• Monday, July 15, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Hiring combative individuals to promote a policy position always ends up corrupting the agenda – Adio

Hiring combative individuals to promote a policy position always ends up corrupting the agenda – Adio

Ayodele Adio is a seasoned media strategist, reputation management consultant, and chief executive officer, Adio Strategy and Communications. In this interview with JOHN SALAU, he spoke on a number of issues, including the recent lecture he delivered on Policy Communications and the importance of social media in shaping narratives. Excerpts:

In your recent lecture, you stated that one of the biggest challenges that Nigeria’s Federal Government was facing was communication. Why did you draw that conclusion, and how can they effectively fix this communication problem to improve public trust and transparency?

To explain the argument I was making here, I will give you a vivid example. Sometime last year, the Federal Government claimed it would be implementing a part of the Steve Oransanye Report to reduce the cost of governance. While they mentioned a few ministries that would be merged, they did not state how that policy would lead to cost saving, how much would likely be saved and where those savings would likely be channelled. Expectedly, the policy struggled to gain any meaningful public support, and it isn’t surprising that they have found it almost impossible to implement.

Another example is the debate around electricity tariffs. The Federal Government is struggling to sell its electricity reforms to the public because it is constantly telling citizens what it thinks are the problems and not communicating a vision or a clear and realistic road map. For instance, while it is true that the country has struggled to attract much-needed investments into the energy sector because of the lack of market-reflective tariffs, the government is also unable to articulate a convincing plan, with measurable milestones, that explain why the current subsidy arrangement discourages investments, how improved investments will improve energy supply, how increased energy supply will raise productivity and how improved productivity will ultimately lead to better wages. Hence, instead of the government discussing the potential for wealth creation and higher wages, it has made weak arguments like ‘it is the rich that are benefitting from electricity subsidy.’

The most crucial point is that communication is about building trust between a government and its citizens, a company and its customers, or between an organisation and its employees. Therefore, to effectively communicate, you must understand your audience and their realities and engage them without ambiguity. Unfortunately, what we’re used to doing is merely stating our intentions or talking down on people.

In your experience, what are the key elements of successful policy communications, particularly in the context of a diverse and dynamic nation like Nigeria?

For any policy communication to achieve its desired result, it must first demonstrate an understanding of the realities of the intended target. Appreciating their realities is a sign of empathy that is often required to build trust. Another essential element is demonstrating a clear understanding of the problem, which helps communicate capability and earns trust. Additionally, communicating in a manner that your audience understands and using channels they are familiar with are as essential as the quality of your ideas.

The truth is that effective communication is tasking and requires research, critical thinking and empathy, which is why people either attempt to gaslight their audience or play to the gallery.

In your opinion, what are the most critical aspects for the government to consider when seeking to enhance its media and public relations efforts, particularly in an era of rapid information dissemination and public scrutiny?

Building credibility by embracing empathy, sincerity, and transparency will be a great starting point. Without credibility, every public relations effort will lead to a crisis, further undermining trust and credibility. It’s like a vicious cycle of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you lack credibility, whatever you do will be viewed with suspicion, attracting condemnation and affecting your credibility. This is why building trust is a task that must be undertaken by any government or organisation that seeks to succeed.

When the bay of pigs invasion failed in 1961, President Kennedy decided it was pointless to lie to the American public and addressed the media using a now-famous quote – “success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.”

The remarkable thing was that even though he had presided over a failed military adventure, his approval ratings increased by 5points because he was honest with the public. Truth and transparency help build public trust and credibility that boost the media effort of any administration.

Aggressive media efforts driven by institutions or individuals that lack credibility can only be described as propaganda and not public relations. It is also important to stress that the messenger is as important as the message in public relations. Hence, hiring eloquent and combative individuals to promote or defend a policy position without considering their reputation always ends up distorting the message and corrupting the agenda.

You also hinted at how social media influences reputation management and how organisations and governments must adapt. Can you explain?

Today, over 90percent of the crises that most governments and organisations grapple with play out on social media. Hence, organisations stuck in the traditional reputation management methods will endure severe damage to their brands because they need more capacity and capabilities to manage such crises. The most recent data I reviewed showed that over 85percent of people between 16 and 40 get their news from social media. Not only do they get their news on social media, but numerous pieces of evidence also suggest that most people are influenced by what they read and watch (whether or not such information is backed by evidence). That means that brands and governments are more vulnerable to crisis than ever in history. So, I argue that brands must invest adequately in the skills and initiatives required to effectively manage their reputation in a highly fluid and volatile digitally interconnected world.

As a media adviser, what role do you see traditional media playing in an increasingly digital world?

I am not one of those who jump to the hasty conclusion that traditional media organisations are a dying dinosaur. The reality is that most traditional media organisations have adapted to consumer shifts and are also beginning to dominate social media. Also, traditional media organisations still command a degree of credibility and legitimacy in corporate, government, and international circles. Therefore, my advice has always been to maintain solid relationships with traditional media organisations for credibility and legitimacy while leveraging social media to increase visibility and influence. However, effectively shaping narratives requires a delicate understanding and application of both mediums.

In your opinion, what are the most critical skills and qualities for a successful media adviser in the modern landscape?

The role of a media adviser has become quite complex, requiring several skills. However, some of the skills to prioritise will be high emotional intelligence, research and data analysis, system thinking, effective communication and relationship-building skills, and a basic understanding of technology and design skills, amongst a few others. Writing and speaking well is the barest minimum and is no longer enough to be effective.

What is your vision for the future of media relations, and how do you see your company contributing to that vision?

In the near future, I’d like to play a significant role in leveraging the power of the media to redefine Nigeria’s image in the international community. I understand it will require strategic thinking, positioning and a lot of resources, but it can be done. The Chinese are already doing it, just as the Russians are doing with RT and the Emiratis with Aljazeera. I’m confident that we can retell the Nigerian story in a way that changes the narratives, spurs investments, drives growth and projects us as a dominant regional power.