Public Relations Practitioners Yearn for Government Patronage
(AllAfrica Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) There are huge expectations for PR practices to thrive in the year but there are fears that continued poor patronage from government institutions may hamper the profession.
Since 1978, when public relations practice was recognised by Nigerians as a profession that could help individuals and institutions attain their set-out goals, all attempts to sell it to human and resource managers have achieved but little.
At every available opportunity, practitioners under the auspices of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) and recently the Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN), try to sensitise members of the public on the need to see public relations as a profession critical to the management of image and reputation.
However, while the message seems to have been fully grasped by players in the private sectors, who have since embraced public relations as part of their tools for positioning, it has had little or no impact on the operations of people in government.
Considering the fact that the private sector thrives on government policies and nation's economy, the industry performance has been abysmally poor over the years.
Meanwhile, a recent experience has shown that the profession has helped handlers of local and international brands in the country to grow exponentially. Findings have revealed that hardly there is any company in the manufacturing, telecoms, banking and many other sector that have no PR consultants working for them.
But in the public sector, in spite of the fact that public relations is supposed to enhance the achievement of an organisation goals, many executives have misconstrued it to be mere window dressing and propaganda; a situation, which has made analysts to conclude that many government policies fail to achieve their objectives because of poor handling.
Place of PR in Nation Building At a recent event organised in honour of the new president of NIPR, Dr. Rotimi Oladele, by the Lagos chapter of the institute, stakeholders include a former minister of information, Chief Alex Akinyele, called for collaboration between PR practitioners and major actors at both private and public sectors.
Chief Akinyele urged all stakeholders to join hands in building the nation's reputation, noting that only a conscious effort in this direction could boost confidence in the nation's economy.
He said unless every top players in the private and public sectors work together in building a good image for the country, the needed development expected in the economy may be elusive.
According to him: "All hands must be on deck to ensure that Nigeria earn a good name and this can only be made possible if stakeholders such as NIPR, the media and individuals see the need to work hand in hand. We all have a prominent role to play in the actualisation of this dream, that is, a dream of a better Nigeria. Once this is achieved, it will translate to an increasing level of confidence among investors thereby leading to economic growth".
Speaking about destination branding, Dr. Oladele made reference to countries such as India, UK, U.S.A, South Africa and other advanced economies that have succeeded in attracting businesses and tourists to their countries as a result of carefully managed place branding programs, supported by fairly stable political, social and economic environments.
In a recent interview with THISDAY, a former vice chairman of the Lagos chapter, Mr. Kunle Ogedengbe, said public relations will be more prosperous if it attracts the needed support from the public sector.
According to Ogedengbe, "There is still a big gap in the appreciation of public relations in Nigeria, especially among the people in government. While I so much believe that the current leadership in the NIPR will go a long way in repositioning the institute, my fear for PR practice lies in the fact that the profession is not attracting the necessary support in terms of patronage from government at various levels,"
PRCAN Enlightenment Campaign Toward the end of last year, the Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN), organised in Lagos, what was tagged 'PRCAN Annual Public Relations Gold Medal Lecture' to address the dearth of professional skills in the handling of public affairs and the place of policy communications to good governance.
At the event, the association expressed strong feelings concerning the low level of appreciation and low level of patronage members' firms were getting from the public sector. Among other things, it addressed salient communication issues affecting democracy and governance in Nigeria as well as proffering professional solutions through heated debates among stakeholders, including discussants drawn from the Media, Advertising and Public Relations.
Guest speaker at the event was the Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, who spoke on 'Imperative of Policy Communications in Deepening Governance and Democracy in Nigeria'. Panel of discussants include: Chairman of Advertising of Advertising Association of Nigeria (APCON), Mr. Lolu Akinwumi; President, Nigeria Guild of Editors, Mr. Femi Adesina; and Secretary General of African Public Relations Association, Mr. Yomi Badejo Okusanya.
Consultative Governance PRCAN President, Chido Nwakanma, said his association settled for the theme of the lecture carefully because democracy is a consultative governance process that involves identifying, aggregating and implementing programmes that meet the needs of the citizenry.
