As part of CIPR International’s ‘Letters From‘ series Samantha Seewoosurrun gives us on-the-ground insight from the public relations industry in Mauritius.
I took my first steps in PR in the summer of 1992 as an intern at PR Unlimited in Victoria, London, preparing goodie bags for a Lee Jeans product launch. Over 25 years on, after working on international communications assignments covering the UK, Europe, the United States and Asia for the public and private sectors, I find myself heading an award-winning PR agency in Mauritius, a tropical island in the Indian Ocean with 1.3 million inhabitants.
So, what are the secrets to successful PR on the tropical island of Mauritius?
1: Size matters
Having worked in the ‘Westminster bubble’, the ‘Brussels bubble’ and on Capitol Hill, I thought I knew what work in tight-knit communities was like. That was until I started working in Mauritius. Working in PR is here is like working with your extended family. Everyone knows everyone. Everyone is related to everyone else.
It can easily be the case that the head of communications you pitched to at a bank yesterday will be the cousin of somebody you will pitch to at a government ministry tomorrow, and a family friend of a journalist at a leading publication where you are pitching for an interview.
This situation has its advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, if you do a great job for a client everybody will know about it, and word of mouth has been a tremendous help in growing our business. When you are launching something new on the Mauritian market, journalists will always be interested and they will always call you back for more information or additional photographs as they know you.
Journalists will almost certainly cover your news, and they will probably even send you a link or a picture of it on WhatsApp so you know it is there. On the downside, however, if you do a poor job for a client, or have a dispute with someone, you can bet your bottom rupee that everyone will hear about it. It is rare that journalists in Mauritius will try to stitch you up like a kipper, UK tabloid-style, but if someone breaks an embargo there is not a great deal you can do about it.
Since it is such a small market, there is also a fine line between PR and journalism, and a number of journalists work for both domestic and international news organisations, and also as communications consultants. Even myself, while primarily working as a PR consultant, I am also a magazine editor and run a news portal called Platform Africa (www.platformafrica.com).
The upshot of all of this is that Mauritius is an extremely familiar place to work in as a PR professional, and it is a land where political correctness has not really taken hold, quite unlike the litigious environments of the US or even the UK. As a woman, I receive plenty of email responses from people in corporate and government circles which say ‘thank you dear’, which is not intended in the least to be patronising, but rather a reflection of the fact that they consider you to be part of the family.
2: The storyline matters
Mauritius was first discovered by the Arabs and was successively a Dutch, French and latterly a British colony, and the island has celebrated its 50th Anniversary of Independence this year.
There is an overarching storyline about the development of the island upon which the corporate and government sectors broadly agree which goes as follows: “Mauritius has taken huge strides forward over the last 50 years since Independence and, as an island with limited natural resources, this has success has been achieved by hard work, determination and the skills of its people. Mauritius is a multicultural melting pot and a strategic partner for Africa and is entering a new phase as a hub for quality investments and innovation in the region. It is now on the road to becoming a high-income economy. It is not a tax haven.”
If you are crafting a PR campaign, therefore, the more you can do to prove the Mauritian storyline, the better it will be received. I recently launched a new exchange on behalf of a UK technology firm where we ensured that the client’s press release and media interviews focused on how Mauritius was emerging as a sophisticated and innovative financial centre for Africa. The launch message pressed all the right buttons, and it received substantial coverage in both business and mainstream media.
3: Colour matters
In Mauritius, colours have strong political and religious connotations. You can have the most brilliant messaging in the world, and the perfect storyline, but you need to be careful when it comes to the use of colours on your client’s exhibition panels, website or press pack. You may find yourself sending quite unintended messages by inadvertently using the colours associated with the main political parties, namely orange (MSM, now leading the coalition government), red (Labour Party, in opposition) or mauve (MMM, in opposition), while the colour green is associated with Islam.
One fail-safe fallback position when it comes to colour is to use the four colours of the Mauritian flag, which is represented by four horizontal bands of red, blue, yellow and green. This is what we recently advised to a foreign diplomatic mission which was preparing an exhibition to be opened by the Prime Minister during the 50th anniversary celebrations, and it was a hit.
4: Language matters
How can I explain the use of language in the media in the multicultural society of Mauritius, where English, French and Creole are all spoken? I recently organised a press conference at a major African event with a senior Minister from the Mauritian Government and English-speaking corporate representatives.
The Minister spoke in English in front of the Mauritian and international press corps, and the representatives of the Mauritian print media then translated his comments into French for publication, since French is the dominant language for the media.
As the press conference concluded, there was a huddle of Mauritian media around the Minister asking him for comments on local political matters, to which the Minister answered in Creole and whose comments were published verbatim in Creole in French language newspapers.
A number of other languages are spoken in Mauritius in different communities, including Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, Marathi, Urdu, Odia, Chinese and Bhojpuri. The bare minimum for campaign materials would normally be French and English, possibly Creole and even others for consumer or government campaigns targeting the general population or specific communities. Confused? You should be.
5: Training matters
What does this all mean for the CIPR? At a recent event, a Mauritian Government Minister borrowed a phrase from Tony Blair and told a largely foreign audience that “in Mauritius we have built our success on three things: education, education, education”. This is spot on.
Mauritius is a forward-looking and outward-looking nation, where families make great sacrifices to send their children abroad to study, and place a huge premium on the importance of education, training and qualifications. The importance of education and training is ingrained into the DNA of Mauritian people and these are truly and inherently valued in a way which is not always the case in the Western world.
Furthermore, there are a huge number of professionals, already working in full-time jobs in communications and media, who will go to South Africa or China for training, or who are studying for an MA in Communications at evening classes. Mauritians don’t think that they know it all and they are always looking to improve themselves, which is an admirable trait and one which will ensure continued success. Government authorities actively promote and sponsor training across a wide range of subjects, and there are many foreign universities and business schools setting up on the island offering professional courses.
At a time where Mauritius has been facing reputational challenges from a range of external sources, there is a consensus that the image of Mauritius needs to be improved, and the upskilling of the communications profession could significantly help to send the right messages to the outside world. I believe that the time is ripe for the CIPR to set up a network in Mauritius and to bring its excellence in training to the benefit of communications professionals and the country as a whole, where it could really make a difference.
Samantha Seewoosurrun MCIPR is a seasoned international PR professional, working across corporate, financial and government communications. She has been based in Mauritius since 2015, after working for some of the world’s leading agencies and international institutions. She is Managing Director of Acuitas Communications, which was recognised as “Financial and Corporate Communications Agency of the Year 2018 – Mauritius” in the Global Business Insights Awards 2018.