Mr Bolaji Okusaga is the Managing Director of Quadrant Company, one of Nigeria’s most influential PR agencies. A strategist, brand enthusiast with wide experience in the mass-media, marketing and public relations, he speaks with Newsecho.ng on the need for brands to mainstream digital and have a strategy that speaks to digital to be successful. Excerpts:
How would you rate the impact of Digital PR today in the Nigerian market?
Is there really a word called Digital PR, it has become mainstream PR. How possibly can you do PR today and be successful except you are digital savvy because the shift in consumption had it and has made it an imperative for practice. So it’s mainstream, you couldn’t just distinguish it that one is digital and one is traditional. It’s mainstream because the newspapers themselves have more followers online now than print run. How would you possibly do PR right now without understanding digital? It’s taking over and beginning to account for more than 60% of the portfolio for a lot of old agencies that are adaptive and young agencies that are coming on board.
How would you access its acceptance by brands?
Brands operating within the consumer environment cannot deny the existence of digital. The internet has dethroned the television as the most consumed platform well over 5 years ago. So brands that are within the consumer environment are the early adopters. They have adopted and are running with it because mass of people are there. Before you read a newspaper, you would actually have seen it on your mobile. So how could a brand trying to tap into its consumer universe avoid that? It’s not only impactful; it’s become the norm for brands especially in the consumer environment.
For brands that operate more in the corporate universe they still do a whole lot of the traditional media because that gives you an ample space for linear talk and opulence. In that case, it’s lengthy and you are not expecting an immediacy of feedback, you are not expecting to create following, though they still use it, but most brands that are smart who have the corporate and the consumer end use a mix of both. And the mix is 60-70% digital and 40-30% traditional.
Is there a shift from the use of traditional PR to the use of digital PR in the industry today and to what extent?
The shift is not a new development because the whole idea of the introduction of mobile, the proliferation of smart phones, the mainstreaming of the broadband technology, moving from 3G to 4G and even further, has created a whole lot of storm, a whole lot disruption within the PR practice environment because technology now underscores the practice. How could you possibly get at a multitude of consumers sharing different sentiments and different lifestyles except through digital.
So that has informed that shift. If you even look at the 2015 presidential election, it was fought and won on the social media, not on the pages of newspapers. What traditional media now does is that it rebases the news. News is broken on the digital platform and merely rebased on the traditional media. So, traditional media is a follow-up media now in any serious campaign. In terms of shift and priority, the digital has become bigger and partner in the whole process.
Are there specific areas and market segments that are more digital friendly than traditional platforms?
Of course, if you are catering more to the young, the generation X and Y, you and I know that they are digital junkies. You will be communicating with yourself if you try to communicate with them using the newspapers. But if you are talking to the generation of the baby boomers, the ones who started to give birth around the 70s, they still consume the traditional media more than they do social. So, in terms of demographic preferences, anybody 40 and below is more aligned to the digital platforms and those 40 and above are more aligned to the traditional platforms, though some of them may sit in the middle but if you are trying to talk to the new population, such as teenagers and young adults, digital platforms become efficacious.
It is a bit more impactful in the sense that it’s a very active transit medium and effective. And if you also look at the proliferation of the traditional channels, that says a lot about reach even for radio for the young population.
From the brand perspective, which industry does Digital PR best suit?
The Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), and the tech business. Where would you possibly buy a smartphone? The answer is more online than offline because most guys are tech-trend followers are digitally savvy. FMCG is best because of the changing consumer’s lifestyle and changing media consumptions. For necessity, people will read breaking news on their mobile phones before it is rebased. So that before you sit down to watch television, you already knew what the news is about but you listen to television news just to get the details and more context to the news broken on the mobile.
People have often said that social media/digital information should be taken with a pinch of salt. How should an agency who distributes more clients’ information online manage this?
Who says such information should be taken with a pinch of salt in an era where fake news itself has become a major mover of trends and markets. You cannot afford to take the data coming through from an aggregation of people of different demography unserious. What you may want to do is to sieve and be more sophisticated in your analysis so you can sieve what’s fake from what’s real. But to take information with a pinch of a salt will mean the death of a brand or the death of a business because the virtual universe is before us and we cannot deny its existence. And that virtual universe created by social and the chat platforms as well.
