Predictions for Africa’s PR industry in 2017

Mitchell Prather

PRESS OFFICE: Djembe Communications

Looking to 2017 and beyond, Africa’s prospects are positive. According to a 2016 World Bank report, “Economic growth is showing signs of resilience… to continue to make progress on its development goals and achieve structural transformation, Africa must capitalise on the significant growth opportunities.”

Shrewd investors and companies that are already well established in the region should do just that – capitalise. We accept that Africa needs companies in the PR industry who take the time to invest in the region because PR services will play an integral role in promoting economic diversification, economic growth and job creation.

Nations right across sub-Saharan Africa are pushing ahead with reforms and initiatives that support the case for investment and business expansion. These reforms include anti-money laundering regulations, streamlined tax regimes and direct investment in start-ups and innovators. Countries that have developmental needs are pushing ahead with much-needed, major infrastructure projects and showcasing fast-growing industries.

For those of us in the communications sector, we have a significant role to play in supporting these priorities. As we look ahead to 2017, these are our predictions:

Stronger demand for reputation management

Reputation management will be one of the most highly sought after services – especially important in Africa because of cautious investor sentiment. Investors seek reassurance that issues of corruption, political instability and weak capital markets are all being addressed. Therefore, communications firms will increasingly offer reputation management services as a leading capability in 2017.

Boots on the ground – not affiliates

Having boots on the ground in local markets is arguably the most important and highly valued commodities available to an African-based communications firm. In sub-Saharan Africa, this is especially true because it is such a fragmented region with hundreds of languages and cultures. Coinciding with the importance of local expertise, delivered by nationals who speak the mother-tongue and instinctively know how to navigate their own cultures; is the need for the provision of world-class communications skills.

Affiliate networks do add breadth to an organisation that has limited local resources in new territories, but culture matters – and we expect to see affiliate networks reach for that all-important asset: authenticity. Authenticity is best built over time, organically through team development and training – affiliates have their work cut out for them in this respect.

Governments and major organisations will almost certainly place increasing value on teams of individuals who are local and have been trained by international experts. This is where affiliate networks may fail: keeping the senior talent in South Africa or Europe makes it difficult to train up local teams. For this reason, training is also going to be a major focus for pan-regional communications firms in 2017.

More innovative social and digital campaigns

We have seen great success in the use of social and digital media across the continent. Many countries have a very high level of internet penetration; especially on mobile phones. It’s also an extremely young population that is unafraid of new technologies. Studies, reports and research papers can reach millions through smart use of Twitter, Instagram and others. Whilst print media continues to reach business leaders; it is social media that has the capacity to reach millions – which is why communications campaigns in 2017 are likely to see a greater appetite for and understanding of social media from clients.

Increased focus on CSR

Finally, social responsibility has come to the fore in a strong way over the past year. Governments, particularly, are extremely keen to be proactively dealing with social issues – such as access to basic services or job creation. Foreign firms also know that they need to leave a lasting legacy so here we can see a major opportunity to sell meaningful social responsibility platforms to clients. With issues, such as global warming, skills development and poverty; all companies in Africa have a responsibility to do the right thing for Africa.

Mitchell Prather is the Managing Director of Djembe Communications.