Has Sinach made a Marketing Error in dealing with Forbes?

Over a Facebook post, I was asked if Sinach shouldn’t have made the recent Forbes headline announcing the success of Michael W Smith’s cover of ‘Waymaker’.

She should. In an ideal world.

We don’t live in an ideal world though and media coverage is especially not an ideal space. It is a business with the same headache of figuring out profit as other businesses. In fact, it might even be the one business with a major headache of figuring out profit in these unprecedented times.

Sinach was never going to make the headline in a major publication in the US or UK. The reason is a simple one: they don’t know her and nobody will be clicking the article on account of her inclusion. The reason for putting only Michael W Smith in the headline is both practical and financial: it is shorter that way and it’ll attract the many people familiar with Smith’s name and/or music. It’s business.

Of course, the media business has an allowance for altruism but it’s a small one and in almost every case will favour the already famous. So Sinach might have made the headline but only because some editor at Forbes or a reporter made a strong case for that happening. Apparently, that didn’t happen.

At this stage, then, the next move is Sinach’s. But chances are she doesn’t have a media or PR person on her team, which is a major flaw in the business set-up of the average Nigerian artist.

I have seen it play out in several fields. In music, in film, in visual arts. In fact, the pattern is the same across board: the more talented the artist, the less she/he knows about using the media to create business success. But it is called showbiz for a reason: the business follows your showing up.

Many times the failure to use the media is the result of insufficient funds but just as often it is also the fault of business naivete. The talented artist thinks the high quality of her work will have the media queuing up at her doorstep. It sometimes happens that way but that is very frequently the exception. If media attention was so freely given every time, nobody would put marketing as a course in business schools. As Forbes magazine itself once put it, fame is another name for free advertising. And Sinach isn’t famous in the west.

So what should she do? That’s a question for my PR/media consultancy business, but I’ll provide a bit of an answer here as illustration.

The first thing she needs to do is to grab a screenshot of that headline and the part of the article that mentions her name. She has shared such an image on social media and she might be lucky that that brings some attention that can be converted to business for her. But that might not happen given that she is playing in the gospel scene, a music space removed from the mainstream. Her next action should involve mixing those screenshots with some money and contacting a PR/marketing firm. They’ll take it from there. (Shameless plug: If someone on her team is reading this, do reach out to me on social media or send a mail to info@candbfirm.) A PR move might be costly today, but the benefits will make that cost irrelevant in the long term. And Sinach should be playing the long game. She has built something that the new artist doesn’t have: she has a name and commands a following that would likely never abandon her. Mr Smith’s cover was a nudge, saying, perhaps it’s time for expansion.

As with every business, there are no certainties but Sinach cannot really lose because of the size of her fan base. God (or sheer luck) favoured her in making her music reach Michael W Smith, who has given credit and has surely paid her well for some of the rights to her song. It is now her responsibility to see what other opportunity is waiting to be exploited. But this isn’t just a message for Sinach; it is for the business or brand or individual who sees an opportunity to grow but has no idea how to come up with a media strategy or execute it or even reach out to the media. (Again: send a mail to info@candbfirm.)

If she gets it right, the next time an artist of the stature of Michael W Smith covers her work, she’ll be right there in the headline, getting more attention in a country that pays in dollars. If she fails to utilise this opportunity, she might be fine still or it’s possible that another one of her fans or followers or countryman might come and ask me a variation of this question: Oris, why is the New York Times headline shunning Sinach (or xx artist)?

When that happens, I won’t write an explanatory piece on the workings of the media as I have just done. I will just shake my head and keep it moving.

Nigeria’s most acclaimed writer-reviewer.