Global communications challenges: recommendations for African companies and organizations

3 years, 9 months ago

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Plenty of positive economic news is coming out of Africa. But despite the growth, negative perceptions remain and need to be overcome. By Claudine Moore.



What was once the inside business knowledge of a few, is now the global knowledge of many: Africa is open for business. African economies are booming and the region is second only to Asia in terms of economic growth. 
 
The economic growth and opportunities across the continent are huge. According to the annual reference journal African Economic Outlook, Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth is expected to strengthen to 4.5% this year and 5% in 2016. West Africa achieved high growth of 6% in 2014 despite its battles with the Ebola virus, and in the continent’s biggest economy Nigeria there was growth of 6.3%. This economic growth across the continent is fueled by a booming population, rapid urbanization and a growing middle-class. 
 
The above heralds great opportunities for African companies and organizations. Facing lackluster prospects in other regions, many multinational (MNC) and international companies across the world are now considering the continent as part of their business development strategy. Partnerships, mergers and acquisitions, investment and ‘market intel’ are just a few of the ways in which MNC’s and international companies are considering working with African organizations when entering the African market. 
 
Despite the abundance of data highlighting the opportunities, African organizations face a huge global communications challenge. The challenge is effectively counteracting the negative perception of conducting business on the continent. Perception is a critical component in the business decision-making process and the current overwhelming negative perception of Africa, is a challenge for African organizations that want to encourage more business in the region.
 
In order to fully address the negative perception of the continent, we have to look at some of the reasons for the negative perception that is pervasive within the global community:
 
1. Corruption: Influential and widely circulated reports such as the 2014 Corruption Perception Index published byTransparency International, heighten the perception of corruption and therefore the risk. The report ranks anti-corruption on a scale of 0 – 100, and most African countries score in the 30 – 45 range, ranking as the most corrupt countries in the world. While the report is not without merit, it disproportionately focuses on the challenges and exacerbates the negative perceptions that hinder global business engagement. 
 
2. Africa perceived as a country: Many in the global community, often view Africa as a country and not as a region of 54 individual countries, each with their own government, identity, economy, language and culture. This perception can have a negative effect by exacerbating the notion of crisis or issues on the continent. An example of this is the recent Ebola epidemic. Ebola occurred in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, three countries in West Africa. Yet Africa as a whole was labeled as having a region-wide issue. This affected the image of the entire region. 
 
3. Volatile marketplace: The climate across the continent can be volatile. An example of this is the shift from Nigeria, the number one opportunity for several MNC’s in Africa, to Kenya when Nigeria experienced several cases of Ebola in 2014 alongside falling oil prices.  In March 2015, Nigeria experienced peaceful democratic elections, a first for a country plagued with a fragile democratic environment. Within a week of Nigeria’s historic election, Kenya then experienced a devastating terrorist attack. These volatile conditions can label the entire region as plagued with too much risk and danger.
 
4. Slow return on investment: Reaping the rewards in Sub-Sahara Africa is a long-term goal. MNC’s have to enter the marketplace in the knowledge that bottom-line returns on investment could take several years to materialize. The lack of short-term returns can lend credence to the notion that the African market is a huge gamble that may not pay off. 
 
5. Lack of knowledge: The lack of quality data on market patterns and trends as well as product categories, leads to confusion for the global business community regarding the true potential of the African market. The current available macroeconomic data does not adequately measure the depth of market conditions, and this lack of data can discourage the global community. 
 
The communications industry is well placed to counteract the imbalance of negative messages about Africa and African organizations. African organizations and governments must adopt strategic, smart and consistent communications strategies and become dedicated to the notion that a change in reputation and perception can take time, but will be achieved if adopted effectively.
 
Below are list of communications recommendations for African organizations:
 
1. Changing the narrative: Positive case studies, success stories and best practices should be drafted and widely disseminated to counteract the negative dialogue and perception of the continent. This should be conducted by adopting world-class communications strategies such as the placement of Op-eds, blogs and featured articles in a top tier influential business and financial media in key international markets.
 
2. Messaging: Key messaging should be adopted to counteract the key sources of the negative perceptions as outlined above. For example, while Africa can be a volatile marketplace to do business, African organizations should create messaging directly targeted to the international business community highlighting the true (and not perceived) volatility in the market place. African organizations should disseminate recommendations (and assistance) with a change in strategy or short term and temporary contingency plans to navigate the volatile marketplace. 
 
3. Training: The training and retention of local talent is key in order for African organizations to effectively execute communication strategies on par with global standards. African organizations should therefore invest and partner with international communications professionals to train local communications practitioners in world-class international communication best practices.
 
4. Embrace Technology: The full spectrum of social and digital media offers African organizations a huge opportunity to project their own corporate stories and opportunities in a cost-effective and impactful way. Campaigns can be launched to reach global audiences, but care must be taken to ensure both the messaging and tone is consistent across all touch points. In addition, caution should be exercised when targeting local, regional and global audiences to ensure messaging resonates with all target markets. 
 
5. Influencer Marketing: International dialogue and subsequent influencer relationship building should be encouraged between pan-African and international governments as well as the pan-African and international private sector leaders.  The dialogue should discuss best practices in cross-cultural business; foreign direct investment opportunities and research and data development to name a few. Sector specific recommendations based on these dialogues should be widely distributed to demystify the African business landscape and encourage African business development from the global community.
 
6. Brand Advocates: International celebrity and top influencer endorsements are very effective in capturing the attention (and imagination) of target audiences. Internationally recognized African celebrities such as Thandie Newton, Charlize Therzon, Idris Elba and Lupita Nyong’o to name a few, should be adopted as brand advocates for a variety of initiatives ranging from inward investment to tourism development in key markets across the continent.
 
In addition to the above, leveraging the diaspora community, effectively developing crisis communications strategies and increased transparency and authenticity are other recommended strategies and approaches to assist with positive reputation building. 
 
While much of the perceived challenges in the African business space are accurate, they are in line with the risks associated with any emerging market. African organizations must leverage the full spectrum of world-class communication strategies in order to be recognized and perceived as being ready to compete on the global stage. 
 
About the Author  
Claudine Moore is an award-winning global public relations and corporate communications executive. Claudine’s diverse experience spans over 15 years in the global communications industry, working with some of the world’s most recognizable brands and biggest communications agencies, as well as with some of Africa’s most influential business leaders and organizations. Follow her on twitter @ClaudineMoore
 
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The Author

Claudine Moore

Claudine Moore is an award-winning global public relations and corporate communications executive. Claudine’s diverse experience spans over 15 years in the global communications industry.

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Forward, Post, Comment | #IpraITL

We are keen for our IPRA Thought Leadership essays to stimulate debate. With that objective in mind, we encourage readers to participate in and facilitate discussion. Please forward essay links to your industry contacts, post them to blogs, websites and social networking sites and above all give us your feedback via forums such as IPRA’s LinkedIn group. A new ITL essay is published on the IPRA website every week. Prospective ITL essay contributors should send a short synopsis to IPRA head of editorial content Rob Gray email



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