At the July 2011 edition of the monthly general meeting of the Lagos chapter of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relation (NIPR), the house decided to engage members in a discussion on the topic that focused on the practice of Public Relations and the major challenges confronting its practitioners in the country.
From the different shades of opinions expressed, it was obvious that the profession and its practitioners were constantly faced with challenges that require the collective efforts of NIPR, its members and other stakeholders to address. While it is obvious that public relations is increasingly gaining more acceptance in the country with more patronage in both private and public sectors of the economy, there is no gainsaying the fact that lots more need to be done to achieve appropriate rating of its services and the practitioners.
While some of the people who made comments argued that the practitioners need to do more in terms of training for self development to guarantee a deserved recognition and respect by clients, users of PR, major stakeholders and other professionals in the society, emphasised that the professional body needs to do more to protect the interest of practitioners and ensure that the profession is accorded its rightful place and respect among other professions like accounting, medicine, engineering, law, etc.
According to scholarly definition, Public Relations is described as the management function responsible for evaluating public attitude; identifying the policies and procedures of an individual, business, or organisation with the public interest; and helping to evaluate trends, anticipate emerging opportunities, and utilise change. Using research and ethical communication techniques as its primary tools, PR executes planned programme of action to promote public understanding and acceptance.
Interestingly, only a few organisations in the country have senior level officers in charge of the management of their image with the purpose of maximising its benefits in the businesses. A large number of organisations still entrust this key function, which could make or mar their bottom-line and business goal to middle-level officers or less.
This officers oftentimes report to someone who is far from being a member of the management team. Irked by a recent advert in the newspaper for the head of corporate communication who would be reporting to the legal officer in the organisation, a fellow of the institute urged council members of the body to urgently double its efforts in protecting practitioners from corporate ceiling that has been the lots of its members.
A school of thought once argued that if indeed PR is a management function which contributes to the strategic decision and efficient operation of organisations, its training as a course of study needs to be placed either in business schools or have a strong managerial focused if placed in other faculties or departments like education or communication.
Although, it may be argued that PR practitioners who are not consultants but function in other establishments are more or less in the support service cadre whose service are easily dispensed with, in a financial crisis situation; however, the treatment is no different as consultant.
A former colleague and friend who had crossed over to head the communication department of a multinational, having worked as a consultant in two agencies will hurriedly tell anyone that cares to listen that she enjoys being a client than a consultant who is readily blamed for client inept and perpetually made to feel less important, even in the face of superior argument.
For her, being an agency personnel does not command the desired respect; in many cases, client simply tells you what they wanted and expected you to toe the line if you still want to retain the business rather than listen to your counsel as a consultant. While my friend‘s opinion could be described as subjective, it is hoped that someday, mutual respect will exist in the client-agency relationship, where opinions are respected for the benefit of the brand.
At the end of the discussion which attracted brilliant contributions from senior members of the profession including Yomi Badejo-Okusanya, a fellow of the institute who gave a commitment for action on behalf of the council, there was a consensus on the need to define the worth of being a member of NIPR and how the membership affects the rating of practitioners in the manner it plays out in the other professions like accounting, law, banking to mention a few.
While it can be argued that unlike the professions highlighted, PR is mostly studied as an allied course in our tertiary institutions; entrance into the profession should be jealously protected from being an all-comers affair. This however can only be achieved through enlightenment and the enforcement of the enabling laws backing the establishment of NIPR.
It is pertinent to drive the activities of the institute among existing members’ organisations to increase awareness among practitioners who are indifferent to the membership of the body. Again, it is also important that various establishments in the country understand that membership of the professional body is a prerequisite for the engagement or the rating of the service of the PR practitioners. Eniola Mayowa is a Public Relations practitioner based in Lagos.