Can Digital PR be applied for crisis management?
Where could you probably manage crisis that has broken online? Offline? Certainly not. This is because you have to manage crisis that break online, online, because you need to also add followers and participants of certain communities where the news has broken and where could you certainly find this and obtain immediate feedback except through digital. So, digital media has become very efficacious for crisis management because it’s a warehouse of information, of communities, of people of different demographics who are connected to a subject. So if you are going to ignore that platform, you won’t have solved that crisis, you would have escalated it because the crisis would have muffed into something else.
So, digital platform has become very influential in crisis management especially where the brand needs to tell its own story directly to its consumers and obtain feedback so that it would immediately tweak its message and tweak its process to address the problem. But if you just did a press release and waited for two days to get it published on the newspaper, the crisis would have snowballed out of control. It’s peradventure the most efficacious platform right now for dealing with crisis that needs quick attention.
Do you see digital as being sustainable on the long run or is there a possible decline, if it’s all about hype than measurable performance?
The truth is that digital is here to stay. It’s not a hype at all. It’s become a lifestyle and a culture. Social media is a dynamic concept because it is growing and changing shape as it goes. It will always be with us. Deal with it, we are not going to get out of the digital age in a hurry. If there would be an age after the digital age, it would be something supersonically digital.
So if we are talking about the forth industrial revolution, it’s the birth of the era of the internet of things so how possible will anybody tell me that digital is not sustainable. Digital itself underpins sustainability of any endeavour be it commerce, medicine, communication, because it’s growing and keeps disrupting our world. So, except we understand and deal with that concept, we are going nowhere. We cannot simply wish it away, it’s become phenomena, even government that are known to be active with censorship, cannot deal with it. Otherwise, if there was active censorship, why did we have the Arab spring? Why did the war in Iran continue? Why are people now agitating either in Catalonia, Biafra or anywhere? A whole lot of these things are driven more by the fact that people can communicate much more easily across borders than they ever were able to communicate in human history. The facilitating platform for that is digital, so it’s here to stay as it underpins sustainability itself.
How does this apply to daily medical consultation considering its code of ethics?
Though you wouldn’t use it for certain kinds of medicine but for consultation, it becomes very efficacious because you can go online to get information from an expert. For diagnosis, it could be a bit tricky. But in this era of facebook live and other live platforms, it could be used for some kind of diagnosis after interfacing with the person on social media, ask questions and make some recommendations. You may not be able to use it for treatments, but can be used for some kind of consultation.
From your experience in this industry, what’s your advice for brands who would want to make digital decisions to enhance public perception of their brands?
Any brand that has not adopted digital already is lost. Most brands have adopted it. Even in service industry, they were the last to adopt digital because a lot of them were afraid of the backlash of negative comments on service platforms. But some banks for instance, have muffed from just financial services to lifestyle brands. Any brand and especially FMCG brand that has not adopted digital by now is operating what is called a down-low, the other side of the economy. It can’t be in the mainstream economy if it hasn’t adopted the full glare of the virtual world of digital.
For me, any brand that wants to be successful must mainstream digital and must have a strategy that speaks to digital as supposed to trying to modify digital to suit its strategy. The brand must think about the fact that there’s a virtual universe that is driven by anthropology where there is immediacy of feedback, where the views are diversified, where opinions can be gotten to either modify or modulate its operations. You will then identify that fact and look at the preferred community to play in. For a woman brand, look for woman communities and for a woman brand operating on the luxury end, it then means that I’m not for very woman. I’m for that woman who knows her onions, who earns at a certain economic class, so I will look for that universe and once I find that universe, I will be a joiner and a participant and not a brand. So the brand then becomes a citizen as supposed it just being a product, and the brand then takes on a human personality and becomes a respected citizen within a community that the brand speaks to. That is the only way an FMCG brand can make it successfully in this digital world.