By NBF News

Sam Loco-Smith is gradually staking out a space in Nigeria's crowded firmament of media, public relations and integrated marketing communications consultancy, a field that is daily swelling with more practitioners, who are striking out on their own from the organizations once employed as senior executives.

But the key positive for Loco-Smith is that he is succeeding in a niche that is bound to grow. Really, packaging the public image of notable Pentecostal ministers is a business that Loco-Smith is turning into high art, in a very refreshing way.

Incidentally, Loco-Smith didn't just stumble into PR and marketing communications by accident. In some sense, it has been his life having spent his working life enmeshed in the field. And has a string of degrees and professional certificates to show for his long association with public relations management and marketing communications.

The gangly fellow joined NITEL in the 90s and rose to the position of Manager, Corporate Communications/Media Relations, at the headquarters of the now comatose Federal government telecommunications company.

Born in Usung Inyang in Eket LGA of Akwa Ibom State, Loco-Smith obtained MBA in Public Relations and Advertising in 2001 from Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT). Six years later in 2007, he got Master of Science in Mass Communication also from ESUT. But earlier in 1997, had undergone professiona course at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ) where he got a postgraduate diploma in Public Relations in 1997.

But his journey to these qualifications really began in 1986 with a professional certificate course in Public Relations obtained from Business Education Examination Council (BEEC),m which took him to the Federal Polytechnic, Oko in Aguata LGA of Anambra State, where he first obtained a Higher National Diploma in Mass Communication in 1989.

An internship of 16 months with Newswatch Communications Limited, publishers of Newswatch, prepared him for the one year National Youth Service programme in the same place. From there he joined NITEL.

His ambition is as high as he is tall. Make no mistake about this, Loco-Smith has good looks and smile that open doors - even if such doors are manned by the kind of muscular, fierce-looking guards (please read, bouncers) who made sure that uninvited guests did not go one inch beyond the red 'Welcome carpet' that led into the entrance of the hall where Globacom boss, Mike Adenuga hosted friends, family and business associates to a post-wedding reception of his adorable daughter, Bella, recently.

Well, what do you know, a warm smile melts hearts and loco-Smith has this natural attribute that is so helpful in PR, business and inter-personal relationships such as marriage. In this interview, he talks about the connection between marital relationships and public relations management. Excerpts….

My wife is academically-minded
I am married to a wonderful, God-fearing, highly disciplined, hardworking, academically minded woman with a very high moral standard. Her name is Dr. (Mrs.) Stella Ifeanyi Smith. Stella is from Delta State while I am from Usung Inyang in Eket LGA of Akwa Ibom State.

What do you find most exciting about her personality?

Stella has the fear of God. She is highly disciplined and very hard working. She got her PhD as far back as 1996. She is easy going, very friendly and compassionate but you cannot intimidate her. She is not the anything-goes-type-of-person. When you see her in the laboratory you won't know she is the one. Stella is God's blessing that maketh rich and added no sorrow or problems.

How did you meet your wife? And I learnt you waited for 13 years before a baby came.

I saw her in TREM (The Redeemed Evangelical Mission, Headquarters). We both worship at TREM. I saw her towards the end of March, 1992, and told Bishop Peace Okonkwo about it in May of the same year. I got the go ahead in June, and in August we had the traditional marriage. Exactly one month after in September, we had the church wedding on September 19, 1992.

But you see, God really has a special sense of humuor. He will always test your faith in Him. It was as if he kept our marriage file in pending box, testing our faith. We waited for almost 13 years before God had mercy on us and blessed us with a wonderful baby boy that calls himself Evangelist Daniel.

From what you said, you did not date or court for long before going into marriage.

No, I don't believe in long courtship. If you are too careful, it could lead to unrighteousness - if you know what I mean. Apart from thye particular case of Jacob in the Bible who had to serve for 14 years before getting the hand of his beloved Rachel, I don't know of any other cases of prolonged courtship in the bible. You will agree with me that some form of courtship had been involved in the 14-year period that Jacob served Laban for him to be allowed to marry Rachel. I have held the belief that it is not long courtship that determines good marriage.

How will you describe marriage considering the fact that you waited for 13 years before God visited you? Some people would have gone their separate ways.

Marriage is wonderful. Marriage is a relationship between two incompatible people that have come together to work on the incompatibility. Marriage is not Nollywood. What you see in home videos are scripted actions but in real life, it is something else. Most people only prepare for the better side of marriage, not the worst side. Marriage is described as 'for better or for worse.' Going to London, United States, Dubai to shop for wedding gown is not the issue. Most people prepare only for the wedding ceremonies and not the marriage. Marriage starts immediately after the reception. It's like a plane that prepares to take off into the sky - surely there must be turbulence. It is only the two people involved that will make it work.

