Any item, every creation, God, man or woman-made depending on the prevailing ‘need’ is open for ‘branding’. Here, ‘item’, ‘creation’, ‘need’ and ‘brand’ are the key watchwords. They serve as primary indicators and tools effectively used in the Public Relations world to define the course of action often carried out to correct or project an image to a defined audience.

Much like in the military where problems and provocations by an opposing entity is seen as opportunity to ‘send a message’, set an example or assert prominence all together, in the PR world, problems are seen as opportunities for creating wealth and reasserting worth for the client.

Through a ‘need assessment’, problems are identified. When such problems are identified, justification for a PR strategy and processes arises. The image problem is then effectively eliminated or remedied.

A popular method employed in the study of the problem is the S.W.O.T Analysis or Strength, Weakness, Opportunities and Threat Analysis. The method involved a well-thought of and well-planned series of studies and tests carried out to ascertain the viability of the subject’s strength, the effectiveness of its weakness, the opportunities available and the prevailing or foreseen threats that gang up to wield an overpowering negative publicity that threatens the growth and survival of the subject of study.

The subject of study may be a person, a corporate entity, a nation-state, a donkey or a commodity.

Yes, a ‘donkey’ can be a subject of a PR or rather a Branding Project. The prestigious National Geographic Channel is a very successful business entity that is considered the world over for been enticingly innovative at exploiting and exploring the vast natural space and what is within for profit as well as for the good of the humanity.

The National Geographic Channel or NGC is never economical with creativity, in fact, they are extravagant with it. What the world overlooked as dirt, animalistic and wild, the NGC found means and ways of creatively packaging same innovatively and dramatically for our consumption on a profit basis. It assembled an army of consultants and specialists including Biologists, Anthropologists, Geologists, Paleontologists, Sociologists, Futurists, Seismologists, Volcanologists, Shark Specialists and professional animal handlers. These specialists were well paid by the NGC to carry out years of SWOT analysis on almost every life form on earth and what is possible in the outer space, the result of which has been an excellent utilization of camera shots, angles and voice over to create scintillating documentary films and scenes that today enters almost every household the world over that have TV and read magazines. These films serve as recreational sights to behold and a medium for improving our knowledge of the very world we live in. This is a very good example of how Public Relations are used to turn ‘dirt’ into ‘heartwarming’ sights to behold.

Without effectively studying the need and critically weighing options available to it, the NGC wouldn’t have been the success story that it is today. To this date it has contributed to our knowledge of the animal world.

Today, we can differentiate between varieties of fish types; can tell of the amazing speed of the cheetah, the astonishing emotions and memory of the elephant, the great rivalry between the lion pack and the throes of hyenas.

Sir David Attenborough religiously observed the principles of branding to arrive at his powerful accounts of life forms, cultures and cities in the visual and print form. The same can be said of the world’s great brands like the Coca Cola, Wal-Mart, McDonalds, and PepsiCo.

This begs the question, why after spending huge amount of money and resources, successive Nigerian governments are yet to create a befitting and favorable image profile for Nigeria and consequently Nigerians that are up till today abused and mistreated at airports the world over?

This writer believes that the answer to this question is two-fold. One is the failure of the governments to produce qualitative citizens through the effective and sustained promotion of the concept of ‘reward and punishment’ that knows no bound or social class, with the other been a total absence of an effective ‘branding project’ or PR strategy, meaning

(1) The quality of the citizen is way below standard, and

(2) PR strategies are poorly conceived and implemented

The painful truth is that, PR Strategy is only effective when the quality of the product to be promoted meets the audience’s expectations favorably or exceeds their expectations all together; anything less than these amounts to addressing the symptom, and never the disease!

Reason with me please. Could the PR strategy of the likes of Wall-Mart, Coca Cola, McDonalds, LG electronics, Sony BMG, Dangote Group and National Geographic Channel be as successful as they were if what the companies offer as products are fake or way below standard? The answer is of course, no.

The rule of the thumb is to design your PR strategy from inside, then out. Meaning, you improve the quality of the products first, then package and promote it afterwards.

Sitting atop the medusa-headed image problem Nigeria suffered is the trio of wanton corruption, international prostitution rackets and cyber crime (or internet scam, or 419, or advance fee fraud or Yahoo-Yahoo), yet, almost all of the government’s PR strategy is devoid of strategies to address them, rather we see jingles and short-lived TV clips to that effect.

Yes, Nigeria is a great nation with good people, but to an average foreigner, this is only true on paper as he or she up till today doesn’t feel safe dealing with Nigerians. Cyber crime and corruption are witnessing an upward trend rather than otherwise and the Mutallab thing has further vindicated many skeptics.

