Has the Kenyan Public Relations and Communication Management Industry Come of Age?

The Public Relations Society of Kenya (PRSK) has made two significant steps in the last one month that would define the communication management landscape in Kenya. First, was the launch of the strategic plan. Second, was the appointment and commissioning of a task force to explore ways of professionalizing the practice in this fluid, misunderstood and often underrated industry.

What verdict can one give? Good first steps, but execution and gaining momentum is what matters most. Documents such as strategic plans and reports from task forces are not achievements on their own. They should not be treated as mere items in a checklist to be ticked off as accomplished tasks. On the contrary, these are commitments that should be used to transform the industry and practice. 

The foregoing two positive developments emerge at the backdrop of dysfunctional communication and reputational disasters experienced recently, where recent crises have exposed the underbelly of the industry and practice.  Management reactions and responses to the issues and crises have turned out to be bigger crises than the real crises. Whether that is a result of ignoring expert advice, or following “expert” advice will make an interesting discussion.  The other challenge is the power of the social media and influencers, and citizen activism over the reputation of brands. These experiences demonstrate the unpreparedness of the industry to deal with contemporary challenges facing organizations. The work of PRSK is clearly cut out. 

The following areas as key to redefining the communication management industry in the coming days.

Inclusion of members in this fragmented industry

Inclusion of practitioners into this fragmented profession is crucial.  The society should be evaluated on the basis to which it succeeds to serve members and enhance their professional development. 

The society should be the umbrella body that accommodates members from different sectors and specializations within the changing dynamics of the communication management industry.  By adopting the terms “Public Relations and Communication Management” to define its mission, PRSK seems to have found an acceptable definition of the practice that makes sense to majority of the practitioners.

There should be efforts towards inclusion must strive at inclusion into the profession through a credible certification and accreditation system with clear progression from entry, through technician to expert level.  This process ought to take care of those who have gained practical experience over time, without the requisite academic qualifications; while at the same time safeguard the professional standards. 

Reposition communication management within the labour market

There is need to improve the knowledge of the market about the discipline and practice of public relations. Most important is to change how key players conceive and perceive public relations and communication management. 

Professionals must and should define the profession at all times. The society should not let others, often ignorant ones, define what the profession is and what it stands for.  Stakeholders such as employers, clients and students should appreciate the value of strategic communication. Placement of the function as a top management role within the organization, with the attendant budgetary support and access to top leadership is important. 

As professionals embark on this journey of re-educating the market, they should take cognizance of the recent Gaborone statement by APRA (Africa Public Relations Association- which PRSK is a member) definition of public relations as, “The strategic management function that fosters understanding, builds strong reputation, promotes good governance, ethical behavior and optimizes diversity with all stakeholders using all forms of communication and research.”

The practice needs to debunk the misconception that public relations is limited to media relations and publicity.  There should be emphasize that public relations is grounded on problem-solving and opportunity-seeking strategies for building relationships and advancing reputations of organization through ethical means. In this regard, the contribution of public relations to communication management to social change and the development agenda such as the Big 4 agenda need not be overemphasized. 

Professionalize the industry and establish effective regulatory mechanisms

The Society has shown a clear intent to professionalize the industry. But, what does professionalization entail? Must it only be anchored in law or there are some professional codes of conduct and standards that would guide public relations as a profession? What sanctions will exist to deal with violations of these professional codes?   Will all practitioners be brought on board voluntarily or through compulsion?  I believe the taskforce will have answers to these questions that will redefine the industry.

Outlook of the industry

For a long time PRSK has punched below its weight.  The sleeping giant is steadily regaining consciousness and reclaiming its dignity back.  The strategic approach by PRSK, if well executed, lays a firm foundation that will steer the profession to the league of established professional bodies in the region.  

The industry seems to be growing going by the number of institutions offering the course and students studying this discipline. But has this translated into growth of the industry? The answer is yes and no. Yes, that organizations are increasingly recognizing the role of public relations and communication management. And no, in the sense that the quality of professional standards are diminishing. 

This writing may sound as a wish list for the public relations and communication management industry in Kenya for the next few years. Indications are that the waiting won’t be long. 

By Wilfred Marube –   Dr. Wilfred Marube is a Communications practitioner, Vice President and Council Member of the Public Relations Society of Kenya. The views expressed are his own and not those of the Council.

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