PRAU Secretary General Cynthia Mpanga On The Future of PR in Uganda

Cynthia Mpanga is the Secretary General of the Public Relations Association of Uganda. She has served the association for over six years in various capacities. We caught up with her for a quick chat.

As Secretary General of the Public Relations Association of Uganda (PRAU), what are some of your key achievements since you took office?

Serving the Public Relations Association of Uganda has been a humbling learning experience for me. It’s also been greatly rewarding to work alongside communication gurus from both the private and public sectors. 

Working with the Governing Council, I am proud that we have managed to maintain PRAU’s standards.

Digitization of PRAU especially the flagship event, The PRAU Excellence Awards is one of our greatest achievements. The award submission and election process are now fully digitized. This has brought efficiency and transparency to the award. 

Promoting community and networking between PR professionals through the implementation of key initiatives such as the PRAU Excellence Awards, PRAU nights among others have created a cohesive community. 

What about a PRAU Presidency?

Having served on the PRAU Governing Council for the past 6 years starting from the bottom and working my way up, I know all the intricate issues the association grapples with and the amazing potential the PR association has. I am a servant and I want to see a fundamental change in the association.

If the communicators feel that I have what it takes to be their President and elect me, I will be humbled to serve because I have the ability, passion, technical know-how, and drive. I know exactly what strategic direction the Association needs to take it to the next level.

Holding Group Agencies (WPP, Publicis, IGP) are flocking the country and charging clients enormous fees yet, local independent agencies are being reduced to charging minimal fees for the same Jobs leading to overexploitation. How does PRAU intend to support local firms in this regard?

One of the benefits of being part of the Association is the sheer power of numbers and the ability to lobby and advocate for change through affirmative action. PRAU as an association has several PR/digital/Marketing agencies among its members but we need more agencies to join the association for their own benefit, top of which is to mingle with their clientele and pitch for business, streamline operations, dialogue over pertinent issues and lobby for fair terms.

PRAU has the ability to influence and change any unfair practices by highlighting and sharing with the members, comparative suite of products, services, and prices.

The above notwithstanding, I believe competition is healthy and that clients are willing to pay colossal sums of money for exceptional service, creativity, and better turnaround times among other factors. The clients have a choice and I believe they have a good reason why they choose the supposedly expensive Holding Group Agencies over their competitors. Perhaps the smaller local agencies could benefit from better marketing, brand positioning, reputation management, networking that PRAU offers.

It is alleged that companies today send out RFPs for formality, in the back office they have already appointed their preferred agency. How is PRAU handling the issues of transparency in the sector?

I believe this is an assumption and it’s not the norm in all institutions. Human beings, of course, have biases and since they are the decision-makers in these companies, we can’t completely rule out favoritism in some instances especially when the client feels one agency understands, appreciates, and adds value to their business.

Local businesses are often pushed out of business because of attitude and dangerous sentiments or stereotyping. One way of looking at this particular scenario is this; if the client requests for an RFP, give them a befitting proposal they will be hard-pressed not to consider. We need to prepare and embrace ourselves for fierce competition especially in today’s global village where local agencies compete for business with agencies in developed and more sophisticated markets like; Dubai, Singapore, etc.

I can’t say that PRAU’s mandate is to police the operations of individual organizations but rather to improve professionalism, equip members on how to handle and overcome an array of challenges as well as create an enabling environment in the sector.

Most of the time, government parastatals send out RFPs that tend to lean towards media and advertising, leaving out the PR aspect. Could it be that these institutions do not understand what PR entails? What will PRAU do about that?

The Government communicators are an affiliate of PRAU under their umbrella body called GCOF (Government communicators Forum). Much as they undertake their own activities as GCOF, they understand the value of Private Public Partnership and that there is a lot they can derive from opening up and learning from the Private Sector.

At PRAU we work very closely with the GCOF leadership team under the Office of the Prime Minister and we continue to share all communications across all our platforms and engage their leadership to ensure their active participation.

We will continue to encourage more government communicators to subscribe to full-time membership at PRAU and also organize workshops with PR gurus to share insights and best practices to up-skill communicators in the government sector. 

The challenge most communicators face today is, making major decisions and yet many do not hold managerial positions. What advice would you give firms/communicators who are in such positions?

PROs and communicators have to earn the respect of their top management by adding tangible value and quantifying their contribution to the bottom-line and be invited to the Board rooms -period. We all know that communicators while tasked with the responsibility of managing the reputation and images of their companies or brands, most fall short when it comes to managing their personal brands, reputations or articulating effectively their contribution to the companies’ bottom line. We need to become trusted advisors, fountains of knowledge and this requires continuous self-development, learning, gaining experience and overcoming those self-limiting beliefs.

How is PRAU nurturing future communicators still in University?

PRAU runs a student program where we visit all universities and speak to students about Public Relations. We offer them mentorship, share best practices, internships, research facilitation, job placement, and networking opportunities to learn from industry champions. 

Where do you see the sector five years from now?

I am very optimistic! I see a communications sector that will have blossomed, churning out highly qualified professionals. 

The PR Association will have attained statutory recognition, accrediting its members to ensure continuous self-development. I foresee a scenario where research instead of assumption will inform PR campaigns and practices.

We shall have our Government communicators accredited and earn their positions by virtue of what they offer and help them build Brand Uganda by fully leveraging the tools and channels available at our disposal e.g. embracing digital platforms and owning the narrative of our country.

The sector will be the mouthpiece of our nation driven by responsible, polished and professional communicators.

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