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.


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