How PR practitioners can reap from huge opportunities

The article was first published on People Daily Kenya on 11th February 2020.

Anti-Brexit demonstrators take part in a protest march from Britain’s House of Parliament to Downing Street in London. Photo/PD/AFP

Wilfred Marube

Global, regional and local trends in the first month of 2020 point towards increased demand for public relations interventions.

From the impeachment of US President Donald Trump, the  assassination of an Iranian top military commander,  Prince Harry’s new role as ordinary UK citizen, UK’s exit from the EU, the Corona virus pandemic, the locusts invasion in Kenya, the Building Bridges Initiative debate, the Big Four agenda, profit warnings and downsizing by corporates, the list is endless.

It is against this backdrop that the performance of the public relations industry is gauged.

More so, the extent the industry in Kenya is capable of providing solutions to mitigate emerging social, economic, political and environmental challenges.

The State of Public Relations in Kenya Report, 2019 is provides insights into the structure of the industry and its performance including the highs and lows.

This survey was conducted by the Public Relations Society of Kenya (PRSK) in partnership with Trends and Insights Africa.

The survey estimates PR practitioners have combined budgets of over Sh2.4 billion, arising from estimated budgets for organisations and income to public relations agencies.

On the flip side, the report observes extreme underfunding of public relations departments, particularly in government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The study reveals that majority of the institution have set aside less than one per cent of their annual budgets to public relations and communication management programmes.

Most departments have annual budgets of less than Sh5 million, with NGOs having budgets of Sh1 million or less.

Budget constraints could be one of the reasons public institutions and non-governmental organisations struggle to effectively and strategically communicate; and manage relationship with stakeholders.

This may also limit the organisations from outsourcing any assignments that may require expertise and capacity outside the organisation.

According to the study, public institutions and NGOs hardly outsource any work due to budgetary constraints.

The report says there are an estimated 8,000 public relations practitioners in Kenya, majority aged between 29 and 40 years. This is a clear indication on the potential of this industry to grow.

There are approximately 105 agencies in Kenya. Less than 10 of them are large, 14 medium and 82 small.

This structure may explain the interest and forays by global public relations agencies into the Kenyan market, where there are few large local public relations firms to handle complex and multiple assignments.

On a positive note, the public relations industry makes a significant contribution to the small and micro enterprise sector in the country, despite suppressed budgets.

There is a perception that public relations, procurement and marketing are placed in the same pecking order in majority of organisations.

However, finance and human resources practitioners are perceived as providing more value to organisations.

Clearly, public relations practitioners must consistently demonstrate their value. One way of doing this, is to start measuring and communicating public relations results in a language that is understood by the C-suite.

Practitioners could also build their leadership skills on top of their technical competencies.

According to the survey, practitioners in Kenya mainly focus on media  and stakeholder relations and internal communication.

Media relations is higher in public than private sector, while stakeholder relations higher in private than public sectors.

The report avers that digital channels have occupied a central role in public relations. Facebook, Twitter, websites and YouTube are the most popular channels.

Millennials and generation Z who are an intense “digital generation” occupy a critical mass of key stakeholders who should be engaged in the digital sphere.

Here are my few thoughts on what can be done to make the industry more robust.

PRSK and other industry players should roll out relevant training programmes, professionals should agitate for budgetary increase to communication related programmes, innovate more, and attain competencies in big data analytics  and use of artificial intelligence  and measuring results and value of public relations programmes.

Lastly, pay attention to ethical conduct. February is a Global Ethics Month and practitioners globally spend this month deliberating on ways to promote ethical practices. – The writer is President, PRSK

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