Counties without a communications plan are at the mercy of the media

I was watching Mozambique television while waiting in the hotel lobby of the Polana Serena Hotel in Maputo some time ago, and couldn’t help to notice how enjoyable the advertising was. Being in the audience research field at the time, I also observed the other viewers around me consisting of the guests and staff who were mostly Portuguese speakers. It was fascinating to see them totally disinterested in the main TV content of soap operas and news bulletins, but then raise their heads and pay full attention, with faces lit, through the commercial breaks.

The ad breaks were dominated by mobile telephony brands that placed brilliantly executed ads with hilarious satire delivered by well known comedians within creatively scripted scenes that were a pleasure to watch and very memorable. They were not just fun and games, however, as they delivered on the ad strategy with the key messages hitting home. What struck me the most was the Municipio De Maputo’s (Matuto City Council) advertising that was aired in primetime on most stations, obviously aimed to reach a majority of the city residents.

The strategy behind the Municipio ads was to establish a sense of pride and create a feeling of ownership for all the great things that were happening in the city. It provided conversation starters and pitched key messages that anyone could use when describing the city, not with bureaucratic speak, but in an everyday conversational style. They were perfectly executed with panoramic and awe inspiring camera shots of Maputo laid over a bed of modern and lively music, with a silvery voiceover, and they not only spoke to those who live and work in Maputo, but to tourists and business travelers alike. Finally the ads also appealed to Mozambicans living in other cities who were looking for the best quality of life the country had to offer.

Back at the ranch, now that we’ve gotten over the fight for revenue allocation from the central government to the counties, and have shifted the attention to the ability of the counties to generate revenue, there is a need for a focused and sustainable communication strategy within each county government.

Effective communication does not happen on its own, and we all know that good work in government doesn’t speak for itself because the same media that places you on a golden pedestal today is baying for your blood tomorrow. The county of Machakos is a case in point because it started off as the darling of the press but is now being harangued by the same journalists over corruption allegations and the administrations infighting. These types of pendulum swings can be mitigated by well rounded advertising and public relations strategies that are based on major goals, and which are measured regularly for effectiveness and improvement.

The primary audiences are industry captains, skilled labour, and tourists who are wanted to respectively bring investment shillings, make domestic purchases and spend vacation money in hotel rooms and parks. The counties that were best at generating income in 2014-15 were Mombasa, Kiambu and Laikipia in that order according George Ooko, the CEO of the Committee of Revenue Allocation and they did indeed attract investment and people better than most. The secondary audiences are the residents who can be turned into the most ardent advocates of the county as well as being physical evidence that it is indeed a wonderful place to live and work.

Advertising on TV, radio, print and online gives control of the message to mass audiences as well as the ability to compete for visibility among the usual suspects, those counties that are always covered in the news. Just like Municipio De Maputo, counties have to create great ads that touch the hearts and minds of the audiences and they’ll need seasoned professionals to pull this off. A media relations plan will map out their outreach activities with the view of the image and public perceptions that they wish to shape in order to build credibility and trust. Regular and positive media presence is the proactive way to deal with potential crisis within the principle that prevention is better than cure.

The best bet is to take the long term vision of the county and create a development plan and communications strategy to meet the objectives. It not only helps to boost the re-election campaign but also serves the people who come in numbers to invests, spend, live and work in the county. Of those, the biggest group is the youth, and when considering how to reach and appeal to them the words of the media mogul Rupert Murdoch come to mind — “I am a digital immigrant… my two daughters are digital natives. They do not know a world without ubiquitous broadband internet access. We may never become true digital natives, but we can an must  begin to assimilate to their culture and way of thinking.”

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