He submitted that part of the problem with the nation's democracy is the lack of application of public relations to governance; hence the disconnect between citizens and government.
"As Nigeria walks towards another transition and change of government, PRCAN calls on actors in the political process to be more circumspect and professional in their communication. These times call for careful deployment of language. We should not just be heard but to communicate higher values that enrich, inform and persuade other parties to our points of view and contribute to national cohesion", he said.
Earlier, chairman of the occasion, Prof. Emevwo Biakolo, had commended the association for the timing and theme of discussion. He also tasked stakeholders in the polity to begin engaging the public through proper policy communication, which he said would promote democratic culture and trust between the leaders and the led.
Role of Policy Communications Governor Fayemi noted that when the concept of policy communications is applied to governance, it often evokes the imagery of government sloganeering and the dark arts of state propaganda. He argued that its challenge in the deepening of the nation's democracy is that of enhancing the grasp of the public mood by political leaders.
The governor also pointed out that it entails building capacity to shape public opinion and mould the consensus required for successful policy implementation.
He said: "It is about winning hearts and minds - a vital but much understated aspect of policy-making on our shores. Many Nigerians cannot take ownership of policies, even those which are manifestly beneficial to them, because they are alienated from the policy making process. For all the grandeur and fanfare with which they are launched, development plans often lack buy-in or legitimacy at the grassroots."
Citing the federal government's removal of the subsidy on fuel at the beginning of the year 2012 as an example, he said the decision led to nationwide protests that paralysed socio-economic activities and resulted in huge economic losses, adding that the vociferous opposition to the subsidy removal was down to a number of factors.
"It is true that the subject of fuel subsidy has long been a sensitive issue certain to elicit combative reactions from organised labour and the broader civil society. While it is certain that there are those who will probably never agree in principle with the elimination of subsidies, there was also a sense that the federal government did not sufficiently engage the public on the issue," he said.
He pointed out that the Minister of Finance/Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, once admitted that there was a trust deficit between the public and the government, which was causing the former to doubt the latter's avowed good intentions on the issue.
Effective Communications The state governor also called on government at various levels to always endeavour to communicate their plans and policies to the people and treat them as critical stakeholders in the success of such policies. Citing different instances where effective communications of policy direction by his administration had led to the success of such policies and where poor communication had led to rejection of some policies, he said it was important for government to sharpen its communications skills and also make use of experts in the field. He added that public opinion and confidence serve as the lifeblood of healthy democratic governance while it is the task of political elites to take the pulse of the public, and develop the instincts and aspirations of the electorate into a political and public policy agenda.
Using Ekiti as an example, the Governor said his administration had sought to bring the participatory ethos of consultation and consensus to bear upon governance by organising frequent town hall meetings to give account of stewardship while also getting their input into the budgetary process in the State. Various Positions
The climax of the event was the debate generated by the lecture. Though he didn't entirely disagree with Fayemi's position, the president of the Nigeria Guild of Editors, Mr. Femi Adesina, said it was high time communication moved from speech to dialogue. According to him, "Governance in Nigeria has always been speech and speeches; we must move up and start engagement through dialogue to promote a participatory democracy."
APCON Chairman, Mr. Lolu Akinwumi, said the problem had never been about having a good policy in place but poor implementation. He cited the recent rebranding exercise embarked upon under Prof. Dora Akunyili as Minister of Information and Communication, where he (Akinwumi) served as committee secretary, as a good example of paper plan that was not properly pursued.
For the Secretary General of African Public Relations Association, Mr. Yomi Badejo-Okusanya, Nigeria and Nigerians have all that it takes to succeed but continue to lag behind because of little or no engagement of professionals to manage communications in a way that the public would be well connected.
With a new leadership in NIPR, there is hope that things will change for better but the question nobody has been able to answer is whether government will begin to engage professionals in conceptualisation and implementation of policies.
Copyright This Day. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).
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