Title: The Work of a Press Secretary
Author: Burkard Weth, formerly press attaché German Embassy Nigeria.
Publisher: Shaker Media Germany
Year of Publication: 2019
Number of Pages: 58
Reviewer: Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku, editor WADONOR, Cultural voice of the Niger Delta
Many factors make Dr Burkard Weth’s book The Work of a Press Secretary relevant to press secretaries in Africa and Nigeria in particular. The first relates to a recent incident involving Danladi Umar, chairman of Nigeria’s Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, who allegedly assaulted a security guard at the Banex Plaza in Abuja in March 2021. The incident provoked a national backlash, especially because it was about a man who ought to uphold good conduct amongst public officials.
To control the damage, Mr Danladi Umar’s press secretary, Mr Ibraheem Al Hassan made a release which the Guardian newspaper of April 1, 2021 described as ‘error-ridden’. In it, the press secretary of the CCB chairman claimed that ‘Biafran boys’ attacked the CCB Chairman, and thereby stoked ethnic sentiments. After he was fired from his position, Mr Al-Hassan later on revealed that he was forced to include that phrase, ‘Biafran Boys’ in his release, by the CCB Chairman Mr Danladi Umar. Was the CCB chairman professionally correct with his direct involvement with the lexicon and grammar of that release? Is Mr Ibraheem’s ‘error-ridden’ Press Release a symptom of the ill-equipment of most Press Secretaries in public and private establishments?
The other context relates to press secretaries who work in political ‘environments’. The position of press secretary gives the office holder an opportunity to build bridges that connect their principals to the public. That is not often the case with most Nigerian press secretaries though. Some are aloof, arrogant or ignorant of the crucial role their position holds for their principals. Many press secretaries hardly pick up the phone to speak for, or manage the image of their principals. They often prefer to deal only with a preferred cohort of insiders. What does a Press Secretary really expected to do?
It is against this background that The Work of a Press Secretary becomes Germaine to discussions of the policy guidance and agenda setting role of press secretaries, whether in public or private establishments.
As summary, Dr Weth’s The Work of a Press Secretary tries to capture the following:
§ How press secretaries can deal with the press
§ How press secretaries should conduct themselves
§ How press secretaries should manage radio interviews
§ 10 proven tips to get an interview on radio
§ How press secretaries should manage TV interviews
§ How press secretaries should handle social media/internet, in seven chapters and basically says that ‘work’ in the sense used by Dr Weth is the body of knowledge and skills that a press secretary needs to apply to succeed as Press Secretary from ‘different environments’.
And Dr Weth says all these in very simple English – no circus, no gobbledygook, no clumsy diagrams or infographics, no clichés and no Germanisms. Just plain old simple English. One of the unique qualities of this book is that because the author is German, readers would expect to experience some of the challenges ascribed to the acquisition of German as a second language in L1 and L2 situations. But no – from the get go, and from the introduction of the book, (pages 7-9), a reader easily connects with the voice of a persona as if both are in some sort of physical contact in a comfortable room. What comes off from the sparse typos in the book is that there has been painstaking effort by both the author and publisher to get the message in The Work of a Press Secretary across. It is like an adroit workman handing the pliers, spanners, screwdrivers to a willing apprentice, and saying to him or her ‘Hey bro, here’s how to do this – this is the way’.
Secondly, all the Chapters get straight to the point. Since the book seeks to deal with leitmotifs and memes relevant to irregular nuances of press secretaryship in Nigeria and Africa, it goes on to prescribe templates for foundations for the practice. For instance, in Chapter One ‘How Press Secretaries can deal with the Press’, the author offers a grundnorm to Press Secretaries: you should be modest, kind and honest. Also you should always deal strictly with the policies of your company.
In Chapter 2, How Press Secretaries Should Manage Radio Interviews, a reader or Press Secretary who has never handled a radio interview immediately wants to have one, apparently from the confidence gotten from applying the skills proffered by the author. Chapters 5, 6 and 7 relate to all the issues thrown up by the alleged misconduct of the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Bureau, and thereafter the book charts a course for anyone whose work is press secretaryship.
Books on the subject, especially by an international practitioner who has held the position of press secretary or attaché at the highest levels of diplomacy are hard to come by. That is why any serious-minded mass communications expert or novice, together with students in institutions of higher learning, personnel in local government offices, the armed forces, government officers, private establishments and the general public will find this book very useful.