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I recall years ago how Public Relations Officers (in some cases called Corporate Affairs Managers) of top companies or multi-national organizations treat guests, visitors and especially journalists. Once you are invited for a visit or event, you get first class if not royal treatment or attention from the very moment you step your foot in the premises of the company or event venue.
As you leave after your visit, a bag is handed to you by the Corporate Affairs Manager or Public Relations Officer. Inside that bag contains all the products of your host or the company. They are part of the souvenirs you take home. Most times diaries, wall and table calendars, key holders, openers, face caps, t-shirts, umbrella, face towels and many more of branded items of the company are handed to the guest or visitor.
He or she goes home with this bag load items as if he or she went on shopping. For the journalist who returns to his or her office, there is a long splendid and refreshing tale to tell his or her colleagues who most times share in the items. The more important items like diaries and t-shirt are given to the line editor or editor or both depending on the quantity and quality of the items.. Of course, I know because I also did another Industrial Training with Daily Times as reporter/researcher. That is a story for another day It was not always about the famous and traditional “brown envelope” which is secondary anyway but about the first class treatment meted out to the journalist…the respect and honour while covering the event. He or she feels refreshed at it shows in the story rewritten from the Press Release handed out by the Public Relations Officer or Corporate Affairs Manager. Most times the story is taken from a more advantageous and beneficial perspective as the reporter or journalist dumps the Press Release to do a thorough journalistic job.
For a guest who is not a journalist, he or she also returns home with exciting stories about the said company. Most times too, he or she paints a picture in his or her story indicating that the company is the best ever in its line of business. This is one of the products of a company in those days which honours and follows the tenets of solid Public Relations principles. Again, I say, it is not about money or brown envelope as many may argue that our economy does not allow this anymore. Far from it.
As an intern with then Lever Brothers Nigeria Plc on 18 Dockyard Road, Apapa, Lagos in 1991, I was attached to the Agri-Business department under the leadership of Sam Ohiosumwan (I hope I still remember the correct spelling of my former boss), Chief Balogun the younger brother of the founder of First City Monument Bank (FCMB) High Chief Subomi Balogun deputies for the director, talking about Ohiosumwan who reports to the board headed by MD/CEO Late Chief Rufus Folorunsho Giwa.
I often shuttle my department and the Corporate Affairs department as a Mass Communication undergraduate cum industrial attachee. I was actually supposed to be in the Corporate Affairs department but as at the time I resumed for my Industrial Training the department was filled up and I had to be accomodated in the Agri-Business department.
I was a witness to how visitors particularly invited guests and journalists were treated by the company and its Corporate Affairs department. I was part of several events organized by the company and handled by the Corporate Affairs department. It was always mutual respect for the company and the media. There was often no need for bad press. The relationship was cordial. Most times, the reporter or journalist reached out to the Corporate Affairs Manager to cross check facts before the story goes to press with the publication.
Today, Public Relations seems different. The principles of PR appears strange perhaps because most companies now lease or give out their PR jobs and events to the so called PR Agencies most of which are glorified event jobbers, planners and organizers.
In the last six months, I have attended some events which are supposed to be high profiled given the status and images of companies involved and venues picked for the events. I was invited because as a matter of principle, I don’t attend any event or function that I am not duly or officially invited. To say the least, I have been disappointed. I have had causes to tell the events organizers (oh sorry,) Public Relations companies that handled the events never to invite me again in any of their events or program. This is not about feeling too important or being arrogant but I cannot stand being in an event where guests and journalists are either subjected to standing and waiting for the Special Guests for five hours without a word from the PR Company or the staff of the company it represents….or food handouts thrown at guests while the event came to a close. Most annoyingly, journalists were subjected to writing their accounts detail in a piece of oil soaked paper for their honorarium to be forwarded later. It was really crazy. That the honorarium didn’t eventually come is an issue for another day.
I was forced to ask one of the event organizers (sorry PR Company staff) why he had to take the account details there and then. I further asked the PR staff if PR was all about money, account details in the public or handouts of food so cheapishly as if the journalists and guests were hungry beggars. I also asked if the special guest wasn’t aware that the event was scheduled for 6pm in a high breed area like Lekki.
Truth be told, some so called PR Agencies should just close shop. It is better than employing bus conductors and vulcanizers as PR staff who cannot give a simple explanation of a situation even before it degenerates into a crisis. It hurts most when you realise that the clients or companies which the so called PR Companies represent are well respected multi-national organizations with decades of experience in their lines of businesses
Perhaps we have to go back to the era of companies owning and operating their personal PR Departments or outfits rather than give out international jobs to toddlers, learners, pretenders and amateurs to mess up. PR is not about handing out food packs or embarrassing people in public by collecting their account details. It has really gone beyond that. If you must give anything, it must be done honourably and with utmost dignity to go with the ethics of Public Relations and to give your guests some sense of belonging. Guests and journalists are not beggars no matter how bad you think the economy is…and if you have the mentality that they are, I dare say that not all journalists and guests are beggars.
Nothing stops you from creating a room where you usher your guests or journalists into after the event or an hour to the close of event and attend to them privately and individually. It is a shame to the PR profession when things like these happen. Let’s save PR by taking it away from the hands of quacks. The regulatory agencies should swing into action to separate the wheat from the chaff.