The issue of effectiveness or otherwise of public and private institutions purportedly fighting the scourge of scammers, human traffickers and international prostitution rackets is broad and requires critical exposition and appraisal, which is why this writer resolved to only touch it in another essay to come soon.

But, it is evident that priorities are misplaced and commitments abused beyond all logic so much so that one begins to think that these so-called crime fighting institutions are as an unnecessary burden to Nigeria and Nigerians as are the cyber-criminals themselves.

Nigerians saw a short-lived but effective strategy for addressing the image issue starting from within before working it out step-by-step in the late Tunde Idiagbon inspired War Against Indiscipline and Corruption or WAIC as it was honorably referred to as in the 1980’s. Instilling discipline and patriotism in as many citizens as possible is a necessary first step towards a successful public relations strategy or campaign. And this is a vital need assessed and identified by commission or omission long ago.

Factoring out sensitization efforts around indiscipline, patriotism and educating citizens on the ills of corruption from the overall PR strategy will amount to the implementation of a stillborn-like strategy. We cannot boast of an effective branding strategy when the abuse of the sacred rule of law from top to down is encouraged and institutionalized. We cannot also celebrate victory vis-à-vis our re-branding strategy when in reality there never has been a holistic branding strategy ever conceived and implemented to the latter by any government past and present.

The truth is, we are far away from‘re-branding’. The most touted ‘Re-branding Project’ crashed even before take-up, with its meager result realized failing to commensurate with the huge amount of money needlessly expended on it.

Besides the SWOT analysis, other critical steps to be taken and items to identify and consider which are critical to the overall success of any PR strategy are creative content creation, logical language selection, delivery medium, delivery pattern, sample size, roll out volume and plan, audience selection amongst others.

Language for instance, is a very critical component of a successful PR campaign that is been mistakenly or deliberately relegated to the background by many PR strategists and media specialists in Nigeria. This abuse of PR principles is often encouraged by partisanship and partly as a result of total disrespect for professionalism. It is equally encouraged by greed and heavily-nursed tribalism.

Today, you see PR materials produced by both private and public institutions and meant for say the consumption of a predominantly Hausa-speaking audience been done and crafted by men and women that speaks only adulterated Hausa, with vital statements, messages and meanings often sacrificed in the process. This only encourages the production of misdirected messages and ultimately of stereotyping. And a PR material riddled with ballistic stereotyping only succeeds in defeating the very purpose for which it is intended for.

In ‘part two’ of this essay series on ‘branding Nigeria’ coming to you very soon, this writer will discuss in details his concept of an ideal, tropicalized and equally practical PR strategy for Nigeria which includes among others how to create an Inter-Agency and Inter-Ministerial Task Force on branding and PR strategies that will among others plan ways to tap from awesomely experienced Nigerians serving Nigerian government for good.

The second part will also highlights how to identify ‘selling points’ for your brand which is described as one amongst many factors that defines the strength of a brand. How to engineer ‘information blackout’ aimed at flushing out negative publicity from all domains temporarily and permanently will be discussed.

There is a need to incorporate strategies of blanketing the media with favorable publicity for a brand. This is because, like in ‘web-crawling’ and ‘search engine optimization’ or ‘site optimization’ where key words are optimized for a website in other to ensure that it ranks up in search engines, media items can be produced logically and creatively in such a way that it becomes ‘darling’ of media outlets, and consequently of the target audience.

Every citizen, foreign and domestic has a need to know, and the more you attend to this need, the more value he or she will perceive.

With the recent hike in the number of persons traveling out to the likes of Malaysia, UK, US, Singapore, India and Ukraine for studies and medical tourism, I will also discuss how to recruit good ambassadors of the country abroad. Here, I mean recruiting ordinary citizens domesticated and from those traveling out temporarily or permanently by feeding them with good education and logic in discipline and patriotism.

When Nigerians, be they diplomats or ordinary citizens are in the presence of a foreigner, they are on stage and the spotlight is on them. Part of doing their job is giving a good performance onstage for the approval of their host. This makes recruiting ambassadors amongst potential Nigerians traveling out all the more a priority and a critical component of any PR strategy.

And to borrow a leaf from the best heads in the business, branding like marketing is the business of finding a need and filling it. Finding a hurt and healing it. Finding an itch and scratching it.

See you in the second part.
Salisu Ahmed Koki, a Media Specialist writes from Kano, Nigeria. [email protected]

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