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Postcard from Africa: An overview of Africa’s PR scene

On paper, PR and communications should be formulaic with the basic mechanisms remaining largely the same across any market. Firstly, it is imperative to know your client and their organisational objectives inside and out. Secondly, you need familiarity with the messaging that is going to be conveyed. Thirdly, it is vital to identify the most appropriate channel to convey that message, and, lastly, you need a firm understanding of the audience or stakeholders the message is targeting. So, then, are PR and communications really different in Africa than anywhere else? The answer is yes and no.

Developing African markets
Now, many African markets are becoming increasingly integrated in to the global economy, and an ever-greater number of foreign entities are looking to expand their services and goods across the continent. There are substantial opportunities for foreign companies and, in many sectors, a clear need for expertise and technologies. As a result there is a commensurate need for more sophisticated and nuanced communications that effectively incorporate the unique cultural, geopolitical, historical and social aspects of markets across the continent. This means that no matter where the foreign practitioner comes from, in addition to traditional PR and communications tools, campaigning in Africa demands deep local knowledge.

Local knowledge is key
The goal is to build teams of talented local practitioners, but it also means learning about what works locally. In some areas – such as communications through mobile phones – Africa has leapfrogged traditional phone line technologies. In such markets as Kenya and Nigeria, mobile technology has been masterfully used as a tool to reach stakeholders on matters pertaining to public health, banking, advertising or even political campaigning.  

The power of radio
Similarly, radio remains a crucial communications channel across African markets as it is both cost effective and will impact rural communities even with high illiteracy rates. Though, be mindful that if you’re rolling out a public health campaign in Malawi, for example, your spots had better be produced in local Chichewa to maximise impact.

To be sure, engaging with journalists varies wildly between markets across Africa, where some may print verbatim and others expect to be paid for coverage. In addition, high staff turnover and poor salaries pose a challenge when building a database of journalist contacts – and many outlets are state-owned, which at times presents practitioners with issues of censorship or state-control.

Social media strategy
Much like any other market, leveraging digital and social media should be considered paramount to any well-thought-out communications campaign on the continent. Though one must carefully research the market before rollout. In Angola for example, users prefer Facebook to Twitter, and it’s imperative to produce local content in Portuguese. In a move away from its colonial history, some websites in Guinea have opted to veer away from French and are creating content in local languages such as Mandinka. Moreover, Google and YouTube have recently found themselves in hot water over accusations of cultural censorship in South Africa.

With virtually every African market focusing on economic diversification and multi-national corporations hungry for shelf space and market share on the continent, the need for PR and communications that are world-class and African has never been greater. But if you are looking to engage with stakeholders in a manner that is both real and measurable, you had better do your homework.

Article written by Kevin Nolan, international director at agency Djembe Communications

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