The biggest threat to the development of the public relations (PR) profession in Kenya is ignorance by clients and the industry on what the profession entails. Two recent events point out to this gap.
First, was an article in People Daily edition of June 24 by Mohamednur Duba titled “Communication, PR key to organisational growth”.
I support his argument on the contribution of communication to organisation success. That is where my support ends. His attempt to differentiate corporate communication and PR exposes the ignorance in the industry.
His assertion that organisations can have separate PR and corporate communication departments smacks of inexperience. The two are synonyms and organisations may choose different labels for departments that manage their communication.
The second, was a brief from a home entertainment operator sent to PR agencies with a demand that payment of fees would be made against level of very specific media coverage for the event. What was baffling was that the client had segmented the news channels they expected the news to air.
The brief pointed out underlying issues and the question begs; do these clients have knowledge or in-house PR staff who understand how media works, ethical practice in PR and newsworthiness of events? A guarantee of media coverage is unethical in PR practice as it presupposes editorial commitments.
Another question is whether PR agencies have always pitched media coverage for events and used clips and newspaper cuttings to justify the payment received. If that is so, is it sustainable and the best PR measurement?
The amount of noise this brief generated from agencies points out that clients are making unrealistic demands on PR agencies and professionals.
PR agencies do not own media houses and do not determine what constitutes news for the media. Pegging payment based on which media house aired or published an event is unreasonable.
The foregoing issues point to a larger societal problem. Various forms of deception, propaganda and manipulations of audiences have been erroneously associated with public relations. That is far from it.
The Public Relations Society of Kenya (PRSK) defines public relations as “the Strategic planning, execution and evaluation of internal and external communication to enhance mutually beneficial relationships with stakeholders and manage reputation in order to meet organisational objectives.”
The enactment of the Institute of Public Relations and Communication Management Bill by PRSK will give teeth to the Institute to enforce the code of conduct to ensure that the standards are complied with.
Certifying and accrediting members of the profession will weed out quacks and entrepreneurs masquerading as communication and PR advisors. —The writer is the President of the Public Relations Society of Kenya