New Media signifies on-demand access to content on a variety of digital devices. New Media is interactive. Professor Kenny Makungu, a senior lecturer in the department of mass communication at The University of Zambia, defines new media as “a concept that encompasses the coming together of traditional media with the interactive power of computer and communications technology and computer-enabled consumer devices.”
Challenges of New Media in Zambia
As an Ohio University student studying journalism and public relations I have worked on multiple campaigns for clients such as the Miss Universe Organization, Cardinal Health, College Book Store, and Soul of Athens, to name a few. The clients and organizations I have worked with rely heavily on the use of ‘New Media’ to inform and engage their audiences. Understanding and utilizing New Media in public relations tactics is continually emphasized in academic classrooms, student organizations, and internship attachments. I have witnessed how valuable New Media, specifically social media, media entertainment, and networking sites including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, can be as a means to developing rich connections with the publics. While interning at the Miss Universe Organization I worked to develop content for a mobile messaging campaign, wrote speaking points used for tweets, managed online communities, and monitored social media outreach. At Ohio University, working in campus relations for Cardinal Health, a client of the student-run PR firm, ImPRessions, our team constantly uses Twitter to encourage live chats, spreading awareness of our Generation Rx campaign, and Facebook to gain attention for campus events.
Interning at GOMAN Advertising Ltd., an advertising firm in Lusaka, Zambia, posed new questions for me: are U.S. citizens too reliant on New Media as an effective public relations tactic? And, is the art of traditional media relations and community outreach fading? During my time at GOMAN I was assigned to create a public relations plan for Bonnita. Bonnita long life full cream milk is a product by Parmalat, Zambia’s largest producer and processor of milk and dairy products. I was excited to work on a PR plan for this product, however, reaching the intended audiences greatly limited my options for effective outreach. The product, released in Zambia in November 2011, is specifically crafted for Zambians with very low incomes. Milk is somewhat of a luxury product for Zambians, many cannot afford milk or do not have refrigerators to store milk and dairy products. Bonnita allows for impoverished Zambians to have access to quality, nutrient rich milk to feed their families, while keeping money in their pockets. Because it is long-life milk it can be stored at room temperature for up to three months from the date of production without getting spoilt.
Gaining Awareness without New Media
In order to spread awareness of Bonnita, I was assigned to develop innovative public relations tactics. If this product was for citizens in the United States, social media would be useful to help with community outreach. Just take a look at the well-established "Got Milk?" campaign Facebook page, with more than 58,000 "likes." Even those in the lowest income brackets in the United States still have some access to New Media. However, reaching those publics in Zambia requires a lot more thought. Ideas of using New Media can be thrown out completely. Due to lack of Internet infrastructure in Zambia, very few people access the Internet. Furthermore, the cost of Internet access is high. Internet connection is seen as a luxury. Social networking statistics show that Facebook penetration in Zambia is 1.35 percent of the country’s total population, and 19.89 percent among Internet users in Zambia.
The lack of New Media in Zambia challenged me to focus and develop some “old school” tactics to reach out to the desired publics, effectively communicating the benefits Bonnita can provide to them. While developing a proposal for the product I gained a deeper understanding of effective public relations without relying on New Media, and the challenges of working in international media systems. After multiple brainstorming sessions, researching Zambian media outlets and consumption patterns, I was able to successfully develop enough tactics for a meaningful PR plan to present to Parmalat, on behalf on GOMAN.
Reviving Public Relations Fundamentals
Instead of relying on Facebook fan pages or a Twitter handle for Parmalat or Bonnita, I focused my plan on traditional print media, radio broadcasts, securing interview placements, and guerilla marketing. Painting advertisements on buildings, a common practice in Zambia, and Parmalat containers in compounds placed in the rural villages the product is made to serve, distributing handbills, and setting up interviews for Parmalat spokes persons at rural radio and news stations around Zambia, were just a few of the tactics outlined in the PR plan presented to Parmalat.
My internship in Zambia reminded me of the fundamental proponents of public relations and strategic communication. Media relations and community outreach is not going any where. Public relation practitioners in the U.S. should be conscious not to rely too heavily on New Media. The public relations industry should always keep in mind the importance of developing and maintaining meaningful relationships, with journalists, who pick up pitches, clients, whose products are worthy of our time to advocate for, and their publics, whom are the consumers of information and interpreters of messages. New Media is a great tool, but not one that should be so heavily relied on by public relations practitioners.
Andre, a graphic designer at GOMAN, and I, inside the studio where all the advertisements and PR materials are produced.
Lauren Nolan is one of 18 students from Ohio University, studying abroad in Zambia over winter intercession, about media, society, and governance, through the Institute for International Journalism.