I write to commend you on your article in THIDAY of 27 August 2007, titled “PR People as Errand Boys”. From a cursory glance, one is likely to dismiss the write up as another one of those articles designed to dent the image of the PR profession and its practitioners. But a detailed reading reveals that the article truly treats some pertinent issues that plague our profession, courageously tries to outline these issues and is sincerely written out of a deep and passionate concern for the growth of the industry. I hope the article has somehow tickled the conscience of top professionals in the industry and perhaps will help us set out a clear agenda devoid of personal interest that will take us to the next level and ensure the growth of the profession.
Unlike advertising, its closest contemporary in the marketing communications industry, Public Relations in Nigeria has failed to develop and earn the recognition and respect it truly deserves due to so many factors in our environment. I will not want to dwell too much on the negative aspects such as how PR advisers or consultants are usually overruled by inexperienced bosses or client contacts on issues of strategy and the general perception that PR people are simply “errand boys”. We know there are a few PR consultants and managers whose strategic contributions and professional advice are truly appreciated by their clients or employers. But we also know unfortunately, that PR is probably the only profession in Nigeria that anyone on the street can claim to know so much about and is sadly, erroneously equated with bribery or the distribution of largesse.
For the avoidance of doubt, Public Relations, simply put, is a specialized management function that creates, develops and carries out policies and programmes to influence public opinion or public reaction about an idea, a product or an organization. The field of public relations has become an important part of the economic, social and political pattern of life in many nations. PR helps individuals, and organizations to build prestige, to promote products, and even to win elections or legislative battles; in short to achieve their aims in the public sphere. The public relations practitioner is a specialist in communication arts and persuasion. His work which includes planning, analysis, writing and editing, execution of complex events, developing campaigns or media strategy, research, evaluation, and budgeting definitely requires specialized skills that cannot simply be possessed by being a smart genius on the street. For the purpose of this discourse, I will touch mainly on what I consider to be some of the most important of the issues or problems that have bedeviled the profession, those that have had the most fundamental impact on the growth of the industry. These I will place under two broad headings, political and administrative. The regulatory body for Public Relations practice in Nigeria, the NIPR has for over a decade become deeply politicized, seriously divided and inefficient. The leadership positions in the body have not necessarily been given to respected practitioners who sincerely want to serve, but to the highest bidders or those who have their own personal or selfish agenda. Many times the regulations have been broken by incumbents and aspiring candidates and court actions have been taken to resolve simple issues of leadership. Key professionals who could have made great contributions to the Institute have become alienated and have distanced themselves from the body in order to protect their personal integrity. Rather than sit down to develop and execute positive projects for the good of the body, emphasis has been on how to conquer and retain key leadership positions made attractive by annual government grants and subsidies. In dealing with the administrative issues, we need to ask ourselves the following questions.
How well has the NIPR been administered in recent times? Does the institute have a full complement of qualified staff? Does it have a database of members past and present? Does it show care and concern for the members spread all over the country? Does it follow the progress they are making in their lives and careers? How many training courses are held for members and non-members every year? How well organized are those courses? Does the NIPR take a dose of its own pills by executing a planned and sustained PR campaign to promote the institute and its projects and endear practitioners each and every year? What has become the fate of the PR journal published by the institute on a quarterly basis in the early 90’s? What does the institute consistently do to educate the general populace, government officials, corporate organizations, marketing professionals and even the media with which a lot of PR people work so they can appreciate the pivotal role of PR as a marketing and communication discipline?
For me, the way forward is quite simple and can be determined by giving sincere answers to the issues raised above. Firstly, the politicization of the institute must stop. Leadership positions should be given only to those who are sincere and have the intellectual ability, professional training, talents, sincerity and drive to make a change that will benefit the collective. If necessary, new legislation or revision of current bye-laws must be made to ensure that only the best people can aspire and assume such positions. For far too long, we have seen people who cannot be classified as leading practitioners and who have nothing to contribute, wrestling for control of the body. Respected consultants/practitioners with impeccable credentials (there are too many of them for me to mention here), must take time out from the very tough assignment of building their businesses or holding their jobs and come forward to truly serve. And once again the NIPR must live up to its name as the “Institute” of Public Relations, a professional body proud of its intellectual heritage and academic achievements.
Secondly, the NIPR should simply take a cue from its sister body in charge of advertising, APCON and the way it is being run. NIPR as an institute should be run administratively by a Registrar who preferably must be an academic or a tested professional. The institute must have a full complement of qualified staff to assist a fully empowered Registrar in the serious task of improving the lot of practitioners and bringing dignity to the profession.
The importance of an excellent database of practitioners to the financial stability of a professional organization requires no need for emphasis. The NIPR register of members is one that must be constantly managed and updated on a daily basis. There must be sincere concern for the welfare of members past and present. Also, a website that functions properly will be an important tool for interfacing or communicating directly with members, helping to restore dignity and enhance the profile of the institute in today’s global village, a technological world without borders. For example, the NIPR should by now be e-savvy enough to enable members to simply pay their annual dues online, from wherever they may be on the face of the earth. Training and organization of courses at local and international levels must once again take the front burner. These programmes, including the annual AGM can be contracted to capable PR or event consultancies to manage in order to ensure their organizational success.
This is also very important because continuous education and training is the only way to ensure that professionals are fully equipped with knowledge about the latest methods and techniques that will help them make the necessary strategic inputs or proposals that will earn them the respect of their clients or employers. A planned and sustained PR programme must be executed annually to create understanding among the institute’s core publics and enhance the profile of the profession.
An annual PR Industry Awards must be instituted. I am not talking of an award to honour politicians or those that the leadership has enjoyed their patronage. I am talking of a truly professional, industry focused Awards ceremony that will honour members, including consultancies or agencies who have demonstrated outstanding performance in clearly delineated categories such as Corporate PR, Brand/Consumer PR, Events Management, Strategic Consulting, Crisis/Issues Management, Media Relations, Public Affairs, Financial PR, Non-Profit and Government Relations etc. I am talking of an Award adjudicated by a respected panel of professionals that will bring pride to practitioners and true dignity to the profession.
Sincerely, it is time for PR Industry Awards to begin to adorn the offices of the finest PR firms, the best corporate and non profit teams, and the most outstanding professionals in the country. These Awards will serve to celebrate their success and motivate these agencies, individuals and teams to do their most creative and effective work possible to the glory of the profession. Hopefully, this should be the starting point of a new beginning. This new beginning will lead to the creation of a reputable identity for PR as a strong discipline distinct from advertising, and possibly a change in public perception. Then can we begin to more closely address the issues of who practices, how they practice and the need for specialization as applies elsewhere all over the globe.
As for the “errand boy” syndrome, I will like to end on a positive note. On the optimism that this will gradually become a thing of the past as the respectability and recognition that this renaissance will bring to the profession will help the true PR professional to operate with self-esteem and integrity, with confidence in the true worth of his profession and experience; his strategic contribution to his organization’s corporate reputation or his clients marketing bottom-line.
•Ogunshote is CEO of Synergy Consulting
Source: Thisday 09.23.2007