Laundering Nigeria’s Image Through International Public Relations By: Charles Ikedikwa Soeze

Image is one thing no nation, organisation (both public and private) as well as individuals can afford to neglect. In anything one does, the impression people hold matters much. If it is bad impression, it will be difficult for him to get public support for any programme of action. A bad image affects an organisation, government especially in the international world. This will make the international world to look down on such country because of not only dented but denigrated image.
The need to establish and maintain a favourable international image is the wish of every organisation and governments of every country whether under military or democracy. A nation with bad image could be treated with levity at the international level. Nigeria witnessed this during the military dictatorship of the late General Sanni Abacha from 1993 to 1998. At that particular period, Nigeria’s image was seriously dented and denigrated. As a result, our great nation, the giant of Africa was not accepted at the international community.
It is on record that the governments of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Somalia, Rwanda, among many other countries suffered dampening image while they fought civil wars. Not only war that can dent a country’s image internationally, such things like drug abuse, kidnappings, insurgency, corruption at high rate, advanced fee fraud (a.k.a.419) that is, “Obtain By Trick – OBT, swindling international business partners in providing false information or refusing to revolt their own share of the sales proceed. Another is stashing a nation’s hard-earned money to private foreign bank’s accounts, some top government functionaries including some politicians acquiring assets indiscriminately in foreign countries with poor tax payers money some of the politicians see Constituency funds or allocations as personal fund for private pocket, a country’s failure to respect the rights of its individuals, that is abuse of human rights and use of draconian Decrees or Acts to oppress its citizens. A good of example of this is the Decree Nos. 2 and 4 of 1984 under the military junta of Generals Mohammedu Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon in which draconian Decree 4 was used to jail Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor, Foreign Editor and Assistant Foreign Editor both of the Guardian Newspaper over their stories on diplomatic postings since they refused to reveal their source of information.
Importantly, all international business operations, international market acceptance as well as patronage, including international business promotions among others revolve around image. It is therefore clear that no way image could be separated from public relations and to be directed by trained and practicing public relations professionals. It is a truism to say that all PR programmes are structurally designed to establish, project, protect, sustain or maintain a good favourable and acceptable international corporate image for an organisation or nation.
Once an organisation’s PR executive is planning an action programme, what immediately dominates the programme is unarguably the company or nation’s image. Once a country or an organisation is able to establish and communicate favourable image signals to its various international publics, all other things move accordingly. In other words, the issues of market apathy, product/service rejection, pernicious government legislations, community hostilities, youths’ restiveness and aggressiveness and so on will not arise. To this end therefore, the nation or company is sure of having a successful international business outing. It is therefore appropriate to say that international public relations is absolutely necessary and needs to always be sustained.
Good international image has a direct reflection on the goodwill of a nation or organisation. A nation or company, that is serious of erecting pillars of goodwill, good customer relations, good government relations, ethical business practice and so on is sure to enjoy an image that impacts positively on all its products/services and actions, and importantly, its entire activities in the international scene.
According to Tersely as quoted by Akande (2002:27), an image is the imposition or view held about an organisation, person or institution by the public. It could actually represent the true picture of the person or organisation or a nation or false picture. Image is usually constructed from the knowledge we gain over a period of time. However, these knowledge and experience could sometimes be purely bias and prejudicial. Sometimes, the information we receive which eventually help us in moulding this opinion or impression are around falsehood and parochial sentiments. That is why; it has become imperative for all those engaging in international public relations practice to always do everything within their professional ability and agility to combat negative reporting or series of information about their clients, organisations and nations.
Furthermore, the various kinds of image in domestic public relations practice are the same in international public relations. The only difference is the strategies adopted and the publics you communicate with. We have many basic image types which every organisation or nation must work fervently to manage and make favourable.
For example, current image type embraces the varied impressions members of the public hold about a nation or organisation, place, person or institutions. In international public relations practice, all the signals coming from members of the international community are taken seriously and promptly attended to. While mirror image is simply described as self-image. Like Charles Cooley’s theory of the looking glass self, mirror image directly mirrors or presents one’s image as it is seen by him/her or reflected in the mirror. It is the impression held by the people inside an organisation; the wish image is almost like mirror image. It is the type of image every organisation/institution or nation wishes to have. Every nation or international organisation would wish to be loved and or patronised by members of the international community. The big multinational/international companies could end up with different images outside their company premises due to varied identifications of their sales personnel. This can be solved by the adoption of one unique selling system by the sales force, use of the same logo in all the branches internationally, the same product display, same delivery van in all the branches both locally, nationally and internationally. On the other hand, ultimate image is what every nation or organisation can wish itself because it represents a great height in an international organisation and nation’s image drive. On the corporate image, it represents the overall impressions held by people about an organisation or nation upon its reputation, corporate social responsibility (CSR), its policy and sponsorship programmes among others. Product/service image is derived from the impression held by consumers/users about a product/service based on its performance, quality benefits, as well as availability at the point of purchase. As for business organisation, there are so many things they do that could destroy or denigrate their international image. Some of these include, offering sub-standard goods to international market, failure to offer after sales service; refusing to uphold the sales and purchase agreements earlier entered with customers like guarantees, warrantees, failure to observe the rules and regulations, customs and traditions in foreign countries of operation, failure to honour the agreements through memorandum of understanding (MOU) like employment of nationals into management positions, failure to pay complete taxes.
There are so many things a government or company can do that will dent its image abroad. To this end therefore, enough care must be taken to avoid those conducts or utterances that can negatively affect people’s disposal to us either as a company or government or even as an individual. Whatever the case may be, image is something that has to be monitored by trained and professional public relations practitioners in an organisation or a nation on a regular basis. You don’t lose sight of how your conduct or business is being assessed or rated by your neighbours, especially the international community as in the case of the multinational business. To achieve this through the public relations programmes, a nation or multinational organisations need to engage indigenous PR professionals. The important machineries need to be set in motion to ensure that everything is in line with what the relevant publics are expecting.
Finally, there are some basic things to do by the professional public relations practitioner to avoid denting or denigrating the image of a nation or an organisation internationally. Multinational companies must endeavour as much as practicable to produce good documentary films that will promote image, especially on achievements made in their operations like CSR; organising international symposia; writing and publishing good and well researched features and articles that will help to boost image of an organisation or government; organising international seminars and workshops and invite professionals as guest speakers from other countries to give talks on issues of national and international interests; sponsorship of different government programmes like giving financial assistance to government to fight crime, to organise genuine elections or assisting poor nations where corruption is not rampart; organising courtesy visit to key government functionaries and opinion leaders; organising international trade conference; writing and distributing catchy news release to international media organisations and provide mobilisation and logistics formerly code-named ‘brown envelope’; organise international facility visits to enable press men carry out an on-the-spot assessment of situation in an attempt to react to false impression or media report/s, organising international press conference to relate with world journalists and come out with a better relationship this is because the pen is no longer mightier than the sword but the gun because it can destroy and rebuild.
Charles Ikedikwa Soeze is a mass communication scholar from first degree to doctoral level, professional public relations practitioner and retired Assistant Director (Administration)/Head, Academic and Physical Planning (A&PP) of the Petroleum Training Institute (PTI), Effurun, Delta State, Nigeria.
He is also a public affairs analyst/commentator. (08036724193)