powerful Nigerian corporates on the issue of their breach of some aspects of Nigerian PR practice laws, we were not under any illusion that it was going to be an easy fight. They are big, they have all the resources to bully, bribe and buy willing foot soldiers to do their bidding.

But the law is the law. And we knew we had a higher legal (not to mention, moral) standing in this matter. So we were prepared for whatever they were going to throw at us. And oh yes, it’s already coming!

Now let’s get to the crux of matter at hand.

You listed six things a professional association (PRCAN) should not be seen to be doing, ostensibly against the back-drop of the letters written to Guinness and MTN Nigeria by both the NIPR and PRCAN about recent actions they took which we understood to be in breach of Nigerian PR practice laws. Apparently the six (countervailing) things that you thought we should be ‘seen to be doing’ are captured in your emboldened ‘conclusions’ at the end of each point. My intention is to respond to you point-by-point.

To begin with, the thrust of your entire piece would appear to be at sharp variance with baseline premise which you set out in paragraph four, and I quote: “John Ehiguese and his people at PRCAN made a promise to ensure that only PR houses fully registered with PRCAN will be allowed to practice in Nigeria. They have the law behind them at the very least…”. (I choose to ignore the insult).

So if by your own ab initio admission we had the force of the law behind us,  what then was the whole point of your article if not to stand logic on its head, and to make a very ludicrous attempt at justifying the unjustifiable?

You wrote: “It (PRCAN) picked a laptop and wrote letters to MTN and Guinness, asking them to vacate DKK and XLR8 from the accounts” (again I will ignore the insult). But then you’re wrong! There was a letter co-signed by the National President of the NIPR, Dr. Rotimi Oladele,  and myself as PRCAN President (on the NIPR letter-headed paper, if I may add), to the CEOs of MTN Nigeria and Guinness protesting their violation of the extant Nigerian PR practice laws in the recent ‘selection’ of DKK and XLR8 respectively as their PR agencies. DKK is an advertising agency, and XLR8 is not registered with PRCAN. Obviously  Mr. Okuhu, you did not have your facts (or chose to be selective in using them).

Now, my six-point response to your six-point opinion piece:

1.       How many PRCAN members participated in the MTN pitch process?

My response is: “quite a number” (I do know the exact figure, and I fail to see how relevant that is). However, I would think though that the fact that the majority of the agencies that participated were PRCAN agencies, confers some validity to the Association’s standing as a credible industry group.

It is very uncharitable for you to suggest that this whole thing came about because some PRCAN members lost out in the MTN pitch process. Is this the first time agencies are losing out in MTN pitches? Are there no PR agencies in Nigeria doing very well without the MTN business? Pray, what is so special about the MTN business, that without it one cannot run a viable PR consultancy practice in Nigeria?

You talked about the pre-pitch meeting and the fact that PRCAN members went ahead with the process, knowing that DKK (‘a hitherto creative agency’, by your own admission) was participating. By implication, you have yourself admitted that DKK’s presence there was unusual, if not abnormal.

Well, maybe you have a point there, but the bigger issue is: how does a responsible client justify pre-qualifying a certified advertising agency (and active member of AAAN, to boot) for a PR pitch? How was such an agency evaluated? What PR case studies did they present? What were the profiles of the in-house PR executives they proposed to work on the account?

The pre-qualification process for the MTN PR pitch was pretty rigorous (or perhaps was only made to appear so, with the benefit of hind-sight). How did an advertising agency scale that hurdle? What previous PR campaign has DKK handled, and what is their track record in the area of PR practice? If you must know, I am aware that the DKK started to set up an in-house PR team only after they ‘won’ the MTN pitch.

Even at that, this whole matter could have been easily resolved by getting the agencies concerned to regularize their membership of the relevant professional bodies (that is if they qualify). Why is it so difficult to do that?

Conclusion: You talk about not complaining about the rules, at the end of a game lost. What if there were really no rules in the first place, as now appears to have been the case in this instance? And you’re wrong when you say that people will not understand. Many people do understand. They know how some of these things happen …

2.       This law will not pass the Cicero test.

Sorry, you lost me there. What law are we talking  about here? And what has Cicero got to do with a law enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? Since when did we need a Cicero to approve our laws, for them to be enforceable?

Conclusion: Let me may it out very clearly for you: The PRCAN was established by NIPR by-law No. 3 of 1993 to regulate PR consultancy practice in Nigeria. The NIPR itself, as you yourself acknowledged, is legally chartered by a provision of the Nigerian constitution. The Nigerian law states very clearly that anybody who must practice PR in Nigeria must be registered with the NIPR. It is Nigeria’s law, not Cicero’s. As for your suggestion that our laws ‘can be disobeyed’, I really want to believe that was a ‘slip of pen’. Otherwise…

3.       Is PR like other professions? If so, how many PR professionals would be in practice?

Again, such a pathetic display of ignorance! Are you aware of the NIPR training and certification programme, as one of the routes by which people can be trained and certified by the NIPR to enter into the PR profession in Nigeria?

