Public Relations (PR) management also known as corporate communication is a broad matter that is very essential, but often ignored or underlooked by most managers in companies, including the practitioners.
But it is vital to accept that corporate communication or Public Relations will either kill or make a business succeed.
It is for that reason that both the private sector and government need proper public relations channels through which they can inform the public about their brands, policies or service provision.
Whereas the most inclusive definition is that public relations are a management process of developing and maintaining mutually beneficial relations between a principal and their various publics, many managers ignore this and often fail to find the correlations between the Principal (Brand) and Publics (Market).
Given that its definition emphasizes the development and maintenance of mutually beneficial relations with its publics, it is implied that the foundation of any such relationship is trust, with truth and fact as its base.
However, this may not always be the case when it comes to some practitioners, which often leads to several misrepresentations of other people in the profession.
What brings about this however is that in Uganda there is no Act regulating Public Relations management.
Whereas the Constitution places Public Relations management under Mass Communication and hence being regulated by the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), Public Relations as a profession should have its regulations and policies enshrined in an Act of Parliament.
This will help build the profession, protect the practitioners from being exploited by clients, and also protect clients from being exploited by masqueraders in the profession.
Besides that, regulating the profession will not only help the government to regulate the Public Relations practitioners but also help to streamline channels of collecting revenue in the form of taxes from practitioners.
Our neighbors in Kenya are currently discussing a draft bill for a Public Relations Act, which is before parliament.
To come up with a fair and equitable law, the Parliament of Kenya this week issued an announcement calling upon all stakeholders to come up with comments, papers, suggestions and or complaints about the proposed Public Relations bill.
Maybe we should pick a leaf from them if PR management in Uganda is to be professionally executed by practitioners in Uganda.
What Is PR Management?
Having seen that there is a need for the government to streamline and regulate PR management in Uganda, let’s now delve into what PR management entails.
What then is involved in the management process of public relations?
The management process of public relations involves; stakeholder or audience mapping, engagement and management, community relations management, media relations management, employee communications support ( internal communications), digital presence management, online and physical publications production, among other channels of information dissemination.
These activities once well-executed, culminate into a more accurate representation of your brand; institutional or personal.
This management process, beyond creating two-way engagement channels, ensures that these channels are functional and the flow of interaction and engagement is hitherto uncompromised.
However, as is the case with any good plan, the ‘devil’ is in the details of execution and this is where the distinction is made.
One public sector organization in Uganda that has effectively utilized public relations in its operations is Kampala Capital City Authority vide ante Kampala City Council.
The absence of this function before led to highly dissatisfied customers, unhappy development partners, a perplexed central government and the general perception of a highly corrupt entity.
The new administration started by laying a foundation of trust based on a “zero tolerance to corruption” organizational culture, quickly followed with systems and measures to pave way for dual engagement with its consumers and continually communicated to all stakeholders.
KCCA’s publicist Peter Kauju has for instance done a good job at countering all negative publicity that crops up about the authority, even if it means clashing with the Lord Mayor Elias Lukwago when it comes to evicting vendors from streets.
To enable Uganda to benefit optimally from the Public Relations industry, some questions should be asked and they include: how much has been invested in developing and promoting resourceful talent? Who and how is this sector regulated?
How do we nurture the emerging crop of communicators? Consequently, monitoring and evaluation can’t be overemphasized.
The various questions raised allude to a gap in the industry that should not be defended with flowery words but closed for the greater good of the industry.
According to Van Herdeen G, 2004 in The Practice of PR in Africa, public relations in Africa today has been largely influenced by the western culture, thereby disrupting the social fabric upon which public relations in traditional Africa was founded.
As such, the gaps we see in Uganda may not be unique to it but may only be magnified locally and can be contained if the government comes up with regulatory measures and policies.
Beyond the influencer, most public relations practitioners in Africa have been adopted from the newsroom without proper orientation on what public relations is (Dharmadasa, 2002).
In 1991, the Federation of African Public Relations Associations met and formed a 12-point communique referred to as the ‘Kampala Declaration’, which among many other resolutions advanced the need for the central governments to fund the national PR bodies.
The funding of these bodies would ensure that the expectations of the 1991 Kampala Declaration are met among which was the promotion of social, economic and political development in Africa.
However, this has never been implemented, simply because the government ignored legislating for the regulation of PR management in Uganda, yet the same government employs communications officers, plus corporate communications directors and managers.