[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he public relations (PR) profession in Kenya has come from far. Indeed, it is only in recent times that the industry has started seriously considering establishing some standards to avoid turning into a rogue profession. Although a few milestones have been achieved, a lot needs to be done to create standards and discipline.
One notable achievement has been the resuscitation of the Public Relations Society of Kenya (PRSK), a professional body of PR practitioners that formed in 1971. It is only in the last 15 years that this society has benefited from a semblance of vibrant leadership after operating like a clique due to lack of visionary and competent leadership.
The same period has also seen the establishment of PR academic programmes, from certificate to PhD. Although the corporate world is yet to fully appreciate the need for highly qualified PR specialists, it will soon become imperative as competition and sophistication in the markets increase.
Most significantly is drafting of the Public Relations Practitioners Bill which seeks to “professionalise” the PR industry. Although the Bill has borrowed heavily from the society’s Constitution, it is a good step in the realisation that the old order of PR being synonymous with good looks and suavity has been overtaken by global realities.
According to Forbes, PR is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organisations and their publics. This is a management function that has the potential either to totally ruin organisations, or develop them to great heights. Therefore, this is clearly not an exercise to be taken lightly by the players on both sides.
Sadly though, many people are in PR for the wrong reasons. Just like teaching was in the past, PR has been one of the most abused careers in Kenya. In fact, about half of PR practitioners are in the practice by default, as an easy way out as they buy time for something better or different in their scope of passions. Now PR is the most bastardised professions.
Secondly, others are in it for the allure. PR is associated with glamour and financial rewards, which attracts a big number of impressionable people with little or no idea of the profession’s tenets and mechanics. As a communication lecturer in a few local universities, both public and private, I have discovered that many undergraduates seeking a career in PR have scant knowledge of what it entails, or its import.
They cannot wait to graduate so that they can hit the cocktail launch circuit – it is a free ticket to the “good life”.
Unfortunately, even as PRSK follows up on the drafting and eventual enactment of the Act, the society still does not have a code of ethics. This should have been one of the initial initiatives as it is fundamental to the growth of any profession. Understandably, though, ethics is a minefield for the industry as a result of the many unqualified and unprofessional practitioners who have got ahead through subterfuge.
For instance, this being an election year, there will be many self-styled PR experts purporting to offer political counsel to politicians. They will employ guerrilla tactics to garner positive publicity for their charges while creating smear campaigns against the latter’s opponents.
Overall, the Bill must ensure that it lays more emphasis on the practice of PR rather than the structures. The Bill must also be specific about the level at which one can be a certified or accredited PR practitioner. We must decide at what level we want PR to operate in comparison to other professions like accountants, lawyers or doctors. It will help if there is a clear definition of PR. Is it an industry, a profession or practice?