Despite the International Monetary Fund’s prediction that Africa will have the highest rate of economic growth in the world over the next decade, global perceptions of the continent are still tinged with negativity. Many experts believe it’s time for Africa to up the ante in executing an effective public relations and branding strategy.
There’s no shortage of bad news stories coming out of Africa currently: xenophobic attacks in South Africa against the citizens of other African countries; an oil crisis in Nigeria; political turmoil in Burundi. There’s more than enough ammunition for international media outlets to once again paint a negative picture of the continent.
In an column for the ‘IOL online’ news website, media relations and PR expert Rich Mkhondo commented on the renewal of xenophobic attacks in the continent’s most developed economy and explained the damage done to brand South Africa. “The truth is xenophobia is hurting South Africa the brand. We cannot divorce the business and image of the brand from the look of the brand. At the moment we look like a nation of savages, with thugs running amok with machetes [attacking] fellow Africans,” he wrote.
“While it is difficult to put a [monetary]value on how much xenophobia is damaging the [national] brand, there is no doubt that there is a real link between the brand valuation and business valuation of our country as a [place] to do business with and visit.”
Mkhondo continued: “We live in a branded world. Nowadays everything is branded; from soap to sport; from the connectivity of a country to its politicians. To brand a country is a natural progression – a bigger, more complex challenge. But branding a country is not only about pride, but profit too.”
Branding a continent means taking such challenges – and potential rewards – to the next level. The Africa Public Relations Association (APRA), which recently met in Yaoundé, Cameroon has echoed the need for a more effective PR strategy on the continent, reports the ‘Voice of America’ newswebsite.
The experts gathered at the APRA event agreed that Western Media largely portrays the continent in a negative light. Yet many argued that solutions to very real problems ultimately need to come from leaders on the continent. “Leaders must not sit back and assume that somehow [issues] will fade away tomorrow,” commented Charles Nklonzo from Day Star University in Kenya.
APRA’s intent is, therefore, to work together with governments – the continent’s most prominent brand ambassadors – to build a positive image of Africa.
“What we want to do is to [move forward] together, telling our own story,” said Bogwa Djeroge, an APRA official in Kenya. “There are so many projects that are being initiated [and] our tourism industry is booming. If you look at our education system, it is superb. We are sending out so many graduates and these are the stories that we want to talk about. Stories of hope [and] stories of success, not stories of despair like have been [presented] by the foreign media.”
While there’s no denying the significant issues Africa faces, there are numerous positive stories in a continent that’s experiencing phenomenal growth.
“The African consumer is on the rise and their spending power is increasing year on year as more and more households move into the middle-income bracket,” Loretta Ahmed, CEO of Middle East, Turkey & Africa for leading global communications network, Grayling, told ‘Forbes’ magazine recently. It’s up to communications professionals on the continent to market the [region] in a realistic yet hopeful way, emphasising its considerable achievements and the undeniable spirit of its people.
With PR professionals on the continent clearly on message, a positive move is the announcement that Africa will host the 2015 World Congress of the International Public Relations Association (IPRA). The event, taking place in Johannesburg from 27-29 September, offers the chance for African practitioners to set the record straight on the continent, with 800 delegates from around the globe expected to descend on South Africa.
Dr Amybel Sánchez de Walther, President of the IPRA, said in a statement: “We believe that this event will be important for the PR community in Africa, as well as in the rest of the world.”
After years of political instability, the African island nation of Madagascar plans to capitalise on its natural attractions and beach holiday appeal to draw one million visitors by 2020. The country’s re-branding strategy hinges on attracting large international investors, strongly marketing the destination and implementing programmes aimed at attracting high-end travellers.
While the charms of natural beauty, Baobabs, an extensive coastline and unusual indigenous wildlife species may speak for themselves, the political upheaval that followed the 2009 coup has tarnished the reputation of a country that boasted 375 000 tourist arrivals in 2008. These were its highest recorded visitor levels to date, according to local tour operator Asisten Travel. But with the turmoil came declining figures which have yet to fully recover, despite the reestablishment of democracy in the world’s fourth-largest island. Just 198 816 tourists visited Madagascar in 2013 and 255 942 in 2012, according to newspaper ‘Les Nouvelles’.
South Africa is going on an offensive to promote the country’s tourism sector, an industry which in 2013 generated 9,5% of GDP and accounted for more than 1,4-million direct and indirect jobs.
During an address at the Southern African Tourism Services Association’s Annual Conference in Cape Town last month, Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom spoke glowingly about the country’s tourism sector. “During the last 10 years, while global tourism expanded only 4,5% per year on average, the compound annual growth in our foreign arrivals was 9,3%,” he said.