Public Relations and its Challenges of on the African Space
- By Yomi Badejo-Okusanya
APRA as you all know is the umbrella body for the practice of public relations in Africa with the foremost goal of selling positive Africa through the instrumentality of our profession, Public Relations. Founded as the Federation of African Public Relations Associations (FAPRA) in 1975 in Nairobi, Kenya, the association has undergone metamorphosis over the years culminating in what it is today.
Every year, practitioners from across the continent and beyond, gather to determine how well we have fared in the past twelve months, examine latest trends in public relations practice and figure how we can further impact the society we exist in.
Speaking of impacting the society, APRA has mandated itself to promote five key areas on the continent namely Economic Integration, Infrastructure Development & Technological Advancement, Social Welfare with emphasis on education, health and poverty reduction, Good Governance and finally Tourism, Leisure & Entertainment. The heights that we have set for ourselves are indeed very lofty but we are committed to attaining them. Truth be told, our success in these areas have been very limited but that cannot be surprising considering the numerous challenges we are faced with. Allow me to enumerate just a few.
First is the identity crisis that public relations battles with. Many nomenclatures have been used to refer the practitioner, but the question is what do we really do? Does the name public relations aptly capture it? Public Relations is a strategic management tool that helps organizations, entities, products and services, to engage with their stakeholders in a constructive, meaningful and mutually beneficial manner which in turn enhances relationship. We are not journalist, we are not advertisers, we are not protocol managers or party organizers and we are definitely not bribe facilitators. We are strategists that belong to the very top of the communication value chain arising from the skill sets we possess. With due respect, we bring far more to the table than any of the other professions I earlier enumerated.
Secondly and closely linked to the first issue, is that of value determination. Many entities in Africa especially governments are yet to give us the recognition we deserve. Our job as public relations practitioners and consultants is not an all comers one to be handed out to relatives, cronies and those who are difficult to place in the organization. I owe no one any apology for saying, Public Relations is not a dumping ground!. We bring value to the table if given the opportunity and recognition. Stop giving out our jobs to everybody and anybody. If you do not give out your expensive cars to just anybody to fix or your health and finances, why then do you toy with your reputation and communication?
Colleagues on our part as experts in stakeholders’ engagement, we must ensure we evolve strategies that will make our audience appreciate us better. Only then can they place the appropriate value on us. We must strive to constantly and consistently update our knowledge, skills and services to meet contemporary challenges or we risk being left behind.
Taking it further, we must clearly mark our territory. Let me share an analogy. The family of big cats in the African jungle marks their territories by peeing. Yes, peeing! The smell wards off challengers, as many who dared to venture into such territory never lived to tell the story. Will I therefore be crossing boundaries if I say, ‘PR, piss all over?’
Collaboration on the Continent
My third challenge is the issue of collaboration on the continent. Until we as public relations practitioners begin to take ourselves seriously by engaging strength in unity, we cannot expect others to. We must learn to work together eliminating fragmentation that has worked against us in the past. I am happy to note that like never before seen in the recent past, the sense of togetherness and belonging going into this conference, has been encouragingly high, from both individuals and national bodies. Please let’s continue to work in that spirit.
Today as I look across this hall, I see shoulders. Shoulders on which lie enormous responsibilities. I see eyes set to take on new challenges. I see the resolve to chart a new course for our profession on the continent.
Change Africa’s Narrative
As the relevant professionals when it comes to reputation management, the prime responsibility of changing Africa’s narrative rest squarely with us and we must rise to that occasion. No one else has that primary responsibility. If we fail, then we have failed Africa and generations to come. You are not here by accident neither were you born an African by mistake. You have a purpose. I therefore call on you African Public Relations professionals be you in the public or private sector, to collectively re-tell and re-sell the story of Africa.
It is the story of noble men and women, of bold warriors of great kingdoms and of unbelievable empires. Let’s tell the untold story of our resilient spirit and entrepreneurship, despite hundreds of years of slave trade, colonization and apartheid. Tell the story of inspiring governance and structure; of warm hospitality and vast picturesque lands, nature and waterways comparable to nowhere else.
My dear Africans in this room, no one and I repeat no one, can tell our story better than us. I therefore challenge us not to leave APRA Casablanca conference without clearly forging an actionable plan for changing Africa’s narrative and advancing our profession in this milieu.
As APRA embark on this journey I call on governments, organisations and brands who believe in Africa, to work with us. We need finance, we need resources, we need partnerships, we need facilitation and logistic support. We need ideas and inspiration and we need exposure. In particular, I appeal to our colleagues who are able to influence budget in our favour to please do so when we come knocking. It is disheartening that only a few support our vision, but will rather extend this privilege to other professions, at the detriment of ours. This must stop.
To kick off the change in Africa’s narrative, I in my office as President of this august body, working in conjunction with my Executive Council, have approved the commencement of an initiative known as 50 Authentic African Brands: Tell Your African Story. Watch out for it.
I thank our guest speakers especially the Presidents of the International Public Relations Association (IPRA), International Communications Consultants Organisation(ICCO) and Jon Aarons, Managing Director and Global Head of Network respectively, our sponsors for the support, our partners most especially The Holmes Report with which we are debuting the SABRE Awards Africa, APRA Ambassadors and chairpersons of national associations.
Being excerpts of a welcome Address By The President of the African Public Relations Association, (APRA), Yomi Badejo-Okusanya, fnipr at its 29th Annual Conference Holding in Casablanca, Morocco, Wednesday May 10, 2017.