|Gina Din Kariuki, Managing Director, GDCC|
Not only will the reported Sh7-8million retainer-per-month contract be floated but apparently it will be broken up EABL style with possibly different firms handling different publicity roles like corporate, Safaricom foundation, events etc.
PR firms in town are currently filling out the forms to pitch for the lucrative contracts next month as the telecoms giant continues to shake up the way it does business.
GDCC is said to be preparing its pitch with stiff competition expected to come from the likes of Ogilvy, Africa Practice, Tell-EM, Hill and Knowlton, Apex, Silver Bullet, Energy Source, Yolanda Tavares and so on.
Ogilvy has lately become the 800-pound gorilla in the room bagging such accounts as KCB and Kenya Airways from GDCC along with the numerous others it runs from Orange to Barclays and so on.
Hill and Knowlton, like Ogilvy now a part of Scangroup, has also snagged LG from GDCC.
The pitch comes at a pivotal time for Safaricom as it will also mark Victoria Kaigai's entry into Safaricom as the Head of Communications at a time when the department has seen the departures of Washington Akumu and Wachira Kang'aru (who left to take up a posting as Business Editor at Daily Nation) as well as Gina Din's seconded staff to the green giant, Cedric Lumiti (who left for Hill and Knowlton) and Soshe Oyalo (events - who is now at Multichoice). Another Gina Din veteran who worked closely with Safaricom in the past, Rodgers Wabito, also left for Hill and Knowlton last year while Francis Ochieng who has lately handled Safaricom's account for Gina Din has also left for Ogilvy.
In other words, the Safaricom communication and external is essentially starting on a clean slate and will probably be one of Nzioka Waita's (Director Corporate, Legal and External Affairs) major tasks as Safaricom 2.0 era completes its first year.
There could be positives and negatives given that much of the institutional memory so to speak is gone particularly as relates to media relations.
Positive is that Safaricom could use this to completely re-orient its communications function and redesign the way it manages communication about itself amongst its various publics.
This could involve developing a PR strategy from scratch designed to fit in and support the new corporate structure and also mainstream new media more fully into this function.
In particular, communications could develop its own vision and mission aligned to the corporate one but more importantly, it may be time to introduce segmented communication given that already the company has stated its intention to carry out segmented and targeted marketing for its different products which may appeal to different demographics.
This will involve having to ask themselves who their audience is and what sort of communication they relate to and what sort of media they expose themselves to and at what times.
It will not do to have mishaps like the Valentine's day one.
It will also be perhaps a chance to properly position Maryann Michuki's digital and social media section to support the whole organization rather than act as a branch of Customer Support.
Essentially, a few folks should have been trained to do what that section does for Customer Support and left to run their show while Digital Media concentrates on introducing support functionality for other divisions such as Marketing, Events, Corporate Communications, CSR, Investor Relations, CEOs office etc etc.
It will also be time to roll out a social media policy and strategy throughout the corporation so that for example an employee say who happens to be friends with a non-employee on a social media platform like Facebook or Twitter, knows how to answer probing questions or respond to statements without compromising the organization's strategy.
The negative could be the loss of so much institutional memory at once. One of the main reasons GDCC was successful in using ex-reporters was their familiarity with news desks as well as the country's correspondence network.
Anyone can hold an event in Nairobi and get decent press for it but try doing it up country. Some of the newsroom veterans in PR Houses are adept at one trick; having a point man in major towns. This is usually a correspondent who can be relied upon to mobilize journalists for an event, know the police and probably carry out some logistic work on the ground. They are crucial to getting an event off the ground in a place like say a school in Kakamega or Kisumu and getting it coverage in the press.
The other issue is that by working with the company, many of the PR guys already knew Safaricom's products and services well and could do a beyond-the-press-release explanation.
So a new agency will have a steep learning curve although with the movement of personnel around the industry chances are that a person who handled Safaricom before may happen to work for that agency.
With a new HOD Comms who has to show performance and has the pressure to deliver, whichever agency gets any of these contracts will feel the full heat of to perform to unimaginable expectations.
I can bet a million bucks people at an agency will come to dread the sound of Victoria Kaigai at the other end of the line before too long.
That said, is it a good idea to split up the contract?
That is debatable although some companies seem to be going for it with KCB said to be considering it.
While of course it will force each agency to focus on an area and deliver, the question may arise as to singularity of the communications message when different entities handle different aspects of the same organization.
This goes back to Communications: They will have to come up with a full-scale communications strategy within which the functions of these different agencies will have to be aligned. The strategy itself will have to fit within the role of the Division of Corporate, Legal and External Affairs under the Safaricom 2.0 structure meaning the rationale for forming the division in the first place will have to be looked at and the communication strategy aligned with that - the assumption of course is that the division has also defined its role within the Vision and Mission Statement of Safaricom.
EABL which has separate agencies cannot claim to have suffered from it but also cannot say its communication message has been amplified by it.
It took a tepid performance last year for the company to publicly acknowledge it was adversely affected by the so-called Mututho rules when it could have sounded the warning earlier.
Agencies begin to pitch next month.