CITY GIRL: How not to help Westgate regain its former glory
It is Thursday afternoon and I have spent the past one hour being treated like a terrorist at the newly-opened Westgate Mall.
No, I didn’t leave a backpack unattended at ArtCaffe. I was just doing my job as a journalist.
You see, my editor assigned me a story that is to appear in the Westgate memorial pullout to be published next week.
I was to interview business people and vendors at Westgate, to tell the country that business at Westgate is back to normal. It was basically free publicity for the premier shopping mall.
Only that Westgate Management and, specifically the Public Relations Officer, did not see it that way.
The photographer and I followed protocol. We respectfully reported to the Westgate Management Office to declare our intentions.
We asked the receptionist to allow us to speak to the Public Relations Officer (PRO).
She punched the landline phone and seconds later, she told us that the PRO says that if we wanted a story, we must first email a request to this effect and then wait for a response.
“Can we see her?” I asked.
“Write mail,” I was told.
That is such a 2002 way of doing journalism and PR, a fast-paced world governed by tight deadlines.
I would expect that the PRO, of all people, understands newsroom dynamics.
What pissed me off was that the PRO was at the reception seconds after we entered, she saw us but still had to tell the receptionist to tell us to write emails.
Too busy to talk
Now, any journalist will tell you that any source that asks you to write an email first but does not want to talk to you face to face has no intention whatsoever to assist you get your story in the near future.
We, therefore, defiantly went back into the mall, talked to a few traders who told us how business has failed to pick up, took their photos and started to leave.
Security stopped us. They shooed us into the management office and alas, whom do we find there? The PRO who was too busy to talk to us in the first place.
“Delete those photos!” she thundered at us, without even trying to find out what our story was about.
She didn’t even bother to look at the photos we had taken. She didn’t even bother to make sure the photos we were deleting were the ones we had taken of the mall.
In a bid to intimidate us, about five burly security officers were called in. They surrounded us, stroking their outdated radios perched on their shoulders and giving us the ‘look’.
So far, nobody – not even security – asked to see what photos we had taken, but they claimed that nobody was allowed to take photos ‘for security purposes’.
So what security were they talking about if nobody bothered to even ask to see the photos we had taken?
The PR lady told us: “Media is not allowed to take photos here. Not even international media!”
Not even international media? Does that mean that if they were to allow media to take photos of Westgate, that international media would be given preference? Does that mean that international media is more important than local media?
I will tell you the truth about Westgate. The mall is practically empty. A good number of shops have not yet been opened.
At lunchtime, the popular ArtCaffe has only about four customers nursing a single milkshake each and the vendors who sell curios make very little in a day. The parking is literally empty and Nakumatt tellers are not busy.
Westgate needs all the support it can garner from Kenyans, only the management is too blind to see that.
The Westgate Management Office and especially its PR arm is a perfect example of how NOT to revive a mall.
If you are a local journalist hoping to play your part as a Kenyan to do a positive story about Westgate, forget it, unless you want to be treated like a terrorist. Or wait until CNN comes and does another ‘hotbed’ story.
Finally, dear PRO, you are a public relations officer!
VICTORY AGAINST TERRORISTS
The buzzword is public. You deal with people; from journalists to irate shoppers.
Refusing to see us and leaving us in the hands of a receptionist who can barely speak English, is nowhere near what is expected in the world of PR.
PR is not about balloons and high heels; it is about getting your brand out there, in the shiniest, strongest form there can ever be.
We deleted our pictures and you threatened to sue us in case we used any photos of Westgate, including the file photos in our system that were taken the day President Uhuru Kenyatta re-opened the mall.
Please, darling, get a crash course in media law.
Also, did you know that there is a special software you can use to retrieve deleted photos from a memory card?
I just want the Westgate management and specifically its PR department to clean up their act and market that beautiful mall as a monument of Kenya’s victory against terrorists.
You are sitting on a goldmine and you don’t even know it.
You can make Westgate the next Maasai Mara by showing the world that you have risen above the terrorists and that you remain unbowed. International media like such stories, for your information.