Jeremy Galbraith, the CEO of globally renowned PR firm Burson-Marsteller for the Europe, Middle East and Africa regions, spoke to AfricaMoney on the sidelines of the Africa Public Relations Association (APRA) Summit held in Mauritius. He noted that the island economy has succeeded in branding itself with a great country image as a must-visit tourist destination. However, he went on to caution that the tourism market is a tough and constantly evolving space, hence Mauritius must make sure that it keeps its brand intact in the hospitality segment.

[Edited excerpts from an exclusive interview]

  • Especially in the aftermath of the global financial recession, there is a broad distrust of the way companies communicate. How can effective PR help companies change their perception?

There is massive distrust which continues to prevail, even though the crisis has moved on. Research conducted by us across the globe shows massive distrust in everything from government to major companies. The only thing the people trusted was local companies which were close to them. We also came out of the research with essentially the majority of people thinking that companies just lie. So people think that when companies are talking about a crisis or an issue, they are lying. And the companies need to deal with that distrust by using honest and transparent communication. The days of spin are over in this transparent world where social media is omnipresent and omnipotent. As I said in my presentation at the APRA summit, for companies with a very strong corporate purpose, it is not just about making money but equally about the imprint they are leaving upon the society. Such companies have a natural tendency to be open and transparent.

  • Taking of perception issues, it is well known that Mauritius suffers from the image of being a tax haven, even though it has a robust real economy. Do you feel that effective PR is as critical for shaping perception towards economies as it is for companies?

Unfortunately, Mauritius is seen as a tax haven but I want to add the perspective that most people think of Mauritius as a beautiful destination to go for their holidays. When you say Mauritius, the image of a beautiful beach destination is what people think of first. There are other issues like the tax-haven perception, but that is not the first thing that comes to people’s mind. The second thing I will say is that of course company branding and country branding is incredibly important and Mauritius is actually pretty successful in branding what it does best, which is: tourism. For instance, it has created an image for itself as the number one destination for couples in United Kingdom. Hence there has been effective country branding for Mauritius over the years. But obviously for a country like Mauritius, where you have many other destinations around the world which are investing heavily in terms of promoting themselves as new destinations, it is going to be increasingly important for Mauritius to make sure that it is keeping its brand intact in the market place. Taking the case of the tourist’s murder two years ago, if such thing happens more than once, then the brand can become tainted. If you look at Thailand now with what is happening with the coup, I am sure people who are thinking about booking their holiday will wait and watch before going to the country.

  • Coming to social media, that is one area where companies are really struggling with communicating with and reaching out to the right audience, and keeping them engaged despite so much social distraction and noise. How would you advise companies to best leverage social media to get their message out to the right target market?

Some companies see social media as a great threat, but I do not see it as such. Obviously it is changing many industries, so if you take, for instance, the travel/tourism space and hotels in particular, bad service gets reported very quickly. Take the example of TripAdvisor. Before I go on a holiday and book a hotel, I always check Tripadvisor to see what a lot of people have to say about any place I’m going to. There are a lot of opportunities which social media gives you – the ability to target segments, for instance. You can target a specific market with social media in a way it was much tougher earlier, with only traditional PR, newspapers and television at our disposal. The huge opportunity given by social media and the Internet is to target different segments cost effectively. Social media is a dialogue with consumers, other stakeholders and journalists. If you treat social media like a press-release, the dialogue will not be responsive as people always have complaints. If you use social media to build relationship with customers, you have to expect that there will be two-way communication.

  • Can you give us your views on the PR market in Africa, and especially Mauritius?

One of the reasons I am here is because we are very excited by Africa as continent. Even if the numbers in terms of revenues and profits are very small compared to Europe or the US, but it is a massive target segment. We announced earlier this year that we are taking the Burson-Marsteller brand to 26 markets across the continent and we have now 27 markets which use the Burson-Marsteller brand. We saw a 35% increase in revenue when we expanded across the African continent. Coming to Mauritius, the island has a small population but the market is certainly growing. So, it is an exciting market for us and it is probably the biggest opportunity for us in terms of a developed market.

–         By Marie-Lorry Coret and Cecilia Samoisi

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