Olabode: Research and Strategy, Core to Successful PR Practice
The Executive Director, Strategy and Corporate Planning at CMC Connect, Burson Marsteller, Mr. Raheem Olabode, speaks on the place of strategy in public relations and perception management, and tasks marketing communication practitioners on the need to de
The last few years have been tough for marketing communication practitioners, with many agencies complaining, while many have gone down because of recession. How has CMC Connect been able to weather the storm?
I would say it’s not by our strength. We thank God for his support. But the first thing is corporate governance; that is what is keeping us. When I say corporate governance, even as executive director, I know my limits in terms of approval and the type of structure that we run in the organisation to see that we make everybody accountable. We are very analytical here. We analyse things, look at the economy and analyse. This is an advantage because we have people coming from other professions. We have seen recession even before it came because we do quarterly analysis of happenings around economy to see what we need to keep us in the business: like cutting down cost, improve our retainership, improve quality of service and multitasking. We got to a situation whereby if you cannot do four things, we can’t employ you. So, if you are a media person, you must understand research. And for the fact that we have a board of directors which we report to on quarterly basis to plan the year, control cost, look at the revenue. We also have an approval process whereby if anything is not adding value we remove. We had about 38 staff, so we quickly cut down and pay better remuneration to those we have. We compensate for the multitasking. We were also able to identify some sectors in the economy which we know that with the nature of their businesses, no matter how bad the economy is, they will still be relevant. We try to keep those accounts; to ensure that whatever it takes to service it is what we do. And we thank God CMC Connect is waxing stronger, even during the recession, we are able to diversify. As it is now, we are managing four companies in CMC Connect. CMC has turned into a group of companies. We have digital arm, we have public affairs, and others.
How did you find yourself in the PR industry? To start with, I’m a chartered accountant before veering into public relations. Though, I started practising accounting, but accounting for me was just the foundation. I needed something beyond accounting. I earlier worked with Marketing and Media; that was what brought me to Integrated Marketing Communication, though from outdoor perspective. I was the head of finance there before joining CMC Connect. Coming in and looking at the vision and work practice of the company, I saw that I joined an organisation where you can become what you want to be. So I picked interest in communication. Going by the support of the team that led me to where I find myself today.
When your company came up with a teaser; ‘wanted, square peg in a round hole’ it sparked debate. How can you relate it to your transition from accounting to Public Relations? I could remember I did a presentation to the council of ICAN when we managed the ICAN reputation and branding. I told them frankly that beyond accounting, there’s something the council need to let accountants know and that is the fact that Accounting sound monotonous. For instance, if you came in as a communications person and you have to report to an accountant, you ask what does he know and why reporting to him? But I have shown that you don’t have to be a mass communicator to practice communication, though that may give you an edge. We have someone who came in as a lawyer and who functions well in strategy in our company. We have someone whose core area is research, but now she writes proposals and do client service. We adopted the strategy of grooming. For you to have human development, you must groom: grooming and mentorship for people who have basic skills beyond mass communication. One of our staff is an engineer and he’s the head of strategy. We have those who studied agriculture in the banks today. For you to manage a communications firm successfully, you need all these skills across. So this business is not mainly for those that read mass communication.
Accounting and PR are two different worlds, how was the transition like? I had a vision when I joined CMC, though my designation was head of finance and admin. Whenever my MD said we have an accountant, I would say I was not an accountant because there’s a perception around who an accountant is. I remember then that we were preparing a budget for 2004, all the departments were tasked to do a presentation and I told my team in finance that I want us to be the best, despite the fact that we are not used to doing presentation. We presented and we became the best at that time. That gave me the confidence that there’s nothing big in this thing. So I set a vision for myself to be one of the top at CMC Connect. I picked interest and invested in myself. I was doing self study; buying books and attending conferences, paying more attention to operations from the media and client service side. Going by my background, I’m a strategic and logical person. That gave me insight that it is about logic and life. We communicate every day. We say sensible and insensible things which mean there’s logic to it. So every aspect of communication, I tried as much as possible to run a study on them. My role then was after they have deliberated, we need to put finance to everything. So when I see ideas, I can tell you that this idea cannot deliver the objective. So that gave me insight at the time.
What are the things that really shaped your skills in the industry or it’s your talent? In the area of skill, I am a skilful person. I am an analytical person. I look deep down answering the five Ws and H. I have listening skills and I write; about the industry, government, the economy and happenings around. I only worked for four months as junior. My promotion was very rapid. I was like 22 year old when I qualified as chartered accountant and my knowledge then gave me an edge over my peers. I am a confident person. I challenge authority because I am not in any organisation to just say yes: I am there to contribute. I am also a research person. So it was so easy for me to strategise. Qualification wise, I have traversed many fields; the capital market, accounting, banking and finance, management and stock broking. In nutshell four things worked for me; my background, skill, inspiration and the fact that my MD, Mr. Yomi Badejo-Okusanya’s belief in my capacity. The kind of challenge he gave me then opened my mind to how to be a better person in the industry. I know how I met the company and I remember his frequent statement that we have to tell a good story of CMC connect in the nearest future. So the challenge and the combination of these things made it easy for me to transit from being a finance person to a communication person.
Your key strength is strategy development. How have you developed the skill? I would say it’s my life and a gift from God. Strategy is how you get things done. When I was in ICAN class, I was being called minor because the people in class then we’re working, I wasn’t. When I see things, I break it down and set a way to overcome the challenge. Enhancing that skill in me, I would say it’s ability to feel that I can overcome any challenge. I see every brief as a challenge and breaking the challenge down to get a solution. It’s just a natural thing.
Talking about your background, what value do you think other professional skills can bring to public relations? Mass communication is though an art and social science discipline, but other skills can make it more scientific. For instance, the major challenge is how you can measure what you are doing. And you realise that you need research: you need the value you are proposing, value determination and prove what you have added. Most mass communicators, the skills they have is writing and ideas, but we have come in to articulate everything is such that when you are presenting a case, the person can mirror himself in what you have. If an accountant is presenting a performance, no matter how historical it is, you must interpret the figure. So combining these has really changed the profession. For instance, here, for you to be the group head, it’s not just to say you are a media person, we look at skills across. If this business is left in your hands, can you deliver and take it to the next level. The input of these professionals is making PR more challenging and interesting.