Communicating with the public during crises has always been embedded with accusations and counter-accusations from the actors and concerned stakeholders. In recent times, the emergence of new media occasioned by the Internet has indicated public relations officers do not need to defend what is not hidden because Facebook, Twitter, Instagram among others have strengthened consumer callout culture, which was the exclusive right of journalists, especially investigative journalists in Nigeria and other countries before the advent of the Internet and social networking sites.
Both the journalists and citizens with the access to the social networking sites can now deplore the strategy for socioeconomic and political changes. Some days ago, Fisayo Soyombo, Nigeria’s global award-winning investigative journalist, called out the University College Hospital on his social media accounts [Facebook and Twitter]. According to him, the management needs to work on the poor water supply and toilet facilities in the hospital. His post attracted public condemnation of poor handling of the facilities.
On November 17, 2020, Soyombo reported on his social media handles that the Public Relations Officer of the hospital described his video as fake. “My attention has been drawn to claims by Toyin Akinrinlola, PRO of UCH, on TVC’s ‘Your View’ that the video I released last week is fake and not from UCH. Mr. PRO sir, I posted just the abridged version of that video. Do you want me to release the full length?” As at the time of writing this analysis, the post has been liked 467 times and shared 36 times with 122 comments. Examining the post on his Twitter handle, our analyst found that more than 2000 of his followers have retweeted the post. The post has been liked more than 4,500 times.
Based on the trending of the post, our analyst notes that the Public Relations Officer has made a strategic mistake, denying the poor condition of the facilities seems to be more honourable than describing a video released by an experienced investigative journalist. In our experience, we have learnt that when a PRO committed a mistake like this in the age of the Internet, he or she has set paths for net-citizens and heavy Internet users to explore the past of the brand being protected.
Exhibit 1: Dominant Words in His Post
The University College Hospital has a trajectory that shows that water supply and toilet facilities are not in good condition. On January 7, 2017 report has it that over 600 members of the Association of Resident Doctors protested against poor working conditions, unpaid salaries and absence of basic facilities. In the same year [November 17, 2017], it was reported that “the UCH has upgraded its facilities and expanded its services to foster quality healthcare delivery in the country.” More than two months later, Professor Alonge, former Chief Medical Director, discussed the good, the bad and the ugly sides of the hospital in an interview with a national newspaper.
“So, now that there are decent toilets here, some of them will rather come over to use them than defacing the environment,” this was the statement of Professor Jesse Otegbayo, the new CMD, in a report published on July 18, 2019. In another report, the new CMD says “When I went round the theatre at the inception of my administration, I saw the poor state of the facility, including the toilets and the changing rooms,” While referring to the new CMD, a national newspaper reported on October 14, 2020 that the hospital would need nothing less than N50billion intervention fund to reclaim its glory as a leading tertiary health institution in the country.
Looking at the past, it is clear that the PRO has forgotten the past before responding to the call-out. Our analyst notes that as a strategic personnel and communicator, the PRO should have gone through all the trends of conversations of the former and the new CMDs on the state of the facilities before responding to the investigative journalist. This is imperative because consumers are not only ones shaping perception about brands, journalists do too.
Calling the video fake when it is clear that the journalist has more than what he released to the public is a strategic public relations mistake, which would continue to hunt the hospital in the next few days. In the current crisis, the PRO needs to be proactive by moving quickly and listen closely. Being vocal without deep understanding of the public and their expectations regarding the issue would be more damaging than what the management of the hospital expected from the denial strategy and tactic.
Exhibit 2: Select Public Attitudinal Dispositions to the Actors