I have had some opportunities to speak on platforms that promote the practice of professional Public Relations (PR) and marketing communications in and outside the shores of this country. The profession has already claimed almost a decade and a half of my life; what some would call ‘honing’ and others, ‘eternity’. I am still a ‘work-in-progress’ like everyone else.
What public relations is not! I prefer not to be rigidly academic with this piece. So, in its simplest definition public relations is the science and art of managing relationships, disseminating information and obtaining feedback between an entity and its publics. Do not be surprised if you do not find ‘science and art’ in most definitions you come across, it is a budding revelation or development. Additionally, you can squeeze adjectives like ‘timely’, ‘efficiently’, ‘effectively’, ‘favourably’ and ‘unambigious’ between the key words -- ‘managing’, ‘disseminating’ and ‘obtaining’. An organisation’s public is determined by its business activities, nature of incorporation or corporate objectives. So, some organisations rate regulatory agencies or the media more critically on their list than their suppliers or even customers.
The PR and marketing communications space is heavily considered an art, and has charlatans and unqualified people parading as professionals; many other professions experience a similar challenge. And because some unsuspecting clients or individuals do not know better, they are misled into thinking that PR is simple media management, development of press releases, an appearance on a media platform and end of story – the more reason some journalists trip into PR roles. And yes, maybe some organisations do not need more than that; or they do not know they need more and could get better with more.
Thanks to some leading PR agencies in this country and a few others outside Africa that I had the privilege to either work with(in senior management positions) or rub minds with, I realised years ago that PR is not just an art (delivery); there is a science (empirical basis) to it. In this part of the world we operate the ‘art’ and are less aware of the scientific aspect of PR. In fact, there should be scientific basis for most PR decisions, campaigns and interventions; and it should go beyond mere data collection or table-top surveys in some cases. Mind you, I am not implying that you should conduct a survey every time you need to take a PR decision; that is case-determinant and the ability to decipher this requires some skills.
So, the fact that you are a good orator or you have some media contacts or can write a press release does not make you a holistic PR Specialist, Communications Consultant and all the high-flying titles that have besieged the industry. The sadder part is some, who are far from being able to perform these basic functions, arrogate to themselves gargantuan PR titles. I have met graphic designers, journalists, event-managers etc. who said they were 'into PR', too.
Due to the influx of many multinationals, the standard of delivery expected from PR agencies and individuals is becoming demanding and often contrasted against international standards. Take a simple look at the checklist below, and if as a practitioner you are not able to perform at least 80% of the following PR requirements, or some of them sound new or foreign to you, then you need more education, grooming, tutelage and practice (or whatever you wish to call it) in a good PR agency. Disappointingly, you may not find some of the items below in any PR textbook or taught in a classroom. And, permit me to add, you can suspend your glorious PR title for the moment until you pass the 80% mark.
- Organisational PR Identity -- what is your organisation’s PR background, what are the PR goals and objectives and specific targets matched against the corporate objectives and nature of business? Have you discovered the correlation between public relations and competitive edge, sustainability, corporate reputation and marketing goals or targets yet?
- Media Content Analysis -- using SPSS and other software, analyse what the media and other stakeholders are saying about your organisation/client or what the trend in your industry looks like and what the implications are, on business and other interests. You may want to go further to forecast for a week, month or year depending on the objectives set for your analysis. You may want to add an environmental scan and cover other major issues that may impact your organisation/client's business. This must be done using a visually-appealing, reader-friendly, non-ambiguous template.
- Competition Analysis -- to identify which organisations are engaged in similar activities to your organisation/client and what their strategies are, their estimated reach, past and current PR challenges, classification of their brands into 'loved', 'aspirational', 'casual', etc. (all these classifications have internationally accepted definitions and criteria for categorization -- e.g. Coca Cola is a loved brand, Trassacco Estates could be ‘aspirational’. People hardly question loved brands, and even when they do they are helpless. They find themselves patronising the products as if they are essential to life. Don't forget your standard template.
- Development of Communication Materials -- including poignant press releases + boiler-plates that are not ambiguous or error-ridden and speak to the issue, FAQs, Fact Sheets, anticipated Q&As, Holding Statements, Speeches, etc.
- Development of a Crisis Management Strategy -- and identification of roles with a protocol that recognises organisational hierarchy, escalation and nature of crisis.
- Stakeholders’ Identification and Analysis -- that spells out in a comprehensive manner your client's audiences or publics, their characteristics, their expectations, the desired/ideal behaviour your client wants in its public; current and past shifts in behaviour; opinion leaders and profiling etc.
- Extensive Media Relations -- prowess which includes ability to profile media houses and key media personalities in different spheres correctly, cordial relationships with media organisations, ability to get content published in desired media space at the eleventh hour (when and if the need arises), ability to command media respect and manage different media interests and hierarchies etc.
- Ability to think on your feet -- because no textbook will actually provide you with real-life solutions to practical day-to-day PR challenges that require your input on the go. The best you will get are underlying principles and sometimes a few unrelated, generic examples.
Now that the basic checklist is done, kindly ascribe yourself or someone in the industry some marks (20 marks each for 1 and 2, while 3-8 attracts 10 marks each). Next, we will proceed to some paramount issues beleaguering the professional practice of public relations in Ghana and sub-Saharan Africa generally. Let’s go on that journey together. Look out for more.
***The writer, is a Communications Consultant and works with the Centre for CSR, West Africa. He can be reached via email@example.com or +233 242903392
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