NAIROBI, Kenya: The compelling story of Africa and other emerging economies can only be told effectively when the emerging economies appreciate the role of country brands where people are proud of their country and have a strong sense of unity. This brand and its story will greatly benefit from the major contribution that the Public Relations discipline can provide.
This was a key finding of the recent World Conference for Public Relations and communications in Emerging Economies (WCPREE) hosted by the Public Relations Society of Kenya (PRSK) (www.PRSK.co.ke) and supported by the Global Alliance for Communications Management (GA). The conference clearly articulated how Public Relations could influence sustainable development, industrialization, businesses, and the fight against terrorism in Emerging Economies.
The 500 delegates meeting in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, 15-18 November, noted that to improve country brands, national pride is a prerequisite. It is based on Public Relations practitioners understanding the values of their nations and repackaging the Emerging Economies stories in a way that would attract investment, see increased tourism, and enable those nations to attain a stronger voice at the global level.
On the other hand, the political situation in Africa also demands Public Relations that is responsive and responsible to ensure that there is accountability in delivery of services to the citizens. In this narrative, peace and security are life-threatening issues facing the emerging economies while Public Relations is a strong force in a position to influence how media reports/frames terrorism acts.
Recent developments indicate that in the emerging economies like Kenya today, development stories are “selling”, showing a dramatic shift from the past when the media believed that only politics sells. This challenges Public Relations practitioners to package development issues in a compelling manner.
It also calls for a redefinition of the role and value of the Public Relations discipline, positioning it to play the critical role of information-sharing, enhancing buy- in, and damage control across all sectors -in government, business, and the social sector.
Whereas Public Relations has to follow the global trends, in the emerging economies culturally sensitive approaches to communication need to be adopted in light of the critical role of the profession in the development agenda (Think globally, act locally but professionally).
Professional bodies like PRSK need to be empowered and proactively engage in bridging the gap between academics and practitioners. It is critical for these linkages to be established and strengthened between industry and education institutions, and to maintain continuous dialogue in order to develop and enhance the impact of the Public Relations profession.
This will help build the credibility of PRSK and similar professional bodies to have the authority to set the agenda, and facilitate discussions about the future direction of research while regulating the profession. The development of a relevant knowledge base and the capacity for Public Relations practitioners to develop content is critical as professionals develop outcome based campaigns.
This calls for the need to lay a high premium on documentation of Public Relations & communication best practices from the emerging economies, which have the reality of the local contexts. Practitioners should take the lead and provide sites for documentation of local case studies, model best practices, become research sites, and work with academics to formulate policies for socio-economic development.
Legislation and regulation of the practice needs to be actualized urgently but, practitioners must support and entrench a culture of courage to confront what is wrong, empathy to understand the need, integrity to win trust, and the competence to build credibility.
The PR industry in the Emerging Economies needs to leapfrog through technology, to take a lead in global best practices. Endowed with new technological advancement, young communicators from the emerging economies can come up with innovative ways of handling the challenges faced in those countries. However, their success as communicators is highly pegged on their leadership abilities; the ability to see around the corner in order to predict, assess and control risks.
“The four day meeting attracted global entrepreneurs in the communication industry, Public Relations scholars and heads of renowned global corporate brands as speakers and panelists, said Jane Gitau, Chairperson of the Public Relations Society of Kenya (PRSK).
“Apart from the conference plenary and parallel sessions, we had a careful blend of academic discourse, mentorship and skills set workshop for students pursuing studies in PR as well as master classes targeting professionals who are working in diverse economic sectors”, Ms Gitau added.
The event, the first of its kind was organized with a focus on emerging economies which have often been excluded as players in the global arena Ms Gitau said.
The delegates and speakers were drawn from all continents. They included Lord Peter Selwyn Chadlington (UK), a senior client advisor of Huntsworth plc and supports the Kenyan government strategy in the recovery and revival of tourism. He spoke on Aligning of Public Relations/Communication to support Kenya’s Vision 2030 and Paul Holmes (of the Holmes Report) who spoke about Achieving sustainable development in emerging economies through effective public relations’.
Others include Gregor Halff, Chair of the Global Alliance, a faculty member and director at the European School of Management and Technology (ESMT, Berlin) and also a professor at Singapore Management University (SMU), Esther Cobbah (Ghana), chief executive officer, Strategic Communications Africa, Dr. Bala Muhammad (Nigeria), Lecturer, Bayero University in Nigeria and Dion Benetatos Director, Africa, Weber Shandwick South Africa.