PR rising in Africa rising

Africa Rising - Time and The Economist covers

By 2020 African consumers will be spending more than a trillion dollars. 80% own mobile phones. 80% of mobiles sold in Kenya are smartphones, a 50% increase. In 2014 advertising spend in Africa increased 14.6%, compared to a global average of 3.2%.

Stuart Bruce speaking at World Conference on PR in Emerging Economies
Stuart Bruce speaking on digital and social media in PR at the World Conference on PR in Emerging Economies at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo @h_kirigo

Those were just some of the amazing statistics I learned when I spoke about digital and social media in PR at the first ever World Conference on PR in Emerging Economies held at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Nairobi, Kenya.

I heard many inspiring and informative speakers from emerging economies across Africa. After a week in Nairobi meeting African PR professionals I believe that Africa can be the next big growth area for public relations. Growth in the size of the market and the scope of what PR people do, but more importantly growth in the ability and talent of African PR professionals.

Paul Holmes, founder and CEO of the eponymous Holmes Report, the news, research and insight resource for global public relations, said:

“Your ambition shouldn’t be to catch up with the US. It should be to leapfrog the US.”

The risk for African PR professionals is that the pace of growth means that they simply accept what they are doing at the moment and seek to replicate old models from the USA and Western Europe. The opportunity is in creating a PR 3.0 profession that positions public relations as a real management discipline that contributes significantly to actual organisational and business objectives. The threat is that like elsewhere in the world there is a massive talent shortage with not enough experienced, trained and qualified professionals already practising. The opportunity is that while in Nairobi I spoke to an auditorium full of enthusiastic students at Daystar University. If they are the future of PR in Africa then I like what see.

The African PR sector consists of six main elements:

  1. In-house public relations teams in government and public sector organisations.
  2. In-house PR people within companies – the regional and local operations of multi-nationals and big indigenous companies.
  3. Local independent PR agencies, some of which operate across several African markets.
  4. Regional operations of big global PR groups – some have established local offices, others acquired local operators and some operate mainly through affiliates of independent PR agencies and freelances.
  5. Freelance PR professionals.
  6. PR academics – many African universities offer PR or ‘communication’ courses.

It would be a huge mistake to think of Africa as an homogeneous mass as it’s a huge continent with a wide variety of different economies, climates, terrains, politics and cultures. Some of the differences hark bark to the dark days of colonialism with English, French, Afrikaans and Portuguese speaking parts.

According to The Economist seven of world’s ten fastest growing economies are in sub-Saharan Africa.

The four big growth opportunities for the public relations business that I identified are:

  1. African governments and governmental organisations that need to communicate globally to challenge perceptions and encourage inward investment.
  2. Overseas companies in Europe, the Americas and APAC that want to enter and grow the African market.
  3. African-owned companies that want to expand overseas.
  4. Probably the largest market is the internal one – Africans communicating with Africans within their own countries.

In terms of practice areas it is even broader. On the global stage many, if not all, African countries still face huge reputation challenges which are largely a legacy of the old war-torn, politically corrupt Africa of the past. Growth will therefore come from PR strategy, reputation management, crisis communications, CSR, stakeholder relations, corporate communications, public affairs, digital and social media, corporate governance, PR measurement and evaluation, international media relations and mobile. Africa’s young population are on mobiles – and increasingly on smartphones as well as just feature phones. Mobiles don’t just provide a communications network, they are also the economic infrastructure with mobile payment systems like M-Pesa.

I’m already talking to both in-house PR people and PR agencies in several African markets about how we can work together to train and develop innovative new PR strategies that leapfrog what’s happening in the slower growing Western economies. Get in touch if you’d like to talk more about how we can help you in the African PR market.

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