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Reputation Management Learning From Nigeria 2015 Presidential Campaign

By Austin Ayaosi
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The March 28 Presidential election has come and gone but the memories it brought still feel like it was yesterday. It was a long walk to victory. The President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, is an embodiment of what has become the symbolism for the ‘Nigerian spirit’; a never-dying, resilient and optimistic spirit that tells you to keep pushing hard for what you believe in with a conviction that one day, you will make it through.

However, one hopes that‘change’ which is a logical conclusion or destination of the President-elect has come too; to that graduate who has been on the streets two years, three years, maybe more, after National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) hustling for a decent job; to that young man who knows all the strategic areas and streets in Lagos, not because he wants to but because he has to; to that retired civil servant who sits on its couch every morning reading a national newspaper, patiently hoping to see a banner headline screaming ‘Government Approves Payment of Pension’ and finally, to that Nigerian who sleeps with one eye closed and the other wide open as he/she prays not to hear the sound of a bomb blast as night transits into morning.

The keenly contested presidential race, which is widely acclaimed as the toughest in the democratic history of Nigeria, holds a lot of learning for young professionalsin the dynamic and challenging world of integrated marketing communications (IMC).

The struggle by the APC presidential candidate seemed to have had a proactively designed and coordinated communication plan as GMB’s team provided answers and counter-attacks to mostissues and challenges laid on GMB’s path to victory. The team strategically leveraged their responses to tactical issues through actions and reactions to rebrand General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) and create sympathy,goodwill and national acceptance for him. Brand GMB ‘accepts responsibility’ for its past, rode on its most acclaimed assets, ‘truth and integrity’ and offered to ‘lead from the front’.

It is a fact that no politician is clean enough to avoid bad publicity in a political arena and expects a smooth sail in a rough ocean, especially in a presidential race that has proven to be one of the toughest in Nigeria’s democratic history. The truth is that bad publicity is inevitable in a political battle just like corporate crisis, but negative publicity also presents some inherent strength to turn the seemingly bad situation to a positive one.

Similarly, a crisis situation in a corporate organisation would hold an inherent opportunity to turn the story around by telling the organisation’s own story, in reference to The Bank Flag theory of crisis communication as advocated by Jonathan & Erik Bernstein. The theory suggests that crisis communication should be imagined as a blank white flag with nothing on it: neither colour nor form and can be turned to anything.

The build-up to the election was characterised with many issues ranging from religion, educational qualification, health, issues of negative affiliation such as alleged MEND endorsement and more. All fuelled by name calling propaganda. However, the team was able to turn the situation around. Naturally, when we see, read or hear so much about something, top of mind awareness in our subconscious minds for such thing as well as our interest to know more about it grows, either consciously or subconsciously.

This phenomenon propelled interests in knowing more about GMB. To satisfy that quest on a short run, I quickly checked out his‘unpalatable profile’ on Wikipedia.com (I hope the profile is updated now) and started following his campaign activities with genuine interest.

Prior to the 2015 presidential race, the President-elect was perceived as a sectional leader, religion extremist, no-nonsense former Military Head of State, a fighter of corruption amongst others. His team was able to explicitly distil his personality through a rigorous SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat),Situation and Reputation analyses; and eventually rode on his biggest strength – a consistent fighter of corruption.

On the strengths are his experience as former Military Head of State, honesty and pedigree of zero tolerance to corruption. Among his weaknesses were issues like his perception as a sectional leader and religion extremist. Inherent in thoseweaknesses; his team saw an opportunity to change public attitude and perception through a well thought-out and carefully executed communication planwith strategically crafted messages for specific audiences, fused into a holistic strategy.

On reputation management, GMB’s team apparently conducted a rigorous reputation analysis. According to reputation management experts, finding answers to some questions posed by key variables in reputation analysis is a firststep towards success. Some of these variables reflect:

  1. Outside-In Analysis- How are we perceived by our key publics?
  2. Inside-Out Analysis- What do we say about ourselves? Do we have good stories to tell? Do we tell our stories well?
  3. Gap Analysis – What is real and what is not? How do we create a synergy between what we are and what the publics perceive of us? How do we improve on what we are?
  4. Consistency – Is what we do consistent with what we say irrespective of issues and situations?

One of the campaign objectives of GMB’s team was to change his image perception from a sectional leader to a leader with national interest before the 2015 presidential poll. Evaluating the success of this objective is relatively easy, judging from his eventual emergence as the President-elect in the March 28 presidential election.

Evidently, this once again draws our attention as reputation and communication managers to the importance of setting clear and measurable objectives during a campaign. When objectives are clearly set, determining the extent to which they are achieved during evaluation stage becomes a walkover. In specific terms, we can set simple objectives for a campaign in measurable terms by relating goal to current situation. For instance, in a product rebranding campaign, a simple objective could be to increase brand awareness among consumers by ten per cent within the first six weeks, knowing the current awareness level of the brand.

This approach enhances better evaluation. PR measurement is gradually shifting focus from output measurement (commonly based on the use of AVEs and clippings) to audience outcome and outtakes variables. This again re-emphasises the relevance of pre and post campaign researches to a successful campaign irrespective of its nature.

Austin Ayaosi
[email protected]

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Austin Ayaosi and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."