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‘Create a single, compelling narrative on investing in Zimbabwe’

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At a time when the country’s infamous liquidity crunch threatens to assume epidemic proportions, the importance of attracting more meaningful levels of foreign direct investment (FDI) if we are to rescue the sickly growth trajectory cannot be over emphasised.

At such times, the role played by those who pull the strings behind the scenes long before the investment deals begin to “wash onto our shores” is often overlooked and taken for granted, yet in most cases, such players are the investor’s first point of contact with the local investment environment.

Newsday (ND) financial columnist Omen N Muza speaks to Rishon Chimboza (RC) the general manager of one such company – Africa Practice – about the role they are playing in shaping effective communication strategies geared for successful investment outcomes.

ND: Africa Practice is a “strategic communications consultancy.” Please explain – in a nutshell – what exactly a strategic communications consultancy does.

RC: We advise some of the largest institutions, companies and investors on the continent on how they should communicate with their stakeholders. We wouldn’t call our work public relations in a traditional sense. Most of our clients operate in sectors where there is a lot of interface with policy or regulatory authorities. Therefore, communication has to be well-thought-out before it is executed, companies can’t afford to just communicate for the sake of communicating.

ND: Your company has worked in over 30 African countries, I believe, including Zimbabwe. But where and when did it all begin?

RC: We started eleven years ago with our first office in Nairobi and now have seven offices across the continent. The company was created to communicate the African investment story better.

This was around the time when indigenous African multinationals such as the Dangote Group, and our own Econet Wireless Holdings were growing their continental footprint and brands such as Guinness were realising higher sales in Nigeria than anywhere else in the world. Investors from the Eastern and Western countries who had previously shunned Africa were beginning to recognise that the continent had much to offer.

ND: What sort of clients do you serve in Zimbabwe?

RC: In Zimbabwe, our work is mainly in the resources, manufacturing and financial services sectors. Our team in Zimbabwe also provides services to an African investment promotion agency and some of the largest multinational investors operating in East and Southern Africa in the financial services, ICT, media, resources and oil and gas sectors. I’ve also supported on assignments in most regions of the continent.

ND: And what products do you typically offer them?

RC: Mainly reputation management, policy advisory, media relations and investment promotion.

ND: What’s the single most important piece of advice you would give to Zimbabwean businesses in terms of how to communicate more effectively for better strategic and successful foreign investment outcomes?

RC: I am often asked what communications have to do with attracting FDI.

Of course, it would be naïve to say that if we communicate better as a country, the floodgates of investment will open up, but communicating a consistent message, especially on policy related matters helps to attract the right type of FDI – the type that brings with it skills, technology and develops the economy.

ND: How can this all-important single narrative be woven?

RC: Perceived political risk means Zimbabwean companies have to start working closely with government to create a single narrative on what investing in Zimbabwe means instead of just waiting for government to make the right noises.

I see this process is already taking place with the CZI taking business delegations to the EU and more recently the Minister of Finance leading roadshows to various international capitals.

Otherwise if government says one thing about investing in Zimbabwe and our companies have a different message, our investment proposition as a country will continue to be a hard sell. Attracting investment is a competitive process. Our story needs to be much more compelling than generous resource endowments or high literacy rates – we also need to give incentives. It has to be a well-choreographed, well-thought-out and well-funded process.

ND: Having supported several international companies to launch new services and achieve market entry, what recurring challenges faced by these investors would they like to see government beginning to address at a macro level?

RC: Typically, for market entry services, we work with multinationals at the beginning of the investment cycle, before they start making public their intentions to invest. A lot of the questions the investors ask us on Zimbabwe are around clarity of policy – that is, “we don’t have a problem with Zimbabwe’s policies, but tell us what exactly the policy is and we will make a decision based on those policies.”

ND: From your vantage point as a specialist communications company, on a scale of one to 10, how would you rate the general quality of local companies’ communication initiatives and strategies?

RC: In the past three or four years, it has been improving and companies, especially the ones looking to raise capital, listed entities and the ones with international shareholders are realising the importance of communicating.

There are some star performers, but on an aggregate level, I would score the companies at six. A number of local CEOs are reticent about external communication, especially talking to the media. However, if journalists are not given information, they end up writing based on conjecture.

That’s not to say companies should communicate for the sake it, but they should embrace communication as part of their strategic planning efforts. I’ve advised a number of companies where communications activities are taken up at CEO or board level and these companies have been most effective at dealing with reputational challenges.

Feedback: omen.muza@gmail.com. Omen N. Muza writes in his personal capacity. You can view his LinkedIn profile at zw.linkedin.com/pub/omen-n-muza/30/641/3b8

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