You must fall in love with your company to be able to sell it well – Sophia Lissah, Chief Corporate Communications Officer MWorld FEATURES, NEWS Sophia Lissah is the Chief Corporate Communications Officer at Jospong. Running a communications unit of about 20 personnel, her warm but firm personality as well as her passion for mentorship blends into her transformational approach to leadership. According to her “as a PR person, you need to fall in love with your company… Let people see the genuineness in you. In engaging with people, be yourself and possess passion.” Sophia Lissah has indeed led a passion filled career for over 2 decades leaving her foot print in every space she has found herself. The year 2019 seemed to be that crowning year for here as she was named PR Professional of the year at the 9th MarketingWorld Awards organized by InstinctWave, and listed among the West Africa Top 20 marketing and communications professionals. She was also listed among the Top 10 PR Women in Ghana at the Women in PR Ghana Summit same year.. In this interview with MarketingWorld, Sophia Lissah takes us through her professional journey, the inspiration behind her choice of career, gives us a peek into her work at the Jospong Group and other sundry matters…. How would you describe yourself? Sophia is exciting, passionate to a fault, elegant, sociable, firm, can be very nice and at the same time very tough- that is what I’m told. Basically, I like to be myself. That is Sophia; passionate, excited and being the best version of me. What inspired your choice of career? This is a question I keep asking myself. Growing up I was a very quiet, calm person. I think it was in church when I found myself doing a lot of activities. People would get excited when I emceed and that excitement inspired my passion for communication. Right from secondary school, I started talking about doing 3 things- being a journalist, a lawyer or a bilingual secretary; so the arts have always attracted me. The more I grow in the profession, the more I get excited and so I’ve stopped calling it my profession. Now I call it my calling. As pastors are called, I’m also called into communications. My sisters inspire me also. They are very supportive and cheer me on. What does your role entail as Chief Corporate Communications Officer? It is a huge thing, but basically it is about providing strategic direction for communications within the group. So it entails reputation management, stakeholder engagement, public relations, marketing- how do I project my company- giving your company visibility and credibility in the eyes of the public. So these are the core things I do, all falling under the umbrella of providing strategic direction. I know there are a lot of subsidiaries for Jospong. Yes. We have over 60 subsidiaries. Is it difficult handling these various entities under one role? It is not the easiest job to do. But if it’s a calling then He gives the strength to do it. So yes because we operate in 5 key areas- environment and sanitation, ICT, financial services, commercial and allied services and technical and logistics. These are all different sectors with different requirements. So I look for something I can use to bind all of these, so that’s where the challenge comes in. But somehow God grants the grace. I often say that public relations or communications has moved from transactional to relational (which I believe makes the business easier) because now you relate with the people, chat with them to know what they want and desire, and then you are able to carve something for them based on that. So it is not the easiest of jobs but it is the most interesting. You must have a large team then. I wish. At the group office I have 6 people including an admin person. Some of the subsidiaries have communications people so they are also able to help. So across the group I have about 18 to 20 people who are mainly into communications. How did you climb the ladder? I started off as a journalist. I trained at the Ghana Institute of Journalism, completed in 1991. At the time I completed there was embargo on employment so finding a job was a struggle. Somehow a friend recommended me to this new project that had come to the Volta region- The Community Water and Sanitation Agency. They wanted someone to help with their PR works so the person gave me a glowing recommendation. Even at that age I was called in as a public relations consultant for the Community Water and Sanitation Agency; that was around 1994. Around the same time Ghana news agency took me on as a reporter. At the time Volta star had also started work so I was helping them with women’s movement programs and I was also helping with the youth programs. In all of that, I found myself here and there, doing everything. Next, I moved to the British High Commission as a website editor , and then to Unique Trust Financial services (that was what it was called then) as a public relations and marketing person, then I was promoted into the position of a media relations and marketing person and later, an external relations person. From there I joined the Jospong group as the Group Head of Communications and now I’m the Chief Corporate Communications Officer. It’s been a whole journey. In the course of your career, have you had to manage any crisis that was above your neck? If you have had the opportunity to work with 2 of the biggest brands in Ghana like UT and Jospong, then you encounter crisis situations all the time. Our crisis normally comes in the form of issues from the media. One such situation was the crisis at UT. At the time I had left UT a year before it went down. There was this person who was on our necks about some transactions we did and the person didn’t understand why some payments had been made and so took it to court. The good news for me here was that I had built a kind of relationship with the media and I am one person who opens up to the media about the situation on ground that, “Look guys, this is it. Make your judgement.” So picking the information from my bosses as to what the real situation was, I spoke to the media. I presented the facts from our legal department and asked them to