If you must know, PR is a profession, like any other, and is practiced the world over. Is has its body of knowledge and skill set, and is guided by certain ethical codes and standards of practice. In the specific case of Nigeria, membership of the NIPR is not automatic, and is certainly not an all-comers affair, like you are suggesting.

Yes, a lot of people are practicing illegally, outside the ambit of the law. But does that make it right and acceptable? Isn’t that what we at the NIPR and PRCAN are trying to change, that people like you appear to have a problem with? Where really, is the logic of your argument?

Conclusion: Your ‘conclusion’ that “PRCAN should be slow in emphasizing membership…” just does not make any sense! So I do not see the point in responding to it.

4.       Where is even the NIPR?

I will not speak for the NIPR, as I believe that the leadership of that body is quite capable of defending the Institute. But you talk about “General Overseers” of PRCAN making money (thanks for the compliment!) while the NIPR “is in serious need of salvation”.

Again, please listen to yourself. Obviously you are ignorant of the fact that the NIPR is the regulatory authority, while the PRCAN is the trade association catering to the interests of PR practitioners on the consultancy side.

Your inference that the NIPR is just a place “where you (PRCAN members) go to get a license to operate but never care about its wellbeing afterwards” is therefore not worthy of being dignified with a response.

Conclusion: It’s not about getting people to ‘beg’ to join PRCAN. It is about the law. In Nigeria, the law states clearly that you cannot practice as a PR consultancy without being a member of PRCAN. If you do, you are in breach of that law. Simple!

5.       How much of the change in the industry has PRCAN noticed?

Again, I quote you: “Brands are increasingly not looking for PR consultants, or creative consultants, or eventing consultants. They are looking for marketing solutions”. Really! I did not realize you were now an authority on what kinds of support services brands want, and the correct nomenclature for them. I only know that the last time I checked you were a journalist, not a Brand Manager.

Anyway, the issue at hand was not a pitch for ‘Marketing Solutions”. It was a PR Pitch, clearly so stated. And your advise to PRCAN “to go back home, think, retool and re-emerge anew ready for the challenges of the present and the future” is well taken. That is if armchair ‘experts’ and busy-bodies like you would allow us.

The quotation attributed to me in “a recent interview in Marketing Edge magazine” is not accurate. I do not recall granting any such interview to Marketing Edge, and I challenge you to show otherwise. And even if I did those could not have been my exact words. That said, I really do not believe that running a thriving specialist PR agency (in the real sense of the word) is feasible in Nigeria at this time. That’s my personal opinion, and I am prepared to defend it if I have to. And by the way, the examples you gave do not indicate that you really understand what a specialist PR agency is. You see, again that is one of the problems with this PR business: everybody is an authority on it!

Conclusion: I agree with you that clients know what they want. But was there ever any argument about that?

6.       How like the Gander and the Gosling is the PRCAN vs DKK/XLR8 issue?

I will ignore your puerile pretensions to intellectualism (quoting Cicero and the like) and go straight to the point.

Let me give you an apt analogy: “Does the fact that a policeman probably knew that a crime was about to be committed exonerate the culprits in the crime, if and when it eventually occurs?”

It’s not about how many companies we have written to in the past ‘warning them not to hire non-PRCAN agencies’. It is about starting from somewhere. The fundamental issue is: people who breach the law should be called to order, regardless of who they are.

As for your question on why this is happening “around the movement of certain perceivably ‘very juicy’ accounts that PRCAN members pitched and lost”, I ask: what is your understanding of a “very juicy” PR account?

Let me share this with you for free: sometimes things aren’t the way they seem. One man’s “juicy” account could be another man’s nightmare. But of course I don’t expect you to understand such things – you are not a PR consultant. And you do not have the slightest clue!

Conclusion: Cicero has no place in this matter, so let the dead rest in peace.

You went personal in your piece, so I too will give you some personal advise, as a parting shot: Owning an online platform does not give you the right to disparage other people and impugn their integrity at will. As you well know, one of the beauties of the internet revolution is the ‘democratization’ of the media. No longer does anyone have a monopoly of ownership of media platforms, to deploy as they  please. Everyone is now a publisher!

Oh, by the way, congratulations on Reliks Media. Welcome to the club, and I do hope you’re already making plans to register with PRCAN. Catch my drift?

Thank you, and God bless!

By John E. Ehiguese, President, PRCAN

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