The Nigerian PR/Communications space may not look like the place for grand theories and ground-breaking, paradigm-shifting, society-reforming inventions. “This is a serious business and we take pride in our work”, Chude Jideonwo of Red Media Africa declared resoundingly during a training for new hires. Once, I have introduced myself to someone and told them I work in a PR firm. “You mean a PR agency?” was the response I got. I nodded, howbeit lost in an affirmation-disapproval conflict as I wrapped my mind around what a very popular view of PR as agency says about the nature of campaigns – work, really – that Communications professionals engage.
Merriam-Webster defines agency as “an establishment engaged in doing business for another”. Indeed, public relations is about connecting anyone and any organization with a message to their target publics. This basic understanding, however, only serves the interests of those who do not see beyond the image of PR as a middleman, merely servicing the aims and objectives of clients without any original and visionary direction.
In what I consider a strong article titled “How Intellectuals Create a Public”, Corey Robin takes on the thicket of confusion surrounding the notion of the public intellectual, setting out two competing expectations: on the one hand, he’s supposed to be called by some combination of the two vocations Max Weber set out in his lectures in Munich: that of the scholar and that of the statesman, while on the other, he’s supposed to possess a distinct and self-conscious sense of style, calling attention to itself and to the stylist. “Unlike the ordinary journalist or enterprising scholar, she is writing for a reader she hopes to bring into being. She never speaks to the reader as he is; she speaks to the reader as he might be. Her common reader is an uncommon reader”.
While Corey’s public intellectual creates the public for which they write, convinced about the nonexistence of the public, my communications intellectual speaks to the reader as he is, calling existing publics into how they might be. Whatever the medium, the communications professional is always speaking to an audience that is there, as they are – calling them into a new, imagined form. It is in the creative process of connecting the present to the future – commanding public action and reception, creatively inspiring publics to take action – that a communications professional is formed into an intellectual.
Whatever the message that the communications person seeks to pass across, she must understand the value inherent, and be happy to change perceptions and attitudes. The goal may be to promote the waterways as a trustworthy alternative to roads, or get low-income earners in rural communities to pay more attention to diabetes and seek care in support centres, or project what makes a first generation bank special and better. She adequately commands tools and information necessary to implement her brief, envisioning the change she’s creating as she deploys her innovation. Every new project is not just another opportunity to meet end-of-month responsibilities; every new assignment is a chance to renovate the human estate.
The problem is not that Nigerians cannot trust, the problem is that trusty individuals, products, and organizations are scarce. Here – in trust and delivery – lies the charge of the new order of communication professionals.
AUTHOR: Ifeoluwa Adedeji is a Communications Associate at Red Media Africa. He holds a degree in political science from the University of Ibadan.