A vibrant private sector needs a lively business press

While it was the biggest event in Kigali on Friday night, only one mainstream media outlet was actively tweeting about Rwanda Development Board (RDB) business excellence awards’ ceremony; I wondered whether it is the media’s lack of interest, absence of business press or simply, a nonexistent media relations strategy for an otherwise important annual national episode.

Igihe, was a lone actor, tweeting to its 57000 followers in isolation of its mainstream counterparts, The New Times which has the largest online audience of over 126000 followers and Rwanda Broadcasting Agency with over 38000 followers. A combination of the three giants would have given the awards, a combined online audience of nearly a quarter a million people.

That coverage would have been further amplified by professional business reporters whose journalistic opinion matter, further giving prominence and exposure to the brands that won or got nominated in the competition. That kind of major media coverage would be worth a year’s marketing budget for many of the small and emerging brands that were highlighted on Friday night.

I tend to assume it is the nonexistent media relations strategy, a charge that I would like to press on the agency that RDB contracted to organize the event.

The absence of mainstream business press meant the award ceremony was a lost opportunity to amplify the prominence and excellence of the victorious brands to a wider audience in and beyond Rwanda. See, what is an award ceremony without the relevant press coverage?

An award, by nature, is an expression of opinion; but that opinion needs to be authenticated by credible voices and the press, especially business press, whose daily job is to cover those brands, would be important actors in further putting the victories of the winners into context.

For instance, why was I&M bank investor of the year over, for instance Bank of Kigali which engineered a major capital pool from investors by cross-listing its shares on the Nairobi Stock Exchange? The press would help us explain such ironies.

For an economy like Rwanda’s, with internationally admired credentials such as being the best place to do business in Africa, with one of the fastest growth rates and an attractive investment climate as per various reports by World Economic Forum and World Bank, an active business press is simply compulsory.

Where we have managed to build an active political press that closely covers government and keeps it under scrutiny, we appear to have failed to nurture an equally vibrant business press that closely covers aspects of our private sector, helping to not only hold them accountable to the promises they make to the buying public, but also being a voice of advocacy on prevalent local doing business barriers.

It is therefore saddening that when it comes to an event like a national business excellence awards, the voice of Rwanda’s business press goes conspicuously missing, yet it would be from their deeper reporting that the inspiring stories of emerging brands in Rwanda would catch the attention of investors beyond our borders.

On the outside looking in, it is possible that the media were invited but the gatekeepers of their respective media chose not to highlight the story. The question then is, why? The answer lies in the increasingly transactional nature of media coverage.

Every media manager’s headache today is how to get press coverage for an event, without paying, even when it is a genuinely newsworthy event, sometimes, of national significance.

But can you blame the media for increasingly becoming transactional in their editorial policies? No you can’t blame the media. I say so because, having been a bat myself, I know whether it is a bird or an animal.

With the near death of traditional media advertising, hitherto the main source of revenue for media houses, thanks to the advent of new media platforms such as social media, media as a business are struggling to stay afloat in a sea of ever increasing operational overheads including salaries for reporters.

A fortnight ago, two of my senior colleagues got laid off by their media house. One colleague had been a business reporter for twelve years and instead of getting a promotion for brand loyalty, he was sent packing. This is the sad reality of our media industry, today.

Media outlets with a large online following must find a way of earning from their platforms because it is all, they nearly have. For instance, an endorsement tweet by The New Times today, should be as expensive as a double-page colour advert in the days when newspaper copy circulation was large enough.

No one benefits from a weak media community. It is therefore incumbent upon everyone that is in a position of corporate decision making, to try and apportion a fraction of their annual budgets towards media support as a long-term media relations strategy to build the capacity of our local press.

To best achieve this, we can follow a sector-based strategy, whereby, companies in different sectors come up with initiatives to support media development in their respective industries.

For instance, we can have specialized media development initiatives in the energy, agriculture, manufacturing, mining, banking and science sectors, where actors in those industries deliberately invest not only in building capacity of individual reporters but their media outlets as well.

Email: kenagutamba@gmail.com

The views expressed in this article are of the author.