It is abundantly clear that the issues which concern public relations professionals vary from organization to organization and from industry to industry. In spite of this, several issues concern all practitioners, especially as the field continues to become increasingly respected. In other words, no country or administration can do without public relations nationally and internationally. This is because it will go a long way to project and protect their image at all levels.
In the last few years, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and other similar organizations in some countries have focused on the formal education of public relations students and practitioners. Among the highlights of a design for undergraduate in public relations education, authored by the Public Relations Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, the Educator’s section of PRSA, and PRSA itself were as follows; two subjects tied for the highest ratings by practitioners and educators. English (within general education) and an internship/practicum/ work study programme (within public relations education). It is recommended that public relations students, especially those planning to enter the corporate or agency world, give strong consideration to business as their secondary area of study. The traditional arts and sciences remain the solid basis for the undergraduate education of public relations students, essential to their professional functioning in a complex society.
As a result, the report indicated strong agreement between practitioners and educators on the ideal content of undergraduate public relations education. Basically, strong emphasis was placed on communications studies, public relations principles and practices, and ethics. The report further concluded that the growing cooperation and relationships between professionals in the practice of public relations and in education should be nurtured and strengthened to benefit today’s students in the field. Indeed, most practitioners agree that internships in the field are crucial to nurturing the next generation of public relations professionals.
No doubt, budget has hindered the effectiveness of public relations practice. This is because most top management staffers see budgeting for public relations programmes as irrelevant, expensive and in fact, a colossal loss to the organization. As a result, whatever is presented by the practitioner as budget for public relations practice is put in oblivion.
This budgetary issue reminds one of the place of public relations director in an organization. For public relations personnel to function efficiently and effectively, he must not only participate in decisions that have to do with policies of the organization but also be one of the decision makers. He must be a member of the organization team. If this is so, he will be able to influence decisions that will enhance the performance of his duties thus enabling him to create and sustain the much needed goodwill and mutual understanding between his organization and relevant publics.
One thing that is baffling is that the position of the PR man in most organizations is such that he is nothing but a “glorified errand boy”, who only act based on the dictates of his employer and perhaps carries bags for his boss or books, booking of hotel for visitors. Certainly, the profession of the PR man in this sort of circumstance is candidly misconceived.
In addition, one can see PR as a misunderstood profession because of the quality of practitioners. It is clear that most employers engage just anybody as a PR man once he is able to speak the Queen’s language fluently and wear attractive shirt and tie with a pair to match and well polished shoes. This is a sad commentary on the practice of the profession.
Inevitably, as public relations has enhanced its role in society and increased its respect within organizations, the field itself has attracted others, lawyers, accountants, personnel managers and general managers of varying backgrounds. In view of the fact that in some organizations, the public relations is usually close to top management and because access is power in an organization, the role occupied by public relations has become a coveted one.
It appears that one antidote for the incursion into the field by others is for public relations professions to become well-versed in the multiplying array of issues that concern organizations and relevant publics. The issues that capture public attention are diverse and rapidly changing. This suggests that the truly successful practitioner in the years ahead must stay abreast of the changing issues that dominate public discourse.
There is need for public relations professionals of today to be sensitive to public criticism. Thirty years ago, public relations practitioners were anonymous. They operated as faceless spokespersons, and behind-the-scenes operatives. Currently with the ascension of the practice of public relations, practitioners have had to do away with their anonymity. Newspapers and magazines insist on quoting public relations practitioners by name and assume that they speak as policy-makers. In recent years, this has forced public relations executives into the spotlight.
Finally, there is the need for the government at all tiers, organizations and the society at large including traditional institutions and churches to apply public relations for the benefit of the relevant publics. Even God applied public relations when he said ‘’let us create man in our own image and likeness.’’
•Charles Ikedikwa Soeze, Assistant Director at the Petroleum Training Institute (P T I), Effurun, Delta State [email protected]