Article

Marvin Madyara
Marvin Madyara 3 June 2016

Digital Disruption Public Relations & Corporate Communications

“Embrace Change - The PR industry is growing in size and scope. The work is becoming more complex and challenging. The future holds lots of opportunities for those who are able to adapt to changes in technology, media and analytics.” – USC / The Holmes Report Let me try to draw your undivided attention by starting with what could have been a good series of concluding remarks.

Here we go - Digital disruption is like a volcano. You cannot stop it from erupting, more so on your face! In the words of one Nigerian comedian - Basketmouth, “there are two things involved” it’s either you adapt or die! An urgent need for culture change hangs on our Industries’ doors. Conversations and crafting of new organograms is long overdue. These org.charts must yet undergo one final evolving task, change!

Change & a proper division of responsibilities

One of the earliest modern uses of the organogram (org. chart) was in the late 1800s by Scottish born American engineer, Daniel McCallum, a management pioneer in the railroads enterprise. A century later, we still use his principles as we customise and upgrade them to fit our environments. The common denominator being McCallum’s rule 1, “a proper division of responsibilities.”  

Talking of responsibilities, if the blurring lines between Brand Management, Corporate Communications, Marketing, Public Relations, Internal External Affairs are not mapped, reevaluated and reassigned many will miss the target. These departments will soon be replaced by mobile apps and high-grade digital platforms. The culture has to change. We need to start running our organisations like IT companies, only then will we solve some of these identity issues.

In the same vein, if finance people soon embraced culture change, they would appreciate the “resource – friendliness” of digital disruption. However, changing old habits and cultures requires different mindsets and many times, new skills and people. We cannot solve a problem using the same tools and resources that created the problem.” Culture change is a rough and confusing exercise but a necessary one. Gone are the days of single departmental strategic meetings, It’s time to mix and mingle. That is what digital disruption is made of, diversity.

The rules have changed; “divide and rule” is old news. We rather look into a culture of “unite and conquer” because that is what this so called monster represents, trimming resources and digitalising processes for maximum efficiency and accountability. The future of our industries is neatly sewn into how we react to innovation today. Africa cannot afford to lose this digital race. The new roles of Chief Culture Officers and the evolving nature of Corporate Communications will drive organisations from being mere gate keepers to becoming full time players in the disruption economy. Why become tails when we have big African heads!  

“Invest In Ideas - Future growth will be powered by content creation, built on multimedia platforms and driven by compelling concepts. PR will need more creative firepower and technological know-how to win the battle with advertising and digital.” - USC

And this is how the story begins.

A Corporate Publication is not limited to newsletters or some In-house e-circular. It is any print, digital and mobile content platform used for stakeholder, customer or audience engagement. Apart from just promoting and disseminating information, corporate publications are also feedback tools. Podcasts, magazines, corporate videos, native apps, corporate stories, Annual reports, AR wearables etc are some of the corporate publication variations we usually ignore when discussing this topic.

The latest terror to most African industries is being manifested in artificial intelligence, augmented reality, data science etc.  Zimbabwe is one of the many countries losing out on this digital industrial revolution.

Here is the connection. - The nearest person to help your organisation embrace these innovations is neither your HR officer nor IT. In the absence of a Chief Culture Officer, it is your well-equipped PR/Corporate Communications team. Let me explain. The rise of Big Data and social media opened a Pandora’s Box of career paths and marketplaces. One of the contents from the box is Content Marketing through story telling.

Corporate Story-telling has always been there, the biggest driver of customer / audience engagement. When told well, these stories always translate to sales and brand loyalty. Apart from telling the stories, one needs to track, monitor and evaluate the whole story telling process. A big chunk of these tech innovations are driving towards one thing, change. When “first-world” countries embark on change while “third world countries” lag behind, a whole new digital colony brews up!  

When we spoke about turning organisations into IT companies this is one of the scenarios we had in mind. An awkward situation where Corporate Communications disrupts traditional Research Consultants and puts them out of business. With digital data mining platforms at your disposal, there are some audience engagement and surveys you can now do on your own, with 100% assistance of data science! If you’re a research consultant and you’re not making use of mobile and sms platforms for data mining, I see a dark future for you.  

I digress, when I think of successful corporate publications in Zimbabwe, the Edgars In-house publication, The Club comes to mind. The Club Magazine has for years proved why corporate publications rule when it comes to customer and audience engagement. The Club Magazine reaches over 120 000 Zimbabwean readers, that’s more than some all Zimbabwean magazines combined. If you apply the publication sharing ratio of one publication is to 3 readers (1:3) then you will realise why some media awards and accolades are sitting in the wrong boardrooms, they belong to Edgars.

Corporate Publications (CPs) are important to NGOs and Government as well. They are at the core of the communication mix and all the new digital “mixes” to come.

Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) is a phenomenal publisher. OSISA is a reputable African institution committed to deepening democracy, protecting human rights and enhancing good governance in the region. They also publish quality research reports, journals. One of their amazing Journals is BUWA, a journal on women’s rights. Their content strategy is versatile and the art direction over the moon. They tell amazing stories, in words and numbers, demonstrating the power of writing over SEOs, big data etc.

