By Eric Wamanji
The supremacy of public relations (PR) or strategic communication to drive business agenda cannot be gainsaid. PR shapes our worldviews and choices.
Indeed, when tactically deployed, PR constructs amiable images and reputation for organisations yielding spectacular success.
That is why the ongoing debate on the Institute of Public Relations and Communication Management Bill (2018) pushed by the Public Relations Society of Kenya (PRSK) is of great interest to scholars of communication, lawyers, professionals and corporates.
The Bill seeks to revolutionise how this industry of influence is practiced in Kenya by establishing statutory regulatory frameworks.
Now at the public participation stage, the proposed laws aspire inter alia, to introduce a training and examination regime, to accredit and license practitioners and even to establish a disciplinary mechanism. All good. Our professions must be on the straight and the narrow and whose actors are as ethical as they are competent.
But an Act of Parliament is no antidote enough. The trouble with this sector may not be so much lack of statutes; we have robust laws on media and communication applicable to PR.
The trouble with PR stems from a largely ignorant society lacking in the appreciation of the power of influence. A few elite organisations have grasped this ideal. Hundreds of others still treat PR as an addendum and not as a critical cog in the scheme of things.
What is needed thus is an attitudinal shift towards the profession. The onus is on the professionals, led by PRSK, to change these perceptions through advocacy and by its members to actually demonstrate practical solutions to employers and clients.
Thus PRSK should continuously engage CEOs, chairmen, and directors, of the primacy of PR and communication, and the caliber of professionals to recruit. Otherwise, employers and clients keep blundering by hiring charlatans who end up disappointing. Mediocrity, in turn, produces negative perception.
Indeed, if truth were to be told, most communication units are struggling. Our universities largely produce graduates lacking in communicative, strategic and critical thinking key for a complex PR enterprise.
That is why, for instance, our “cousins” in the media make fun of us for our inadequacies to compose simple press releases or Op-EDs. Our CEO’s are a frustrated lot because we cannot successfully offer strategic counsel. It is even worse during crises.
Indeed, most corporates are struggling with battered image and weak strategies that have robbed them an opportunity to strategically share their stories. They are suffering losses because of this spectacular disconnect.
Perhaps this is what PRSK seeks to achieve through examination. We can only hope that the exams will be rigorous so that only the finest are accredited.
But then, PRSK should also lead a charm offensive of synergy between academia and industry to produce elaborate modules that are anchored on realities.
As it is now, most students of public relations still hold to the myth of glamour, beauty, décor and cocktail parties. This fairytale can only be debunked by proactive dons with a grasp of the nuances of the industry beyond their beloved yellowing textbooks.
But then, it will be interesting to see how the legislation will play out in the long run. You see, PR as it were, is a cocktail of disciplines but ultimately it is a communicative enterprise.
Liberty of Thought
Now, communication or expression is an intrinsic human right. This gem is sealed in the Constitution of Kenya (2010) Article 33. The same is captured in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).
Indeed, in his seminal works, On Liberty, the utilitarian John Stuart Mills aptly distills this reality as “the liberty of thought and discussion,” which all human beings should enjoy unimpeded unless they harm others.
To what extend will the law disenfranchise on individual’s rights to expression is a matter to watch and worth of studying. Still, we need to reinvigorate the prestige of PR beyond the law.
The writer is a Public Relations and Communication adviser email@example.com twitter: @manjis