Redefining PR with Chude Jideonwo: Let’s have a conversation about empowerment PR

Last year, a bank invited me as Keynote Speaker at a get-ready-for-work conference. I accepted because speaking to young people looking for opportunities is the most fun part of my work. Still I doubted that young people (already a bit fatigued by generalized conferences) would attend.

I arrived that morning at 8am, two hours before the event was to begin, and I thought something was wrong. Because all the participants were standing outside.

I asked my chaperone, ‘Is the hall not opened?’

His response shocked me: The hall is already full. It was full from 7am.

This was a 5,000 seater hall, in Ikeja – an Ikeja venue that’s not popular…or a corporate, fully-branded event.

It got better.

The (captive) audience stayed till the end of the event, fully engaged, fully excited. Falz dropped by, but only for 15 minutes. After the event was over, people stayed around to interact – with speakers, with new-friends, with bank staff

Today, I have at least two people I met who have jobs from that conference – including two in my firm – and there are so many other success stories from this event.

Let me interpret that in value:

  1. a) Frenzied engagement on the day (the organisers didn’t need beg too much for this particular hashtag to trend) It was without employment of dodgy influencers, tweeting the same thing at the same time to the same (probably bought) followers.
  2. b) An impressed press corps. They couldn’t believe the numbers of people and the questions that they asked showed how impressed they were.
  3. C) A public convinced that you really care about making a difference.
  4. d) The ripple effect of friends and family who hear about this life-enhancing activation e) An engaged audience for a full day hit by messages from a brand they believe in because they see what it does.
  5. f) An actual, trackable audience which database is proprietary information for the brand that competitors do not have, and for which it can send targeted information.
  6. g) People whose lives were actually transformed. They will always refer to that day when a bank changed their lives.

Now, imagine that event across every state of Nigeria where this bank has engagements.

5,000 young people – there with friends and family and associates who will hear your message told with genuineness and passion, in every branch where you have a bank.

If you want to go a step further (because, Nigeria – hence, everything ozugbo-ozugbo), take your account officers with you and make sure people with sense follow through on potential customers. Prospectives who already believe in you, and whose incomes are almost certain to grow. Some of them into the millions, because, within a 5-year period, at least 100 of them will run successful businesses.

I checked with a staff of the bank to track the value of that engagement.

This wasn’t just a pie-in-the-sky goodie-two-shoes activation. It led to actual value, social media feedback, and favourable coverage that didn’t look like it was paid for, with account openings and deposits.

The bank’s conference was a Public Relations (PR) activation, conceptualised by a PR team, activated by the PR department. Not CSR, not the some Foundation locked up in a one room office just so the CEO can look good. This was central to customer engagement.

So, why don’t C-Suite executives think long-term about this kind of engagement that actually makes people trust you, believe in you, even love you? Love you enough to part with their monies – because you empowered them, and because they truly have a soft spot for you?

The kind of love that makes the general public look at you differently, because they see you acting differently. Because they see heart, and have something real with which to speak up for you – inevitable in the life-cycle of any serious bank – hits. The kind of love that makes them forgive you when you make a mistake, or hit a rough patch. Especially in a new world, where a man with a Twitter account can be more powerful than a million press releases.

Sadly, culture and tradition are hard habits to break. So people continue to do the same series of activities, even if monitoring and evaluation reveals zero conversion.

But a new thinking must mirror a new world.

If the purpose is to build trust, consolidate a positive image, create a loop of value that can always be called upon, and actually grow numbers (whether for followers or engagement) then it makes no sense to keep doing things that no one cares about anymore.

There was a time it was enough to tell people something in a newspaper and they would believe you. That time has passed, thank God. Too many people are saying the same thing you are saying. Too many people promise and don’t deliver. Audiences are now cynical. They need something fresh, impactful, beyond ‘you sell, I buy’. Something that says: ‘I am for you. ‘


I once overheard this quote: “Empowerment Marketing does not view the audience as a consumer, a person whose only worth is measured in product sales. She is a citizen. She is self-actualized and assumed to live a meaningful, worthwhile lives outside of her purchasing power.”

Call it an emotional investment.

There is an entire continent of young people – and other demographics – whose lives are hard, who need real help, who desperately deserve to be empowered. They want people, and institutions who care about their lives, their contexts, their futures.

Brands need to begin to think of a new quid quo pro – empowerment in exchange for brand loyalty. The kind that audiences can believe in, and that can build a lifetime connection.

It’s time for companies and agencies who want to win, in an era of saturation, to begin to think different.

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