Episode 5

Published on:

7th Sep 2023

S3 E5: Leadership Buy-In for PR & Communications Success with Gilbert Manirakiza

In this thought-provoking episode, Gilbert Manirakiza talks about the importance of executive involvement in information sharing and communication efforts. Senior executives play a crucial role in brand reputation, as they are the ones who carry the voice of the brand. However, many executives feel nervous or restricted in this role. They often express concerns about engaging publicly due to fears of personal scrutiny or potential negative impacts on their businesses.

As PR practitioners, we need to address these concerns, provide reassurance, and create a safe and supportive environment for executives to engage. Encouraging them to work as a team can also alleviate individual anxieties and foster a sense of collective responsibility.

Gilbert also discusses how operating in Africa presents unique challenges due to the continent's cultural diversity and political intricacies. Multinational organizations from the US or Europe often struggle to navigate this complex ecosystem. Understanding the context and nuances of each African market becomes crucial for effective communication and reputation management. PR practitioners must bridge the gap between global leaders and local communities, ensuring that messaging resonates with diverse audiences.

Key Takeaways

  • Brand reputation is closely tied to the reputation of the CEO, making executive involvement crucial in PR efforts.
  • Many executives feel nervous or restricted in their role as brand ambassadors, and PR practitioners need to create a safe and supportive environment for them.
  • Informing executives about the importance reputation and asking reflective questions can help engage them in communication efforts.
  • African leaders often have a storytelling approach to leadership and focus on empowerment and community engagement.
  • Creating a messaging architecture with clear and consistent messaging helps align the entire organization and ensures a unified brand message.

About the Guest

Gilbert Manirakiza is CEO of the Newmark Group in Nairobi, Kenya. He is a brand leadership, PR, and strategic communications expert with the added advantage of multilingual communications and localization expertise. Prior to co-founding Newmark, he worked with the United Nations, the World Bank, the World Health Organisation, the IMF, FAO, and the African Union, among other global organizations and brands, as a communications strategist to build multi-layered, multilingual, and multi-channel communications campaigns and systems. He has since lent his expertise and experience to local and global blue chips such as General Electric, Barclays Bank, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the governments of Japan, France, Dubai, and Singapore, just to name a few. In addition to providing media handling, etiquette, and public speaking training to Fortune 500 CEOs and senior executives, he has designed and moderated thought leadership panels during global and regional forums.

Gilbert has contributed to the evolution of the PR industry in Africa by developing Newmark into a company that excels at integrating digital, mobile, experiential, and creative brand communications into traditional PR. Having worked in over 20 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, he has intimate knowledge of the opportunities, challenges, and complexities of the African marketplace, making him a key asset for all the clients that his teams serve. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (UK) and the International Society of Sustainability Professionals, in addition to sitting on the boards of several regional trade development initiatives and companies. He is an alumnus of the University of Burundi, Cornell University (US), and the University of Cumbria (UK).

About the Host

Abbie Fink is president of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. Her marketing communications background includes skills in media relations, digital communications, social media strategies, special event management, crisis communications, community relations, issues management, and marketing promotions for both the private and public sectors, including such industries as healthcare, financial services, professional services, government affairs and tribal affairs, as well as not-for-profit organizations.

PRGN Presents is brought to you by Public Relations Global Network, the world’s local public relations agency. Our executive producer is Adrian McIntyre.

Follow the Podcast

If you enjoyed this episode, please follow PRGN Presents in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or any other podcast app. We publish new episodes every other Thursday. To have them delivered automatically and free of charge, just choose your preferred podcast player from this list, open the app, and click the button to “Follow” or “Subscribe” to the show: https://prgnpodcast.com/listen

Need to hire a PR firm?

Leading a business effectively in today's fast-paced world requires expert guidance and a strong communications strategy. No matter where you do business, PRGN has a member agency in your region with the deep industry expertise, international experience, and local market knowledge you need to connect with your target audience and achieve your goals. Find a PR firm near you »

Adrian McIntyre:

From the Public Relations Global Network, this is PRGN Presents. I'm Adrian McIntyre.

Abbie Fink:

And I'm Abbie Fink, vice president/general manager of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. With public relations leaders embedded into the fabric of the communities we serve, clients hire our agencies for the local knowledge, expertise, and connections in markets spanning six continents across the world.

Adrian McIntyre:

Our guests on this biweekly podcast series are all members of the Public Relations Global Network. They discuss such topics as the importance of sustainability and Environmental, Social, and Governance programs, crisis communications, content marketing, reputation management, and outside of the box thinking for growing your business.