You seem to have a passion for pursuing academic and professional qualifications. What is the story behind this?

Growing up was not easy. Getting my school fees paid was a big challenge. The experience made me to be very determined to reach my highest peak academically. I was first introduced to the London Chambers of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) Professional Exams in Public Relations, Advertising and Marketing, then their office was located somewhere on Igbosere road, Lagos. That was how I got my professional certificate in Public Relations and Marketing. I then went on to get OND, Business Education Examinations Council (BEEC) Professional Certificate in Public Relations, HND in Mass Communication, NIPR Professional Diploma in Public Relations, Postgraduate Diploma in Public Relation, from Nigeria Institute of Journalism. I then registered for my MBA in Public Relations and Advertising since MBA is a professional qualification. I felt I needed M.Sc to cover the academic area so that was how I found myself registering for M.Sc in Mass Communication.

Are you thinking of becoming a Pastor someday judging from the publicity works you do for Bishop Mike Okonkwo and Rev. (Dr.) Uma Ukpai?

Of course not! A pastor's job is not bread and butter; it takes a lot more than what you see on the pulpit. A lot of people see the finished product and jump into it. Before a person gets into pastoral work, the person must be sure that he is called by God.

The thing is that in TREM, we a have professionally structured Corporate Affairs Department (CAD) and we meet in December, January, February, March of every year and deliberate on issues and marshal out public relations/media relations (PR/MR) and integrated marketing communication strategies (IMCS) element in support of the church's programmes and activities. Once they are approved, we roll. I am just one of the messengers in the group that operates between the media and the group. I must also say that we are only making our contributions using the talents freely given to us by God to positively project God's work in TREM.

How can PR practice be applied to a marital setting?

In any society, it is the mass media that is the primary tool for promoting democracy, human rights, good governance, justice, equity, fair play, literacy, technological advancement, social harmony and economic transformation.

The prevailing public perception of government as a failure is dependent on the frequencies and degree of exposure of government actions. When you don't inform the people about what you are doing or what you have done or what you intend to do, the public will be ignorant about your programmes. In fact it is the failure to adequately inform the people that the oppositions uses as a platform to launch various attacks on the ruling party and brand it as a failure.

When you come to a marital setting, you find that open, transparent and effective communication is key to building a romantic relationship and a successful marriage. PR practice is a way of managing relationships whether corporate, personal or marital. Marital PR, I daresay is a form of inter-personal and very intimate relationship. A good husband who loves his wife, must continually communicate and demonstrate his love for the wife. You cannot effectively communicate with your wife if you don't know her very well. The same thing goes for a brand – whether it is a physical product or an intangible service. You must understand the audience and the market to be able to effectively communicate to it.

If you look at the biblical angle, God put His Spirit in us so that we can know His mind, which he has revealed through the Bible. So you see that managing a marriage requires the same kind of skills you would deploy in managing the image of an organization using the tools of public relations: a kind, honest word, an affectionate touch, re-affirmation of love. And this is what companies do through public relations in a slightly different way.

How did you come about the name 'Loco'?
The 'loco' attachment came when I was doing my one year internship with Newswatch Communications Limited, Publishers of Newswatch Magazine as a result of my frequent travels.

We have seen cases where parents indulge their children, giving them more liberty than they should have. In your view, what should be the right way to handle children's upbringing and education?

There is a saying that knowledge is power, so without knowledge, there is no power. Education simply means to be properly and professionally instructed and trained especially in such a way as to develop mental, moral and physical powers.

The Bible says: 'Train up a child in the way of the Lord, and when he grows, he will not depart from it.' Education is the foundation. When you give a child education, you have given that child everything and when you deprive a child the opportunity of going to school, the child's destiny may be altered negatively unless God intervenes supernaturally such a child might not have a good future.

You are very fashionable, what does style mean to you?

I try as much as possible to look good. I like perfumes, wristwatches and I try to wear what will make me feel and look good. However, it is not what you wear that determines who you are. It is what you do, how you do them and the impact of those things that you do. Don't forget that what is fashionable today will certainly not be fashionable by the end of that same month.

It is said that leaders are readers. What books interest you?

I like ones that relate directly to my profession, which encompasses mass communication, media relations and marketing communications. I also like books with rich content on personalities, leadership, management and scriptural personality books.

If you had not read mass communication what other course would have interested you?

Medicine. I love medicine because you care for people.

Who are your role models or heros?
My role models are Dr. Mike Okonkwo and Rev Dr.Uma Ukpai

What do you do to relax or tune out apart from reading?

I play the Saxophone. I also watch documentaries like crime and investigation, National Geographic and Medical films.

What kind of Music do you like?
SAM: I like African musical rhythm (Gospel), instrumentals etc.