Many journalists are quitting the profession to establish public relations outfits or even straddle both worlds without the requisite training. Peter Ogudoro, a UKtrained PR consultant and Programme Administrator for the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations’ (NIPR) Accelerated Certification Programme, cautions against such practice in this chat with LEONARD OKACHIE. Excerpts;
How would you describe public relations practice in Nigeria?
Awareness is increasing gradually, but we are still far from where our counterparts are in the advanced societies. Many who today parade themselves as public relations practitioners in Nigeria have no business in that profession because they do not know what it is all about. They are mixing it up with journalism.
Much as we use journalism skills, public relations and journalism are not the same. So, what you find is a situation where many quacks are traversing every nook and cranny of the country presenting themselves as people who can solve communication problems for their employers and clients.
Unfortunately, they are deceiving those people to believing that they truly can help them solve their problems and thereby, creating a lot of confusion in the society and generating avoidable problems for everyone. A few people have received skills in this area but most people who practise the profession in Nigeria need to go through proper training and certification so that we can improve the quality of practice.
What do you mean by public relations and journalism not synonyms?
The public relations person is trained to be an artist and a scientist who has the skills to network stakeholders and publics in a way that can give them mutually beneficial relationships. So, what you find in some cases is that we tell truth to build bridges, enhance the value of mankind, remove conflicts, give people the opportunity to realise their potentials and help society to advance.
We are not just in the business of selling news because if the news that we have is the news that will destroy, we may not be eager to tell people things that will be bring conflagration in the society. We are merchants of truth and we abhor falsehood. We are not in orchestrating stories that bring destruction. We are in the business of mending fences, helping people to relate in such a way that they can get the best out of their relationships.
So, it contrasts with journalism especially the genre of journalism where focus is on ‘man bites dog’, which is what sells the paper and not the opposite of it.
You say the challenges we face as a nation is due to absence of public relations in government. Why so?
Most problems in the world, no matter the level of analysis, are connected with communication gaps, people not understanding what others are doing and the intentions they have. Most times, we misinterpret intentions of our communication partners and that creates a lot of problems in relationships. Many of the laws we make in this country as well as public policies are usually not well chewed.
A few people stay in Aso Rock or parliament and think they understand what the problems of Nigeria are and that is wrong. You cannot feel where the shoe pinches unless you wear it. Professional communication requires that you go into dialogue with the people who live with those problems. You should take them into confidence and get to understand the dimensions of the problems they are going through and seek their perspective to the resolution of such problems. So far we have not seen much of that in Nigeria at any level of governance, whether local, state or federal.
They sit down in their offices as ministers, governors, president and think that they know what the individual Nigerian in my rural community is going through and that is quite unfortunate. I cannot remember in recent times, seeing any minister who is a professional public relations person handling the Ministry of Information and Communications. That is a big loss for Nigeria and we should not continue in that direction. Media is just one element in the communication process. The medium gives us the vehicle to get our messages across to our audiences.
Somebody has to start the process and that person must have the skills to design the right messages and come in to borrow the platform of the medium to get the message across. We also have to ensure that we are even talking to the right audiences. So, if all you know is about the medium that carries the message, what about the message? You have to first design the right message before talking about the medium that carries the message. So, there is a disconnect somewhere. Public relations is first and foremost interested in ensuring that society survives and flourishes because if that does not happen whatever you are working to accomplish is not going to stand the test of time.
What is the NIPR doing about the menace of quacks in the profession?
From preliminary investigations, it is obvious that for every qualified professional PR person in Nigeria, you probably have as many as five who are quacks. That is a sad commentary; we need to fix it very urgently.
It’s huge and damaging to our image and if we allow that to continue, we will be to telling the wrong stories to our younger generation because a lot of young people are in universities studying Mass Communication and as they graduate they automatically assume that they are PR people.
Those of us who are professional trainers in this field know that the average university in Nigeria lacks capacity in terms of manpower and technology to produce world class PR practitioners.
So, for you to come out of the university with a Mass Communication degree and automatically assume you are a PR practitioner is worrisome and certainly not something we should continue to promote.
What about experienced journalists who run public relations outfits?
They have no business with PR because they have created lot of problems in the industry. All they do is go out there and think that PR is about issuing press releases. Interestingly, I also have done a study of press releases they issue in Nigeria and discovered not even one of them coming from virtually every sector of the economy met the minimum requirements for a good press release.
The average journalist goes into public relations and thinks that those things he has been receiving from organisations present the professional angle to writing press releases. But we know that it is a wrong belief. As a trainer in the classroom, most of the people I train now are people on the job. Some of them have practised for about 20 years and when we give them the opportunity to write press release in the class, you hardly find one person who gets it right. That is proof that a lot of things are wrong with the practice of public relations in Nigeria.