Of African Public Relations Agencies and Obsession with Print Media

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Technology companies, just like other companies, hire Public Relations agencies to manage their press relations. Just like in other parts of the world, major brands in Africa prefer to deal with major PR brands, which is understandable.
But what is not understandable is the behavior of these PR companies towards journalists. The same PR company, but if a PR executive based in Europe or US gets in touch, the approach is different.
For instance, most of PR execs based in Nairobi or J’burg tend to favor print to online media. To them, you are more of a journalist if you work for a newspaper but if your audience is online, they don’t consider you a real journalist. By the way, print journalists are not asked for bios, I have asked a number of them, mentioning the agencies, just to compare the treatment and approach.
Thats understandable, I stopped fighting that because its only a matter of time. Its got to do with the maturity and evolution of media as a sector, which is determined by other factors.
What I have never understood is when a PR exec gets in touch with me, pitches the idea of the client doing this or that, then demands that I give them my bio if I need to interview the client. As a sign of good faith, I usually respond and say I work for the IDG News Wire, which publishes online and give the URL.
What is shocking is that if you are in PR in J’burg and your client is coming through Nairobi, you are likely to contact your local office and they will give you names and am sure they have reasons to give you such names.
If you get my name, the first thing you do is probably search it and you will pull up my blogs and everything else that I have done, which is mainly online. What then do you require my bio for? If its anything journalistic, you will get it online.
What else am I supposed to give you? That before I came to technology eight years ago I was a in print? That when I was born everyone in Giathi village celebrated with three ululations befitting a girl, according to Kikuyu customs? How I went to kamuchungwa-ini secondary and later to college and how it was such a big thing in my village that they held overnight prayers? That I have had to struggle to make it in journalism? That I merit tto interview your client because my star will shine after that?
I am sure none of that information is important to whether I grasp the issues at hand or not, whether I write a story or not, but you demand it anyway. So I will ask again, how does information which is not related to what am going now help your client.
One thing I don’t ignore is that in this era of fake journalists and extortionists, it will be unfair to expose your clients to people who are of questionable character. And there many in Kenya and other countries as well.
Sample this; Isaac, a PR guy from Bertolli and Associates in Nairobi called me once saying that Microsoft, was doing something with bloggers bla bla bla and I said yes, a blogger. Then the guy wanted me to give him a bio of how long I have been blogging and stuff like that, which is available on the blog. I asked the guy whether he had bothered to look up my name and he said no; and all the info he needed was just there. I don’t think they ever organized anything, but that was very annoying.
I have seen PR companies discriminate against the media house, if they don’t consider your media house big enough or with the right audience, you don’t get the interview or to attend the press conference. And this, they don’t hide, they will not start a press conference unless a certain media house is present, which is more like the political days of KANU and politicians could not start unless KBC was present.
Back to my subject on bio, I have had a chance to work with some of the huge PR companies out there, and believe me, the style is different. They usually search online to see who is in what region and may of help to their clients and they get in touch, mainly through my email, which is the contact page.
Out of the over 10 PR firms that I have regularly dealt with, who got in touch through referrals, none ever asked for my bio. Either because they had seen the stories and where they were published or for whatever reason.
I guess what am saying in so many words is that, as a PR exec. it is important to do your research, know about me before you get in touch, you will find so much info about me online than you want to know.
I do not tell me that your client wants to know who they are dealing with coz am sure the reason you were engaged is mainly to connect them with journalists. So once you prove am one, go ahead and if am not a real journalist to you, don’t email me because I may not help advance your client’s agenda.
Am not saying you don’t have a right to know, but its also fair when you use the online tools that help you vet me. Like if you click on about on this site, you will get more info about me, but if you got in touch before reading it, you are likely to ask me same questions and before that, just ask; how does this info help my client determine whether to give the interview or not?
Besides, where possible, and where topics are not complicated, I like doing my interviews via email. That way, I can demonstrate that I do not have to meet your client, if your fear is that my morals are questionable.
But that is for the PR execs who feel my history will help their clients. For the others who want to alert me about upcoming events and possible interview opportunities, you can drop an email; rebecca@wanjiku.co.ke

3 COMMENTS

  1. It’s probably not much of a comfort, but it is much the same in the US and even more so in Spain. There is still such a massive separation of print and online media that it would nearly be laughable if it wasn’t so ignorant. These people who don’t understand this or don’t look up your bio online are just lazy. Thankfully a new generation is coming up that does understand this fact to some degree. Still, people ask for my history and bio despite the fact that a search for ‘miquel hudin’ will bring up everything they could want to know.
    I think that the only big difference is that in the US, once you get a good deal of traction, this all stops and PR/marketing people indeed know who you are. Sounds like in Nairobi and Joburg, it’s going to be some time more before that is the case.

  2. Wrong start. Rather ask:
    Why are there no public relations in Africa? Why do unprofessionalism and dodgery reign supreme, and far WORSE in the private sector and among NGOs than even in government?

  3. You are right.. I approached a PR “EXPERT” and she told me that few companies are willing to take the leap v faith and advertise Online! Many organizations still believe in mass and ambush kind v marketing rather than a target and segmented kind of marketing! Its hard..but I think many companies are awakening to the reality that Online marketing is the new frontier! To get word out there..you need to be online and it packages a product in a way different from other products!
    Got to your blog via Twitter and I love its outlay and its sincerity and point form! I’ll be hovering around wanjiku.co.ke for a long time! Thumbs up…up…way way way up!

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