Every now and then I think of public relations, I ask myself with utmost dismay if indeed practitioners of the profession in Nigeria will increasingly get a seat at the top management â€“ the height of any organization â€“ in years to come.
It is no more news that the public relations profession dates back from the 15th century. And that its activities are widely used and well appreciated in countries like the USA and UK to mention just two.
What is however news is that the Nigerian government is never really aware if public relations practitioners do exist in the country, not to talk of patronizing them! It is disheartening also to hear corporate executives talk down on public relations people. You hear such comments like “What exactly are public relations functions in an organization?” or “How does a public relations job fit into our corporate goal of maximizing profit?” This cold disposition shows an inadequate orientation on the objects, scope and roles of public relations in industry.
In a recent study of the US bureau of labour statistics, about 700,000 jobs were held by advertising, marketing, promotions, public relations, and sales managers in 2002. It was observed that sales managers held almost half of the jobs (343,000); while marketing managers held more than one-fourth (203,000). Advertising and promotions managers held 85,000; and public relations managers held only 69,000 of the total jobs.
The result of the study above is a crystal clear indication of the low recognition corporate executives the world over place on this highly priced profession.
From my point of view, I believe this misunderstanding and skepticism of public relations role can be attributed to the fact that many of the traditional corporate executives had a management background which placed little or no emphasis on public relations or reputations management. Many CEOs are ignorant of what a public relations function is, and what it is not.
A look at the educational curriculum for social and management sciences department of many higher institutions in Nigeria shows dearth of requisite courses in Public Relations. A typical example is the department of Business Administration of Olabisi Onabanjo University, BUS 407 (Promotional Management 1) is the only course one would notice a Public Relations mention. And, you need to know the worst of it all: It is an elective! (I guess for students who specialize in Marketing.)
This perhaps is the reason heads of both marketing and public relations department dispute over the right to plan and present communication strategies.
The public relations practitioner is faced also with a similar problem. As a result of his narrow exposure to management principles and techniques, he lacks managerial and administrative skills that modern CEOs look out for. Public Relations courses are often housed in a journalism, mass communications or communications department which makes it difficult. (But, that is not to say it canâ?™t be found in a business school.)
As Chief Bob Ogbuagu, an expert in public relations sums it up: Broaden the base of the training of public relations people so that they'll do a bit of accounts, do a bit of everything because when you become a manager, really your profession is not strictly what you do.
The pressure is on public relations people to acquire sound managerial skills. Though effective writing is absolutely a critical skill; judgment may be the most important single qualification needed in their field; the capacity to think analytically under pressure; confidence, sensitivity, organizing and planning ability may be the hallmark of a public relations training; nevertheless, management skills are invaluable for successful climbing the public relations ladder.
For a career in Public Relations, a university or polytechnic degree or diploma respectively is essential, and a basic grounding in the liberal arts is strongly recommended. The practitioner need give it a thought also on earning a degree (probably a masterâ?™s) in Management, Administration or Business, and attending short training courses or certification programmes related to his field and specialization in order to remain relevant in this highly competitive job market.
Further more, the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) should fight for more Public Relations courses to be taught in the social and management departments of institutions of higher learning and ensure only professionals teach those courses.
Conclusively, every true public relations practitioner has a role to play in this revolution. All hands must be on desk to ensure her rightful place in the society. Public relations professionals are role models. Once, the simple operation of publicity today has emerged as an important management function. Gone are the days when public relations executives are pegged at the manager level. The public relations head should hold strategic positions like vice president, assistant general manager, deputy managing director, or even managing director/CEO status.
It is high time practitioners equipped themselves with the required training and skills in order not to be relegated to incidental activities in corporate hierarchy.
Ayokunle Bankole is the CEO of Loud Media Company, Lagos, Nigeria. We are a publicity and promotions firm that specializes in making individuals, groups and corporate bodies known within and outside their borders!