The Public Relations practitioners in Uganda have been urged to create safe working spaces within the companies they work for so as to create strong mental health amongst staff.
The call was made by Samuel Apedel, the Senior Manager Public Relations at National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) while addressing Communications practitioners at Hotel Africana on Saturday.
“Make the organization you work in a positive environment. Everyday, you spend 9-10 working hours in the office, if the environment doesn’t work for you, you might even want to leave that place. You spend two hours driving to work and home, home is where you sleep and change clothes and if you are married do some domestic administration, but make the office where you work a positive environment where you are growing,” Apedel said.
The remarks come at the time the public is grappling with findings in a report by Uganda Counseling Association that revealed 14million Ugandans are suffering from a form of mental disorder, with calls to have mental health treated as national priority by creating safe spaces at work, schools, homes for people to thrive both mentally and emotionally.
Responding to a question why the Public Relations profession in Uganda has no legal or regulatory framework to govern them unlike other professionals, Apedel called on the practitioners to hone their expertise in communicating, bringing diverse bits of information and making them understandable, which will further justify the importance of communication in organizations.
“The PR people have to fight for space on the table. We must demonstrate that we have value, that PR saves and makes companies money and that PR makes companies have good relationships. I am actually very positive about the future of PR in Uganda because I am seeing a core of ambitious driven people. By the way, the biggest job of the CEO is to do PR, I have an engineer CEO. I can tell you PR and stakeholders engagement is very valuable, it has brought lots of money for NWSC. When we go to Parliament, we don’t get asked many questions because we engage MPs,” he remarked.
During the ceremony, Ann Gichuhi, Course Leader at Chartered Institute of Public Relations at University of Nairobi called on PR professionals to upgrade their skills by obtaining a diploma in PR that lasts for nine months or study specialist diplomas in digital, crisis, strategic communication or crisis management that last three months in order to keep up with trends in the profession.
“Come with a learning attitude and know the emerging trends in PR. When the employers were consulted in 2016 on a new diploma in PR they said: syllabus should be more practice oriented, flexible in delivery and completion. They also said that theory should not dominate the Diploma and that learning should be immediately actionable,” said Gichuhi.
She revealed that the CIPR diplomas started in Nairobi in 2010 and the course was pioneered in Uganda in 2018.
Students now study online and there are plans to have the course taught physically at Uganda Management Institute.
Ian Rumanyika, Head External and Corporate Affairs at Uganda Baati Limited tasked PR Practitioners to stop lamenting about limited funds organizations give to PR departments and rather focus on adding value to their organizations.
He cited an example of Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), his former employer whose budget for Communications and PR stands at Shs11bn, with a team of 45 staff.
Rumanyika said: “We always cry about budgets, our budgets are small. Your effort will provide a basis for the board to give you that budget. When I was starting with URA in communication we used to get Shs70m as total budget, that was like 10years ago, before I left, we were getting Shs11Bn. Before I left, I was supervising a team of 45 people. The communication team is big because there’s tax education. But it took a lot of case development demonstrating that this is what it takes for us to achieve this.”
He also urged PR professionals to end their myth around figures, math and statistics being complex topics, instead become proactive and provide solutions to the Board and Management rather than limiting their duties on writing press releases.
Tadeo Atuhura, Communication Manager Accelerating Epidemic Control program emphasized the need for PR professionals to sharpen their skills in research especially in current trends about their organizations if they are to gain a place amongst top management.
He said: “You must have value, nobody is going to allow you in the boardroom if you don’t have value. In the boardroom, there is decision, dialogue, strategy. It’s about making sure that things are working in the organization. Most times people employing you don’t have a clear understanding of what they are employing you to do. Research is very important in the work the PR person is going to do. Research helps you in the boardroom to influence debate and be able to contribute to the decision.”
Stephen Mwanga, President of Public Relations Association of Uganda (PRAU) revealed that the Association is in discussions with Makerere University to start offering specialized courses for the profession and warned the PR practitioners against competing for media coverage with their bosses.
He remarked: “Try to understand why you have been hired and not be in the press all the time. Many of our colleagues in many organizations operate as single persons, trying to guide management on the structure. You also need knowledge in planning and identifying those activities that the organization is going to undertake.”
During the ceremony, three PR Practitioners received accolades from University of Nairobi in recognition of their efforts in pioneering the courses by Certified Institute of Public Relations in Uganda and these included; Stella Marion, Moses Opolot and Ian Rumanyika.
Gichuhi who represented University of Nairobi also revealed plans to start Africa Public Relations awards but these will be strictly limited to individual not organization performance and will be a reserve for only certified members.