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How to change negative narratives in oil, gas sector – Meka Olowola

At a recent awards ceremony in Lagos, Nigeria, the press ­­caught up with Meka Olowola, a leading communications specialist in Africa who currently serves as the Managing Partner of Zenera Consulting. Zenera is a foremost communications advisory firm providing expert counsel on branding, public relations and reputation management to some of the biggest brands in Africa’s energy and financial services sectors.

Managing Partner, Zenera Consulting

Against the backdrop of the forthcoming Offshore Technology Conference in May 2019, they seized the opportunity to engage Olowola in a short interview, where he spoke on the growing need for oil and gas firms to proactively manage their corporate reputation in today’s febrile multimedia age.

Olowola believes that the oil and gas industry has a public perception problem globally, and for organisations to get ahead in the tough terrain, strategic communications in all its forms—public relations, investor relations, advertising, branding, crisis management, internal communications—must remain at the core of all activities.

“In recent times, with the harp on sustainable development, companies in the energy sector have come under more regular scrutiny, becoming particularly vulnerable to the market forces of public opinions. The relentless pace of change and innovation birthed by technological advancement and environmental awareness also places pressure on oil and gas companies. A pressure to evolve and adapt to an age of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, to embrace sustainability and ‘green’ initiatives across board, to trump competitors, while also advancing and safeguarding a solid corporate reputation, which is intangible, yet the most important asset”, says the brand management expert.

According to him, contrary to what a lot of people think, public relations and reputation management are not ‘green washing’ strategies. They are integral to business continuity and acceptance, and failure to recognize their importance could lead to colossal crises for organisations.

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“No oil firm can survive without public acceptance, and this is exactly why we work with them to strike a mutual understanding with all stakeholders in a sustainable way, irrespective of their level of interest and influence. Whether upstream, midstream or downstream, companies must continually project themselves as uniquely positioned change-drivers. They must build credible relationships with neighboring communities, the government, and other relevant stakeholders including the media, with a full understanding of the media as an amplifier of both the good and the disastrous. In the same vein, all efforts geared towards contributing to socio-economic development, human advancement, as well as energy systems that are cleaner, better and kinder to the environment must be told in the media through compelling narratives”, Olowola said

He however warns that when it comes to reputation management, the interaction between technology and the media is a double-edged sword for companies. While it has opened up a plethora of channels through which they can connect with stakeholders and showcase activities, it has also exposed companies to complex reputational risks because of the way crises escalates in today’s world.

The brand expert expressed that firms must improve public image and enhance bottom line by accentuating the positive stories around their brand. “We project our clients as industry leaders operating with a purpose beyond profit. Even for those who are already immersed in controversies, our time-tested recovery strategies ensure they gradually win back the trust of society and the confidence of all shareholders”, he added.

What Zenera Consulting has done over the years working with clients in the oil and gas sector in Africa is to help them build brand loyalty, improve their brand equity, increase share of voice, boost positive perception and effectively manage crises in a proactive rather than reactionary custom. Zenera creates captivating messaging and identify opportunities for clients to tell stories in ways that best resonate with key audiences.

Zenera’s dedicated team of sector-focused professionals bring to the table over 45 years of combined experience in providing an array of strategic communications services to help clients establish and maintain close relations with those who matter to their business and to help them propel themselves to the modern-day playing field.

The firm has continually demonstrated a thorough understanding of how the oil sector works, its current challenges and future opportunities. In working with some of the biggest oil companies in sub-Saharan Africa, Zenera has helped companies win advocates, drive conversations in their industry, influence policies, attract investment opportunities and navigate through catastrophic events, by leveraging on a robust database of key media influencers, editors and correspondents, both mainstream and new media.

Although most companies in oil and gas continue to struggle with challenges ranging from carbon emissions, oil spills, regulatory bottlenecks to fractured relationships with important stakeholders, especially in host communities, Olowola opines that how company’s handle their internal and external challenges has far-reaching consequences.

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Zenera prides itself in delivering clear-cut key messages adaptable to a myriad of platforms. With media monitoring and social intelligence tools, the firm also boast of being able to predict sentiments towards clients and turn the tide of negative media reportage to positive reportage.

The Lagos-based consulting firm offers services that include advertising, branding, crisis communications, media relations, reputation management, public relations, investor relations and digital marketing. The company also has a practice that focuses on investor relations- ZeneraIR and a partner firm, CSR-in-Action, which is one of the foremost sustainability consulting firms in Africa, offering end-to-end CSR implementation and training programmes. Zenera’s digital marketing arm, BuzzDigital helps corporate and retail brands optimize conversion online, earn positive perception and greater mindshare across all new media platforms. Zenera Consulting also owns RedBee, a high-end creative event solutions company, which delivers strategic planning, and flawless production for clients.

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