Abbie Fink:

For more information about PRGN and our members, please visit prgn.com. And now, let's meet our guest for this episode.

Gilbert Manirakiza:

Hello, I'm Gilbert Manirakiza. I am based in Nairobi, Kenya. I'm the Chief Executive Officer of the Newmark Group, which is one of Africa's few Pan-African agencies operating across a number of countries, more than 30 countries to be more precise, and I'm very happy to be here.

Abbie Fink:

So one of the things that PR practitioners often say is we need to have a seat at the table in order to help guide conversations and provide valuable information to the organizations that we work with and represent.

But who is at that table is also very important. One of the things that we're going to talk about today is executive involvement and what leadership buy-in looks like with any information sharing that's going to happen from the organizations.

And if you could talk a little bit about, from your perspective, what the importance is of having these executive leaders involved in and understanding the role of communications and why it's important for us to get their buy-in in our efforts.

Gilbert Manirakiza:

Well, that's a brilliant question, Abbie, and thank you for having me on today because I'm a big fan and I think you're doing a fantastic job here. When it comes to brand reputation, if I'm to start from there, we have to ask ourselves, “What is a brand?” And the simple answer is a brand is the expectation of an experience. The promise of getting something out of consuming a service or a product or interacting with a given organization or brand. And promise has to have trust with it for it to be to materialize. If you have an expectation and it's not fulfilled, you lose trust. And the people who carry best that tries that trust tend to be the people behind the brand and the senior most people are usually the ones who are allowed to talk for the brand most of the times especially for purposes of PR which brings in the role of the C-suite.

In most of the multinational organizations and companies that I have worked with over the last ten years one of the things I've noticed is that there is a challenge whereby many of these executives are not feeling safe about playing that role of carrying the brand, carrying the voice of the brand. And that creates a challenge for us as PR practitioners, because the people we need the most to create that relationship with external stakeholders are either nervous or in some cases highly regulated as to what they can do. And that means that therefore we have a very significant role to play in making sure that, number one, they are not as nervous and as blockaded from actually playing this extremely significant role. And when you talk about a seat at the table, it essentially means that not only do we need to have that seat at the table but the way we play that role when we are at that table is very critical. It is very important for people in our profession to be able to inform, reassure, and equip this executive team to play this very important role.

Abbie Fink:

So how do you start those conversations? These leaders are elevated in our presence, right? We recognize that they are guiding our organizations, that they are the thought leaders. They have the future ahead of them, thinking about the perspective. And then to recognize their hesitancy and their maybe unwillingness in themselves to recognize that hesitancy? How do you start those conversations to get them to the comfort level we really need them to have in that role that they need to play in a more public space?

Gilbert Manirakiza:

That's a great question. And the first layer of that answer, and there are two layers to this, the first layer is awareness. They first of all need to understand that research shows that the reputation of a CEO, just to take that one, the CEO accounts for nearly half of the brand reputation value of the organization they are leading. That one metric tends to open a conversation with these leaders, because sometimes even starting the conversation is a challenge especially when most of the time, we don't have a lot of contact time with these leaders. But I found that when you give such pieces of knowledge and statistics, the awareness it elicits is usually invaluable.

And that tends to get you into the room, because many times I've found that getting into the room and getting into their level of interest is very, very difficult. But once you get in with that kind of insight, then you have to start a process. It needs to be step by step.

The thing about people at that level is they also feel very vulnerable. So you have to create a safe process for them to get to a place where they are easily carrying the brand and expressing themselves. Because many of them will tell you I don't want to engage publicly, because what if they ask something about my personal life? What if they ask about something that went wrong with my business? So you have to then tell them that there is a safe way for them to carry the voice. And usually I encourage them to do this as a team to see you and the minus one executives. And the second question of the second layer I start with is a reflection question which is, “What is the reason that this brand exists? Why should a mother selling tomatoes on the side of the street”—and I'm talking in a very African setting here—"why should she care that your brand exists?”

And this question, I have noticed, gets instant interest from these leaders. Because most of the time they say, “hey, we've actually never asked that question.” And sometimes I will go around the room asking the same question. If you have ten executives in the room, you have ten different answers. And I usually say, “this is where we need to start from.” And the process of that tends to be absolutely fantastic, because you get engagement, you get excitement, and from there, now you start giving them the tips and the techniques to get it right.