make their judgement based on what they had heard in court and what I presented. Eventually they did. So you leave them to come to their own conclusion? You don’t try to shift the narrative to favor you? You don’t try to cover up? Never do that. In this industry as you are building the credibility of the company, your own credibility is at risk. Because if you don’t do it well it will come back to hurt you. You should ask yourself, “What do I want to be known for? Do I want to be known as the person who kills stories if it’s the truth?” What if that is what your management wants to kill the story? I have not been in a situation where I have had to do that. You should tell your story if you think that it is the truth. I always say that ‘let me tell my story and let the world make their judgement’. Of course it is not everybody that will appreciate your side of the story but there are others who will. You kill a story when you have something to hide, but if there is a truth that someone is challenging, know this; the truth can only be one. Today the person might seem to have had their day but at the end the truth will come out. I believe in an environment where news abound. There are so many channels people can use to get information. So you need to sit down and think about it and make sure you have the truth. We are humans. Mistakes do happen and you should be able to admit it when you make a mistake and try to correct it instead of going about killing stories. What has been your most accomplishing moment in your career? Last year’s award I will say is the crowning moment for me and I’m not saying this because you are the one asking. Rather, it is because up until that point I felt I was going through some level of crisis. I wasn’t seeing much of me until that letter came. So when I got the letter I kept asking- why did I get nominated for the award? How did I get noticed? I have been part of awards where you present yourself because nominations are open. There are also other awards where people are asked to vote for you so for you to be called out of the blue based on pure research, it makes it so authentic, it makes it so credible. And to be called the PR professional of the year 2019… it was so humbling, and to be part of the Top 20 Marketing & Communications Professionals in West Africa.. That meant a lot. I have received a number of awards, some from my company, all really great endorsements, but this one was the crowning moment. You can check with anybody- whenever I speak to people I speak about the award. And then to be selected as one of the top 10 PR women at the end of the year, it’s such an honor. Let’s talk about challenges. What are some of the challenges you have faced in this job? One of the major challenges I’ve faced, which goes way back to the question about attempting to kill a story is having a story that is eating you up, that is threatening to bring you and your company down and you don’t know what to do. Those are some of the challenging moments. For me when I face challenges like these I try to find something that can speak to the challenge. When that doesn’t work I go down on my knees. God has been good. How did you navigate your way out? The greatest asset for me is my ability to relate to the media. Being able to get them to sit down, to listen to our side of the story at least. After meeting with the media it is important to follow up on your stakeholders because when a negative news story comes out, there are some stakeholders who wonder about the validity of the news. That is why it is important to engage with the individual stakeholders to allay their fears. This is where one gets the opportunity to tell their story and tell the story as it is from their side, because every story has two sides. Once you get to engage the stakeholders, it allays their fears and relaxes them. Then you tell the positive sides of your story because some people, no matter what you do will never appreciate you. These are some of the things I do to deal with these challenges. In your own understanding what one thing must a good PR professional possess? Passion. Passion for what you do. Passion for the people you work with. Passion for the people you work for. Passion for the people you speak to. Passion for the company you are working for. You must fall in love with that company to be able to sell it well. As a PR person, you need to fall in love with your company because then you can tell your story better than any other person. You are the best person to sell your company and you should love the people you speak to such that you don’t take them for granted. Let people see the genuineness in you. In engaging with people be yourself and possess passion. If you were not doing this, what else would you be doing? I love languages so I’m sure I would be doing something bilingual. Whatever I would have done it would be in the arts because my sciences are a bit challenged. How do you unwind? I watch television and I involve myself in church activities. When I have nothing to do I sit behind the TV. I love watching documentaries and human interest stories. If you have 3 wishes what would you do? The first would be to work with the UN. That has been a dream right off childhood so wherever I find myself I talk about it. Next wish would be to have the opportunity to mentor young people. Maybe have a school that trains the youth and imparts knowledge because when you have come a certain level in life you realise that it is not just about skills, it’s not just about competence. There are certain soft skills that one needs. Your attitude, your behavior. You can be the best, you can be at the top but if you don’t know how to humble yourself, if you don’t know how to respect people, if you don’t know how to engage others you might live in a world thinking the world revolves around you. Wake up. So I think that given the opportunity this is something I would really like to do. The third thing I wish for- I am looking forward to retiring into a beautiful home, taking vacations, just taking it easy. So one of the things I desire is to have a proper break where I relax and think about Sophia and love Sophia.