“Instill Courage - The next generation of industry leaders must be experts at communications. But they also need to think critically and creatively, while cultivating softer skills like adaptability, curiosity and risk-taking.” - USC

Times have changed

The road ahead is full of fiber paths and “silicon” valleys. The mountains of traditional communication tools we so bravely stand on are shaking. Digital disruption is like a volcano, its larva sweeps clean any infrastructure standing on its way.  

When “Silicon Valley” volcanoes erupt, a lot of trees are burnt (Print). From the pinnacles of unconventional corporate communications and PR sinks the prone casualties, victims to disruption’s consuming ash and magma. When the craters widen, all is swallowed and infused into flowing larva. Such is the terrifying nature of digital disruption, especially to those with “Strong Corporate Traditional Backgrounds” dressed smoothly in anti-innovation cream.

The disruptive culture has no time for negotiations. Old cases of career homicide started piling up long ago. My greatest fear is for some of Zimbabwe’s old Public Relations practitioners. While the futuristic ones embraced digital disruption, others have not. They quickly need to change their dance, there’s nothing wrong with their dancing shoes. The MC Hammer track stopped playing ages ago.

Digital disruption of PR and Corporate Communications

Continuing with our topic, digital disruption of PR and Corporate Communications. Year 2000 (Y2K) was like a reboot for global economies. While some rebooted and updated their systems and mindsets, others just replaced hardware and continued with “B2K” mindsets and systems (anti-tech millennium). When the tech boom erupted in 2001, we should have seen it coming; that is when the game of disruption was birthed.

What is happening to our industries today is just a ripple effect of what has already been brewing for the last 15 years. The question we should NOT be asking is “How can we avoid it?” but rather, “How can we change the culture at our organization?” The sooner Zimbabwe realizes that our rigidness to change is what draws the thin line between the future and the extinction of our enterprises, we are doomed!

Let me share a testimony

I have worked in Corporate Communications and the Creative Industry for almost 15 years and I have seen how our people react to new innovations. I remember in 2001 when the tech boom was just beginning. I had just discovered my passion for multimedia and design so I downloaded Swish and Macromedia Flash, web animation and development software. After a week of sleepless nights, I was a super bachelor then, I had mastered the software, including JavaScript. I went on to recreate a print Annual Report for one of the Commercial banks which has since closed its operations.

I transformed a print publication into an interactive publication which meant that the Annual Report could be accessed interactively on CD and online. It had links to images, video and audio for the Chairman’s report and a corporate profile video embed to it. Using a javascript code and email call to action, the client had some sort of data analytics. This method saved the client a lot of money as they cut their Annual Report and Financials publishing budget by 50%. That was how I digitally disrupted print Annual Reports in 2001.  Sadly, the following year, the bank decided to produce a printed Annual Report because most board members preferred print and the new marketing manager preferred simple things. Wow!

This was a big blow to me. I had the energy and the zeal for digital innovation. I wasn’t alone in this disruption race, many freelance Creatives were also producing amazing concepts but faced a lot of resistance from Ad Agencies who wanted to maintain the large amounts of profit brought by print. The IT guys crushed the project because it was exposing them. “Why is our IT department not doing this?” became a popular question from management.  

IT departments have been limited to hardware repairs and networking duties for decades. The absence of Data science and tech based RD has resulted in the loss of huge business and customers. A few local companies and organisations have repented and things are not as bad for them as they would be if they were in the digital dark. Career body bags need to stop piling. Africa should not suffer the laggard’s cry, mourning in the morning, “What happened to our industry?” Sadly, Africa is always playing the underdog. Late adaption!

“Hire differently - The next generation of industry leaders must be experts at communications. But they also need to think critically and creatively, while cultivating softer skills like adaptability, curiosity and risk-taking.” - USC

I have been watching diligently as Steward Bank’s CEO, Dr. Lance Mambondiyani disrupts Zimbabwe’s Banking culture by taking banking to the people. He is on the right track and I am quite confident that Steward Bank is going to have the biggest number of account holders before the end of 2016, that is if they are not already in that position. What will really separate the bank from the rest is how they manage, capitalise and use their data. Its Big data time for Steward Bank and how they retain their thousands of customers is not based on how wide they smile at customers but how soon they indulge into the world of data science and analytics to avoid redundancy and inconsistencies.  

Just like Steward bank, the corporate communications practitioners need to shift their game a binary bit, from words to numbers! Not forgetting though that writing is one skill that will always win for them. Corporate Communications and Public Relations will forever remain key to any organisation. As we enter the age of machines, let us prepare the ground for human to machine relations, a proper balance between words and binary.

Marvin Madyara is a Freelance Art Director, Social Entrepreneur and Founding Editor of The Ambassador Magazine. He is madly in love with 360 magazine media and all things communications. You can be freely contact him on email marvin@mgxafrica.com

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