November 15, 2015
To the uninitiated, ‘LTP’ is an acronym for ‘Let Them Pay’ which is itself a euphemism for ‘Commercial News’ or ‘News of Commercial Value’, the aberrant Nigerian practice by which corporate organizations are made to pay for radio and television news coverage of their activities.
Now no one is really sure how this anomaly started, but there is no doubt that it has caught on like wild fire, to the extent that there is hardly any radio or television station in Nigeria today (whether privately or publicly owned) that that does not engage in the practice. You’d be quite right to say that it has become ‘normal’ to charge a fee (a hefty one at that, I might add) once a radio or TV station is invited to cover a corporate event. It is even clearly stated on their Rate Cards!
As a Nigerian PR professional, increasingly being contracted to provide my services locally to foreign-based companies and organizations, I feel a sense of professional discomfiture each time I have to explain to them that if they want to get any radio or TV station to come and cover their events and report it as news, they have to pay.
So, what then is news to our broadcast stations? Is it only when there has been a ghastly motor accident on the highway, with heavy casualties? Or when a bomb has gone off somewhere, killing scores of people? Is it only when a prominent politician or celebrity has been caught out in a career-threatening act of indiscretion?
Conversely, is it not news when a commercial bank donates a very expensive fire truck to a moribund public fire service, to tackle incessant fire incidents in a particular community? Is it not news when a company announces the launch of a new, life-changing product or service inspired by a significant scientific breakthrough? Pray, should it be tagged only as ‘commercial news’ if a pharmaceutical company calls a press conference to announce the market launch of a new drug to treat the dreaded Ebola virus, for instance?
For the PR profession, the practice of LTP represents a complete distortion of the age-long paradigm of PR being ‘earned’ media. If you have to pay to get news out on radio or television, that is no longer PR. There has to be another name for it. And I’m not quite sure if it’s ‘Advertising’ either.
To make matters worse, the LTP is of dubious ROI value, because there are no metrics for measuring the reach or impact of such reports. I mean, these stations cannot even give you the most rudimentary information and statistics on their audience size or configuration!
So where does this leave the Nigerian PR practitioner who has now become restricted to pushing his clients’ editorial output almost exclusively through the Print media?
That is a question that will have to be seriously addressed at some point, if Nigerian PR is to take its rightful place as an important and integral part of the global PR community and if global best practices are to become ingrained in our operations.
I personally believe that, regardless of its seeming pervasiveness (and possibly, acceptance) in Nigeria today, the LTP practice is unethical, of dubious value and ultimately unsustainable. I know for a fact that an increasing number of clients are now moving from an initial reaction of consternation to that of outright rejection of this practice. And it’s not just a matter of the cost.
We as PR people have to look for creative ways to get around this situation, to protect the integrity of PR as fundamentally an ‘earned media’ practice.
And I believe that Digital offers the way out.