Abbie Fink:

Well, and it shifts the focus back to where you would like it to be, which is on the organization itself, versus my personal life, which we know does end up in some of these conversations. But really it helps them get back to the reason that you are bringing them into the conversation.

So, are you observing things that might, you mentioned the woman on the side of the street selling tomatoes as an African reference. Are there other things that you think are different or unique to the communities that you are serving that in this context of leadership and executive buy-in into the conversation and this discussion around bringing them along into the process, are there other things that that are in your observation unique to the communities that you are working within?

Gilbert Manirakiza:

There are definitely some peculiarities of operating in Africa. And I think one of the privileges I have is that I work, and my team works, across the continent, primarily with global multinationals out of the US or Europe who have to come and localize themselves.

I have gotten the privilege of working with the global CEO of General Electric, for example, when he was coming for a series of visits and other global leaders coming from the US and from Europe. And one of the things that I realized is, essentially, humans are the same. There's not much difference as to what people want from brands. They want the brand to fulfill the promise that it says it's going to fulfill. The only difference is the context can be quite different. You can have the political context, the economic context, and the social context.

And by and large, what you see across Africa is there is a very strong presence of ethnic identities, linguistic identities. Africa as a region itself is 55 countries, three thousand languages. So it tends to be quite difficult for a company out of the US that primarily navigates one cultural context, one language to then all of a sudden have to deal with this kind of dynamic ecosystem with all these countries and languages and cultures. So that would be one of the things that I tend to have very interesting conversations with executives on. This is a key one.

The second one I would say is pretty universal navigating the political intricacies of any given market and if you're dealing with 55 markets it becomes very interesting for most executives so if I was to sum up my answer would say is the diversity of factors that kicks in, the high number of languages and so forth.

Adrian McIntyre:

Gilbert, ten years ago there was a book published that profiled African CEOs called Success in Africa. The author, Jonathan Berman, had worked as a consultant with many multinationals and with many African companies. And these CEO profiles painted a picture of, obviously not a unified outlook, but a very African outlook. Their perspective on leadership and on the work their companies were doing in all sectors, telecommunications, manufacturing, et cetera, all across the board, were very much connected to their own unique biographies and their own unique communities.

Now, some of them were homegrown African CEOs. Some of them had studied abroad, had degrees from top universities around the world, and had come back. But one of the things I took away from that was that leadership is not the same everywhere, and yet there are similarities.

So, when you're interacting with the CEOs of global multinationals, and of course, making campaigns, introductions, all the things that you would normally do in specific African contexts, how do you see this issue of leadership itself? Is there a uniquely African flavor? Again, I don't want to homogenize and unify this, so please provide whatever sort of specificity we need here. But leadership is not the same. What are your thoughts on that?

Gilbert Manirakiza:

Absolutely. You'll find that the typical African leader will have certain traits that you probably will not find in the same level of intensity in a leader coming from the US or Europe.

Again, at the risk of generalizing, but generally speaking, most African leaders tend to be storytellers. And there is a reason for that, is because in most African communities, myself, my own included, we grow up as young children hearing these interesting stories, which was the way for communities to teach us about certain life values.

I mean, you have fairy tales in more Western countries, which would be a direct comparison to that. But one of the interesting things I've found about African-bred CEOs is really that storytelling approach to leadership. They view the world from a point of view of storytelling, but also from a point of view of empowerment, with the starting point being to build people and capacities from the ground up.

On the other hand, CEOs coming in from other parts of the world, what I love about their outlook is, number one, many of them tend to be extremely focused on learning, learning about what's going on around the new geographies they're going into, and bringing in a perspective of results. And that's a very positive thing. So generally speaking, you'll find that the leadership focus of these two will tend to be slightly different in terms of their approach. One will be very empowerment focused with a lot of storytelling is a general approach to how they voice out the companies that they lead.

But the ones coming in from other parts of the world that will tend to have very specific targets in terms of their interactions. They will tend to perhaps focus on dealing with government leaders, less so community engagement.

And what we try to do actually to bridge that gap. And that's why we come in and try to educate them and tell them the storytelling is very important, the empowerment is very important, and then you find that when you put the two together, you end up having a fantastic cocktail of achievement.

So, I hope I've answered your question, but generally speaking, that's the approach.

Abbie Fink:

A cocktail of achievement. That's fantastic. I get all these interesting little nuances when I have these conversations of ways I would like to incorporate new terminology into the way I talk about what it is that we do. So that's going to be the one I get from this conversation.

