Mrs. Nkechi Ali-Balaogun, public relations expert and Principal Consultant at NECCI Consulting is married to veteran producer, Mr. Mamood Ali-Balogun. In this chat, she narrated her accidental entrance into the world of image making; challenges and relevance of new media integration into public relations, among sundry issues.
Nkechi Ali-Balogun revealed to us the driving force in public relations and why she never compromises in her career…
Many people now have confidence in effectiveness of public relations in Nigeria. What is your view on that?
It depends on how you look at it. The answer is yes and no. Yes, in the sense that a lot of people now understand what public relations is all about. Yes, in the sense that a lot of practitioners are now getting more serious about it. They are now getting sophisticated, and the world is a global village, where people are exchanging ideas and all that. Yes also in the sense that, employers are getting to know the functions of public relations practice, they now know and distinguish between public relations and advertising. That’s why a lot of practitioners are doing a lot of work to make sure that people understand this distinctive difference.
But no, in the sense that a lot of people are still paying lip service to public relations. Some people still pretend, because when you see educated employers setting aside money for public relations, it is not that they don’t understand what it is. It’s just that old habits die hard. Second, there is also economic factor. So many practitioners don’t come out the way they should, because there is a lot at stake. For instance, you hardly find any whistle blowing on the part of employers, considering the financial implications of public relations, especially when you find out that there are some unethical things that are going on. So, it becomes whose ethics, my ethics, the company’s ethics or the professional ethics? And if I blow the whistle, where do I go? Also, another greater challenge is insufficient facilities. For instance, public relations requires serious research. Who will fund the research? Measure is not as much, because we don’t even have materials for measurement. And our clients are not keen about that aspect of measurement. So far, they have their defined measurement in their own way. For as long as they are in the newspaper, profit is rising, all is well.
Can you recall your entrance into public relations?
I entered public relations by accident. It wasn’t planned. Even though I’ve always been a people’s person, I’ve always wanted to do journalism. I’ve always wanted to do mass communication. When I came out of school and I said I wanted to be a journalist, my people wouldn’t want to hear of it. Because then, mass communication, especially for ladies, was for like drop-outs. It wasn’t really considered a very serious study. More so, considering the kind of background you are coming from. Your father as a teacher, they expected you to do things like medicine, law. Essentially, I had admission to do law. Those are the things I wanted to do, but somehow, I found myself doing English Education. Not that I didn’t have the qualifications to do journalism, but then, I started work. Why I said it’s by accident is that, I started working in a broadcasting house, which is Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). From there I started indirect public relations, indirect broadcasting, indirect journalism, but I was much more into programmes. From there, I got a job in the bank where I started public relations proper, and that was in 1990. That is how I stumbled into public relations, and since then, I’ve never looked back. My experience has been very good. Because, I came into the profession, I love the profession and I decided to focus on the profession. I don’t belong to any other association or professional group rather than public relations. I’ve been in public relations through and through. I started as an associate member and today, I’m a fellow. The experience has been good, challenging and tough. But I’ve remained tenacious, for I know public relations is for me.
What is the effect of social media in integrated marketing? And are there new strategies working for integrated marketing?
There are so many new trends which public relations refers to as new media. And if it’s new media, there are new trends, there are new strategies. A lot of things are happening online. Now, we have online reputation and online marketing. In fact, social media has taken over. But then, it has not really taken off completely in a place like Nigeria. I want to say Nigerians are very conservative traditionalists in their own ways. Why? Frankly speaking, 60 percent of our CEOs. don’t go online. Our mothers don’t go online, 70 percent of our women don’t go online. So, we have to strike a balance. Yes, there are new strategies in integrated marketing. But then, we must still balance it with the traditional strategies because this whole idea of social media is like it’s for the youth, but really, it isn’t for everyone, and a lot of us are still not into it. Younger people believe older ones are immigrants to social media, but they are native to it. So, because we are immigrants, you know the challenge of immigrants, we struggle to move with it. Unlike the younger ones, social media is their second nature.
Was there a time in your career when you compromised to get things done? Or how do you handle difficult situation?
Without sounding immodest, without sounding like a perfectionist, I will say no. and I’m proud to say that. And maybe that is why my career in the office didn’t last that long. I’m not saying people that stay longer are compromising, no. I was faced with a situation where I needed to compromise. Rather than compromise, I resigned. No, there has never been a situation like that. And that’s one of the major challenges of public relations. I was able to make that decision because I wanted a lot from life, but at the same time, I don’t have to kill myself for it. I don’t have to lose or dent my reputation and integrity because I want to move on. And that has also been in my business life. I’m sure there is a lot I would have done, but because you want to compromise here and there, you lose out in many things, especially in a country where corruption is everywhere.
Your book, ‘The Talking Couple’. What inspired you to write it and how is the response so far?
Talking Couple means communication. It is all about communication in marriage. And really that book can even be used in schools. In it, you have effective communication, what communication is all about, barrier to communication, best time to talk, when not to talk and inter-personal relationship. I even want to recommend it for schools that are into communication. So, what made me write that book is that marriage is a micro part of the little community. It’s a very important segment of our society, and if that segment is faulty, it will affect the larger society. The Bible says, “If the foundation be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” So, if the fabric of the family which is the micro part of the larger society be wrong, there is no way the society can survive. When people are not able to communicate, it is the same thing they carry outside. In Stephen Covey’s book 90/10 Principle, it says that 10 percent of things that happens to you, you have no control over, but 90 percent of the other things that happen to you, you have control over. He gave a good example which is about communication in marriage. It could be verbal or non-verbal. I see a lot of families dealing with communication problem. So, from my own personal experience, I just felt it is a good thing to share. The response has been so good that I don’t even have a copy any longer. I’ve reproduced several times, but I am working on a revised edition with a workbook that will help you understand the book better.
Where do you see the industry in the nearest future?
If we go by what is happening today, the industry is growing faster. There is a book on The Fall of Advertising and The Rise of PR, by Al Ries and Laura Ries, and now you also have another book that counters it, The Fall of PR and the Rise of Advertising. The future is bright for public relations. Because, people in advertising don’t like to hear this, I see advertising as the end product of public relations. I mean, until you finish public relations, advertising doesn’t come in. Public relations is one profession that will tell you that you can communicate without advertising, without print media. It’s just that our background feels that if you don’t use media, you have not done well. We can communicate without advertising, because we are about people. There are so many other tools that PR can use and at the long run, we are cheaper.