Marcopolis presents the Ghana Report focused on investments, doing business, economy and other topics featuring interviews with key executives and government officials. The sectors under review are agriculture, banking, energy, industry, telecom, IT, real estate and more.
Interview with Esther Cobbah, CEO of Stratcomm Africa
Stratcomm Africa is an international total communications, reputation management and research agency, dedicated to using communications as a means of enhancing performance in various contexts. At the same time, you are the leader in the Ghanaian communications industry. How would you evaluate the communication industry here in general terms? What is the Ghanaian culture of communications?
I think that the Ghanaian communications industry is becoming more and more vibrant. With the introduction of a lot of radio FM stations and because of our growing democracy the industry has become extremely vibrant. Now we also have social media with the use of smartphones. Today many Ghanaians have mobile phones. These all contribute to the growth of the industry.
Then we have companies that have come into Ghana or are operating in Ghana working with communities that require information from them. That also makes communication with the public really important. There is a need for communication strategies and for professional communication support. I would say that the industry is becoming more vibrant and more required by organisations, communities and by the country as a whole.
How has Stratcomm Africa in particular shaped the industry? What did you bring to the arena?
Stratcomm Africa started at a time when there were hardly any communications companies; there were advertising agencies that were linked to external advertising agencies. We made it our mission to help evolve in this country professional communication services. We have been very systematic in doing that; we have spent a lot of resources educating the business community, we have tried to educate the public, we have established strong relationships with the media over time to enable us to show that this country appreciates effective professional communications and that we are able to deliver the excellent services that are required. Over time we have come to be known as the go to communications company that has strong local knowledge and international expertise.
Are you also located outside of Ghana?
Yes we are. We have done quite a bit of work in the Gambia. We are located there and we have also established ourselves in francophone West Africa with our headquarters in Ivory Coast. We are also registered in Kenya and Liberia. We are growing. We see ourselves becoming the go to total communications company in all of Africa.
If you could sum up, what have been the key ingredients of your success?
We have an amazing understanding of the African context because we have spent a lot of time to understand Africa and that is why our name is Stratcomm Africa.
The key ingredients of our success have been the growing need for professional communications and the excellence in our delivery. We have an amazing understanding of the African context because we have spent a lot of time to understand Africa and that is why our name is Stratcomm Africa. We were able to sit and look into the future, into what Africa would be; we knew Africa would rise. We believe in Africa. We have strategically positioned ourselves as an African communications agency that helps Africa to understand the rest of the world, and the rest of the world to understand Africa. We think that these ingredients combined with our unrelenting commitment to excellence in delivering what clients require have really naturally contributed to our widely acknowledged market leadership. We guide our clients to use communication effectively to raise their bottom line, we guide nations to use communication effectively to pursue their development agenda, we guide communities to use communication as a tool for development and we even guide individuals to employ communication to help them achieve improved livelihoods as well as social harmony. These are some of the ingredients that have positioned us in the manner that we are positioned today, with many awards coming our way.
So you cater for a whole range of clients.
Yes. That is why we are a total communications company. Everything to do with communication, we undertake, from serving individuals to nations, from aviation to agriculture, technology, social development and extractive industries—mining, oil and gas. We have a huge portfolio. We have set ourselves up to be able to undertake everything to do with communications.
Can you tell us about your current projects or initiatives? You also have an affiliate non-governmental organisation which is the Centre for Development and Intercultural Communication, what is its role? What are you working on right now in terms of social responsibility?
For Stratcomm Africa, it is always a delight to see that communication, as a tool, is helping to achieve development in our context. From the get go, 21 years ago, we began to look at projects that we could undertake on our own.
One of the projects that is most exciting for us is the Ghana Garden and Flower Movement. Yesterday we launched the 2015 edition of the Ghana Garden and Flower Show, which is a flagship activity of the Ghana Garden and Flower Movement. It is the third edition. Why a Ghana Garden and Flower Show? As a communication company, we look at Ghana and we see that we have good soil, sunshine and water and we have amazing flora and fauna, but we have unemployment, difficult economic situations and livelihoods that need to be enhanced. So we at Stratcomm Africa determined that we could use our skills as communicators to create national awareness about this gold mine that is waiting to be harnessed. Therefore, we began to communicate to the country the job opportunities in the horticulture and floriculture industry, the income generation, and the health, beauty and aesthetic benefits that are to be derived from this industry. We have been promoting this and it is really catching on very well. That is a project that we are really into. We call it the Ghana Garden and Flower Movement. This year, after the two years where we have generated awareness with the big Ghana Garden and Flower Show that we hold in September, we are now using it as a platform to get schools, communities, homes, churches involved. We are reaching out to the Ghanaian society and people are really interested. This year we are launching the Ghana Garden and Flower Club. You will know that this year we had a very unfortunate incident on the 3rd June. It happened because of various factors, one being issues with how we maintain our environment. We are encouraging Ghanaians to keep their environment clean, to plant trees and grass etc. it is a big project for us.
