These are fascinating times for senior corporate communicators in Africa. The continent's markets continue to grow, attracting increasing interest from MNCs and powering the emergence of major domestic players.
Uniting all of these companies is the range of issues — economic, social and commercial — that call for an advanced grasp of communications strategy. It is a requirement that only becomes more important as corporates attempt to adopt a more sophisticated local presence, in line with the emergence of mobile technology and digital communications.
To explore these critical issues in greater detail, the Holmes Report partnered with Waggener-Edstrom earlier this year to convene a high-level roundtable in Johannesburg that featured some of South Africa’s leading corporate communications professionals.
The discussion was broad-ranging, covering everything from the perils of localisation, emerging smartphone trends, better social media policies, finding the right talent and dealing with political risk and crises.
Many of the participants hold regional duties, leading to a vibrant conversation about some of the broader public relations trends that are affecting the continent as it grapples with the pace of economic development.
A full overview of the discussion follows below, including video excerpts from the panellists in attendance.
David Parkinson, head of digital, Africa, Middle East and India, Nissan
James Wilson, GM, Waggener Edstrom South Africa
Leo McKay, Head of corporate and commercial communications, Middle East Africa, Microsoft
Mpho Maseko, head of corporate marketing and communications, Sentech
Nicole Orr, national marketing executive, Mustek
Risuna Mayimele, global manager of communications, South African Tourism
Arun Sudhaman, managing editor, The Holmes Report
What do you see as the most disruptive changes when it comes to overseeing communications?
The discussion began with an exploration of the key changes affecting the corporate communicator role at African companies. Very quickly, it emerged that the global/local balance is proving difficult to get right, as global companies search for consistency amid wildly diverging regional markets.
Talent and skills
If all communications really is local, then much of the success will rest on the teams companies can build in domestic markets. That has proved challenging for many corporates in Africa, particularly when you consider the type of new media skills that are increasingly required.
"Mobile is really the only strategy to have"
The conversation concluded by addressing some weighty issues: the changing nature of media relations; the importance of transparency in the digital age; and ways by which companies can navigate heightened political risk in African markets.