The shifting nature of communications in Africa

Africa Day is a celebration of the continent, its people and their achievements since the foundation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) on 25 May 1963. There can be little doubt that there have been significant milestones in that time, economically, politically and socially – none of which we would have been able to share and revel in without the communications sector.

Being able to reflect on the pivotal nature of communications through the lens of one of the continent’s most prominent events – the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa, which took place in Durban from 3 to 5 May – means analysing the multi-layered role that the wider industry plays in how African citizens engage with critical developments in their own countries and Africa more broadly, as well as the bottom line of the businesses that drive growth at a macro level.

FleishmanHillard (FH) South Africa partnered with WEF and it was an honour to be part of the communications team who handled the event this year and to be able to provide the necessary support and expertise. Although much preparation had been done ahead of the summit, understanding its magnitude only truly dawned at the start of the three-day event.

With the added benefit of hindsight, there are a number of key teachings that emerged from the conference that indicate how communications – and the perception of the role that the industry plays – has changed over the years and continues to shift as prominence increases in gaining a spot at the boardroom table of public and private sector industry leaders who shape policy that ultimately impacts on the day-to-day lives of the continent’s citizens.

Perhaps the most critical of these lessons is that the communications department of an organisation is as critical as any other division, whether it be operations or finance, yet many professionals take it for granted.

The communications department at WEF Africa was responsible for crafting the overall conference programme, organising the session structures, briefing speakers and spokespeople, procuring media partnerships and shaping the messaging to be communicated to all respective stakeholders, including the media.

Without these dedicated communications personnel, conversations at the summit would have been unstructured and packaged unprofessionally: the team were the backbone of the Forum and delivered a successful assembly of significant stakeholders and myriad meaningful dialogues and action plans between heads of industry, government and civil society.

This team’s ability to pull together an event of that magnitude with no issues is a lesson in agility and organisation that all practitioners in the communications space should take heed of. To place it in context, the WEF Africa communications team were managing 1 250 participants including over 90 senior government officials, more than 200 young leaders and approximately 80 international corporations.

If there was ever doubt surrounding the significance of communications in Africa, specifically at an event with the eyes of the world stage on it, doubt no more. Events characterised by seamless orchestration and order hold the art of effective communications at their core.

Written By: Trevor Chueu, Associate Director (Africa)