I'd like to have you go in, share a little bit more on the context of sort of the knowledge that you bring and the knowledge that you share with your own learned experiences and how that impacts what you do and how do you help your other members of your team understand that concept as well.

Certainly, the executive leadership has the opportunity for this and how do they incorporate that understanding into the organization so that that idea of coming to it from learned experiences is really a universal truth within the organization.

Gilbert Manirakiza:

That's a brilliant question because my biggest worry when I'm having executive teams, and actually it's even a question I put to them, I ask them, if you have five different versions the definition of what the organization stands for in the country … imagine if you have 300 people under you, you have 300 versions.

So when I illustrate that, a light bulb goes on in the room. I've had a situation whereby a CEO told everybody to shut off their laptops and phones and say, “this is really the conversation I've been trying to have. How do we get the entire organization to have a singular message around why we exist and what we do and what we promise.”

And technically speaking in terms of how I then go about taking them through it, there's something I call a messaging architecture. I try to simplify it as much as possible. This architecture usually has three pillars.

They can either be stacked or you, not parallel to each other but the first layer of the first pillar that architecture is to make sure that everyone has a singular message for why they exist. I don't allow the session to go on until we have that message sorted out. Because we can't have everybody saying, “What do you think about why the company exists?”

The second pillar and layer that tends to be the general value I would say not value proposition but generally the brand promise. What is this? This is why we exist. These are the challenges we, maybe this is the central challenge that we exist to solve and then this is who we are is a company in relation to this particular challenge or set of challenges.

And thirdly, these are the specific things we do to be able to achieve the other things in the other two pillars. And then I give them a blueprint of how to consistently share these three pillars in every meeting, every board session, every staff meeting, so that every single employee walks away at every opportunity with a clear idea of these three layers.

An example is this one particular bank that was rebranding, and they were extremely scared because they were going from a global brand to an African brand, and they felt that everybody was going to walk away. I worked with them for about two years before they rebranded and we went through this process by the time they were rebranding.

In the number of their markets the date did you exceeded a thousand percent revenue growth in their first year of operation after the rebrand and this shows how when you have this consistency across the whole organization and it's simple and is well there in a way that the storytelling is easy for even the cleaner in the corridors. I think you can actually pull it off quite well.

And pretty much that that's how to do it. You just choose the channels and then we go through mock interviews and we go through different sessions. We wrap it around quite well in such a way that by the time we are done with this coaching process, they are ready to be the ambassadors for this messaging framework every single day for a certain period of time.

Adrian McIntyre:

Thanks for listening to this episode of PRGN Presents, brought to you by the Public Relations Global Network.

Abbie Fink:

We publish new episodes every other week, so follow PRGN Presents in your favorite podcast app. Episodes are also available on our website—along with more information about PRGN and our members—at prgn.com.

Show artwork for PRGN Presents: News & Views from the Public Relations Global Network

About the Podcast

PRGN Presents: News & Views from the Public Relations Global Network
Leading a business effectively in today's fast-paced and interconnected world requires expert guidance and a strong communications strategy. The Public Relations Global Network is here to help.
PRGN Presents is the essential podcast for international business leaders, non-profit executives, and those who hire public relations, marketing, and communications firms. It provides an exclusive look into the ever-evolving world of PR and communications, featuring experts from the Public Relations Global Network, “the world’s local public relations agency.”

Is your message winning hearts and minds? No matter where you do business, there is a PRGN member agency in your region with the deep industry expertise, international experience, and local market knowledge you need to connect with your target audience and achieve your goals.

Whether you're an executive looking to improve your organization's communication strategy or an in-house marketing professional looking to bring in an outside firm to support a specific campaign, this podcast will provide valuable insights on how to communicate effectively and build lasting relationships with customers, staff, and communities around the world.

In each episode, you’ll hear PR professionals and industry experts share valuable insights and perspectives on the latest trends in public relations, Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG), media relations, crisis management, investor relations, stakeholder engagement, executive thought leadership, and strategic communications.

About your host

Profile picture for Abbie S. Fink

Abbie S. Fink

Abbie S. Fink is president of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of the Public Relations Global Network. Her marketing communications background includes skills in media relations, digital communications, social media strategies, special event management, community relations, issues management, and marketing promotions for both the private and public sectors, including such industries as healthcare, financial services, professional services, government affairs and tribal affairs, as well as not-for-profit organizations. Abbie is often invited to present to a wide variety of business and civic organizations on such topics as media relations, social media and digital communications strategies, crisis communications, and special events management.