Public relations has suffered a ‘reputation crisis’ over time. A profession designed to manage perception is itself experiencing some misperception. What a ludicrous irony. But really, what does the society think of us as PR practitioners? To many out there, we’re mere publicists, spin-doctors, reactive machines, corporate megaphones or just press officers. These misconceptions are largely traceable to the pivotal practices of American PR innovators like Ivy Lee, Carl Byoir and John W. Hill as well as the critical roles played by some government spokespersons when pernicious propaganda dominated political communications in the West.
As an individual, your reputation is an interplay of three factors: What you do, what you say and what people say about you. If people have wrong perceptions about public relations practitioners, then we’re doing a disservice to ourselves as reputation managers. Eric Yaverbum et al, in their ‘Public Relations for Dummies’, write: “It’s ironic. One purpose of PR is to get good press and avoid bad press, but PR itself has had pretty bad press over the years. The public image of PR has been produced in part by corporate flacks who made their living covering oil leaks”.
It’s apparent that some practitioners have not been practicing ‘good PR’. But that’s a subject for another discourse. I just needed to play up the fact that we’re significantly responsible for the incorrect impressions people have about our profession. Thus, it behooves us to change this narrative by recalibrating our practices. The COVID-19 hurly-burly has even made this more imperative as CEOs have become extremely circumspect of how business dollars are expended, especially on marketing communications. PR shouldn’t be a casualty but that depends on our collective innovativeness as practitioners. PR has come a long way in Nigeria and has attained a laudable height, but we need some ‘image-making’, even as image-makers. This will be achieved through strategic actions in our various organisations and highly publicised intellectually appealing forums. The PR Hub is an excellent example. The value of public relations shouldn’t be a subject of debate.
Good reputation is a sine qua non for any organisation to succeed. No organisation desires negative press. We all want our publics to continually take actions that support our corporate goals. This is the definition of brand success. And in this lies the true value of public relations. The need to maintain mutually beneficial relationships between brands and their publics underscores how invaluable PR is, even though some CEOs are yet to fully grasp its potency in positioning brands.
PR is a management function but, sadly, some companies engage PR specialists only when they’re being hit by a crisis which threatens their goodwill. They believe advertising and other auxiliary promotional efforts are enough to sustain the image of the company. But this is the point: Advertising does not manage your reputation; public relations does this and more. Even when advertising stops, PR keeps going because brand image must be projected and protected continually. This article is not poised to elevate PR while relegating advertising- each has its prime place. Rather, this piece seeks to accentuate the value of PR in influencing business success, while debunking some falsities about the profession.
It’s time to look beyond publicity stunt, which is only a fraction of PR. It’s time to drum it very stridently that PR practitioners weren’t trained to only draft and syndicate press releases. It’s time for business owners to make PR a must-have, not a nice-to-have or a stopgap activity. It’s time for PR professionals to practice more of broad-based public relations. That’s the only way we can earn and retain our seats at management meetings and entrench our relevance.
Stanley Olisa is a Media and Communication Consultant in Lagos. Email- firstname.lastname@example.org