Another project that we are working on with our affiliate NGO, the Centre for Development and Intercultural Communications, is the “Read it, Write it, Say it” project. Literacy is key for development and we see that a lot of children are not reading and the ability to read in school is difficult. If you are not able to read and write effectively that affects your ability to do any of the subjects. Even for arithmetic you have to be able to read to be able do it. So we started the “Read it, Write it, Say it” Initiative. We want children to read and write better, so that they communicate better. If they do that, what happens? There is harmony and an understanding that is established and so there aren’t conflicts in our society. If they read better it means that when something is put out for community development they are able to read it and understand it.
Associated with that is what we call the Social Information Centre, where we go to companies, organisations, UN agencies, development agencies and collect development- related materials that have been produced and we put them in the Social Information Centre that we have set up in communities. These centres are managed by facilitators. The information provided also becomes functional literacy material for the young people that are learning to read and write. It is information for the community as well. What do we do? We use puppetry and drama to stimulate the desire to read and as well as community dialogue as tools for stimulating the desire to visit the Social Information Centre.
Another project is Share; it is a simple program for women. We get fifteen to twenty women together to share. What do women do when they are together? They say “I like your dress, where did you get it from?” or “Where did you get your hair done?” etc. they share information. So we use the same communication approach for women to share challenges that they have and also opportunities that could be open to them. It is a project that I am particularly excited about.
Another one is for SMEs. Sometimes SMEs think that they need to focus solely on the technical and commercial aspects of their business and not on their reputation but they don’t grow if they don’t pay appropriate attention to their reputation. We therefore undertake clinics for SMEs to help them understand how reputation management helps them to increase their bottom line.
These are some of the projects that we are currently working on with regard to corporate social responsibility. We are really excited about these social interventions that depend on the use of communication as a tool for progress.
You were personally recently awarded 2014 IPR Excellence Award, what does it represent to you?
It is exciting and humbling. It also shows me that excellence pays because it is one of the things that Stratcomm Africa is big on. For us, excellence is key. We work in a difficult environment where things are continuously developing and if you don’t take care sometimes you can take things for granted. At Stratcomm Africa that is a no no.
We won various awards: the PR Personality of the Year, Stratcomm Africa was also awarded the PR Consulting Firm of the Year, two of our clients were awarded for work that we have done for them—we walked away with four awards. The year before we were awarded by the Chartered Institute of Marketing Ghana, Marketing Woman of the year, the Association of Ghana Industries awarded us the Business Consulting Firm of the Year and the list goes on. This tells us that we are doing something right and we need to look at that and build on it. At the end of the day it is not just about us, it is also about our clients. If we get better it means we offer better services to our clients. For Stratcomm Africa, professional integrity is key; we believe that we work not only for ourselves and our clients but we work for a higher cause and for us that is key. We have to be honest with what we deliver because if we are working with other people to put out an honest reputation then we ourselves better have an honest reputation. So for us, winning these awards means that we are getting it right and that encourages and excites us. It also challenges us to maintain that reputation and to build on it. We know that Africa is rising and we will not be left behind. We are rising with Africa because Africa rising means that Africans have to rise with her. We, as an African company, are well positioned to rise with Africa, taking more and more awards.
To conclude, what is your vision for the agency?
We are an African communications agency that is positioned to work with Africans to understand the rest of the world. The world is one big village. We work so that the rest of the world will feel free to enter and work in Africa and live in Africa. Our vision is to ensure that Africans and the rest of the world understand the service that we so excellently offer. We want to be seen as the agency that any organisation or individual, whether from Europe, Asia, America or wherever, comes to. We are able to hold their hand and work with them in Africa. I say to any African company, community or nation that wants to be projected or be connected to the rest of the world, come to us and we will work with you to achieve that.
Incidentally, we actually have a subsidiary company called Soft Landing. It works with Ghanaian and African organisations seeking to expand out as well as with organisations from outside of Africa seeking to come into Africa. We work with them to get a soft landing wherever they are going and once they get there we have a skill hive that will work with them to appreciate the intercultural nuances. We are a total package and our vision is to present this total package to the world and for the world to benefit from what we have been able to build over these past 21 years. We are the go to pan-African total communications company.
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