The public relations discipline has suffered misconceptions in many parts of the world, a situation experts attribute to lack of adequate understanding. Seasoned PR practitioners, however, insist that contrary to the popular opinion that PR thrives on lies; truthfulness and credibility form the bedrock for a successful practice.
A foremost PR expert, Philip Kotler, defines public relations as, “A mass promotion tool used for building good relationship with a company’s various publics by obtaining favourable publicity, building a good corporate image, handling or heading off unfavourable rumours, stories, and events.”
The Head Strategist, JSP Communications, Mr. Phil Osagie, says that public relations consultants help clients manage their image. He says the public relations consultancy business deals with people everyday, as it emphasises how organisations can develop mutual understanding with the people they deal with.
He adds that it also helps to shape their motives, purpose and actions to become well understood by all.
The profession, he says, is very important because the way an organisation is perceived is crucial to its overall success, noting that companies should strive to be perceived in the right way.
Osagie adds that what matters most in shaping perception is the uniqueness of a company’s idea, without which it may be difficult to compete successfully in the market.
He stresses that the basic requirement for setting up PR firms include truthfulness, intelligence and an understanding of the strategies for creating messages and communicating them.
“A PR consultant must also possess listening skills, be people-oriented and ready to flow with the current societal trends.”
But how does a PR business operate? He adds that the business requires a decent office apartment in a highbrow area depending on the level at which the practitioner intends to operate.
In terms of structure, he says some people choose not to have an office, because they practice the profession in an advisory capacity, by giving advice and managing their clients.
To start on a small scale, he says one needs at least three staff, including the chief executive officer, media manager and clients’ manager.
He, however, says that a properly structured public relations outfit requires different departments to cater for areas including accounts, research, media, finance and administrative departments.
“The profession has gone global. Therefore, a PR company must comply with international trends. So, clients that want to be perceived as responsible, should first become responsible before communicating it to the public. It is always good for a company to first put its house in order before communicating it.”
He says the ability to attract and retain a good team of workers is the key challenge facing the industry, because the main raw material is intelligence.
Osagie adds that pricing is another challenge as there is no price tag to creativity, “but if one is able to convince the clients that he is offering value, they will be willing to pay for value.
Corporate complacency is another challenge, he says, noting that a company that proves to know it all will soon run out of ideas, thereby, rendering it irrelevant in the industry.
He emphasises the need for practitioners to get certification from relevant regulatory bodies such as the Nigeria Institute of Public Relations and the Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria to add credibility to their business and practice.
He also urges the government to continue to create an enabling environment and social infrastructure to encourage best practices in the business.
The Managing Director, 21st Consulting, Mr. Austin Udueni, says that public relations has to do with managing relationship between different parties.
He says that a public relations consultant must have an area of specialisation and know his target market by identifying the clients.
Udueni says if a PR firm is targeting the big companies, it should consider the kind of competence required to service them and offer it satisfactorily.
He says, “Part of the challenges faced by public relations consultants is that the profession is not well understood in Nigeria. Many clients just see it as an after-thought, whereas, it is a management function, but there is still a lot of ignorance in the public.”
Training is another challenge, says Udeni, adding that many people are not well-trained before engaging in the practice. This point is very essential for the profession because many clients do not even understand what the profession is all about.
“The business is quite profitable. We urge the government to regulate the business so as to checkmate those that are not professionals because the future of public relations business is bright in Nigeria,” he adds.