Letter from Jamaica
by Richard Rose MCIPR
Richard is a strategic PR and communications practitioner, skilled in managing high profile stakeholder relations programmes; crisis and reputation management; and advising at Board level. He recently completed a contract in Jamaica as Director, Communications and Public Education at a leading government agency.
Richard has held senior communication management roles in the UK including Head of Communications at the Joint Council for Qualifications, where he spearheaded the national media operations for A-level and GCSE results.
Jamaica – a brief context
Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean and the largest English-speaking island in the region. It is located 90 miles south of Cuba, 600 miles south of Florida and 100 miles south-west of the island of Haiti. Based on the island’s proximity to major air and sea routes into the Caribbean, it is an ideal location for doing business.
Jamaica punches well above its weight in many fields and in October 2018, Bloomberg, the international financial news agency, stated that “Jamaica's spectacular stock market rally, the world's biggest over the last five years, shows no sign of losing steam. The Caribbean island’s benchmark index has gained 19 per cent in dollar terms this year, the most among more than 90 primary equity gauges tracked by Bloomberg.”
Kingston, the capital, is the largest city and is located in the south-eastern part of the island. It is home to ministries of government, foreign embassies, the headquarters of international and local financial institutions, international business, NGOs, charities and the media.
Jamaica is a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy based on the Westminster model. The island is a leading Caribbean tourist destination and there is a lively buzz all year round particularly in the tourist areas.
Quick facts about Jamaica
2nd City: Montego Bay
Legislature: Parliament (Westminster model)
Area: 10,991 sq km (4,244 sq mi)
Official Language: English, Jamaican Patois is widely spoken
Currency: Jamaican dollar (JMD)
Priority Sectors: Agri-business, business process outsourcing, energy, logistics, manufacturing and tourism (Source: JIS, June 2018)
WiFi is widely accessible across the island and there is heavy use of social media platforms.
Public Relations in Jamaica (my perspective to date)
Public Relations is slowly emerging as a discipline in its own right, separate from marketing. It is misunderstood in some quarters, and “communications” is the term more commonly used. Several higher education institutions registered with The University Council of Jamaica, the national external quality assurance agency for higher education, offer a range of communication programmes, which provide academic grounding for those interested in pursuing a career in PR and Communications management.
In addition, there is no shortage of networking and learning opportunities as institutions, research agencies and international organisations regularly host seminars and conferences on a wide variety of topical issues with high profile speakers and industry leaders.
PR and Communication practitioners operate across all sectors and bring a rich set of skills to the table. Just as in other jurisdictions, practitioners need to continue to embrace the latest technological advances and develop the skills to confidently seize the opportunities that Artificial Intelligence and digital technology offer.
The Public Relations Society of Jamaica (PRSJ), founded in 1981, is currently in the process of revival. This is excellent news for local PR and communication practitioners. It is also an opportunity for the CIPR to explore and create a mutually beneficial relationship with the PRSJ, and to share information about professional development programmes and best practice.
There are several well-established communications agencies operating on the island including PRO Communications Limited (PROComms) led by the affable Jean Lowrie-Chin, founder and executive chairman. Mrs Lowrie-Chin was recently awarded a national honour “for excellent service in communications, entrepreneurship, volunteerism and philanthropy.” She also provided valuable insight to the local communications and media landscape ahead of my stint in Jamaica.
The Government of Jamaica is currently undertaking various large-scale infrastructure and development projects. In addition, there are ongoing developments and growth within the tourism sector, Business Process Outsourcing, ICT, manufacturing and logistics. These developments, coupled with other private sector initiatives, present opportunities for strategic planning, effective public consultation, stakeholder and customer relations management, reputation and crisis management expertise.
Senior practitioners operating in Jamaica are required to provide strategic leadership-thinking, hands-on operational management, and be results-focused. In addition, knowledge of the cultural landscape, political awareness, board level experience, business acumen, and highly honed stakeholder relations, and influencing skills are required to establish relationships of trust and confidence at the highest level.
Jamaica, being the home of Usain Bolt, the late Bob Marley, reggae music, a rich and dynamic culture, some of the best beaches on the planet, prime real estate, world-renowned Blue Mountain Coffee and jerk chicken, relies heavily on the promotion of Brand Jamaica through integrated marketing and communication programmes. This is led by the Jamaica Tourist Board, and the Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO), which “promotes business opportunities in export and investment to the local and international private sector.”
Media – a snapshot*
In addition, there is an active Press Association of Jamaica, which is dedicated to “the best interest of democracy and press freedom in Jamaica…” Journalists across the media landscape are accessible and professional, and there are some good examples of them doing an excellent job in providing the type of information the public need to hold leaders to account. The general guidance, as practised in the UK, is for practitioners to always provide quotes and statements in writing.
The Jamaica Information Service (JIS) is a good starting point for keeping abreast of news and information about the work of the government. In addition to providing news and a host of other services, the JIS “conceptualises and executes public education campaigns and advertising programmes aimed at promoting a better understanding of the Government’s policies and programmes.”
Two local free to air television stations – Television Jamaica Limited and CVM Television Limited, operate 24 hours. In addition, there are several local cable channels, access to numerous international cable channels, and very informative local call-in radio programmes.
To gain an insight to some of the day-to-day interests and concerns of the general populace, a recommendation is to tune in to one of the many call-in radio talk shows, which can also be accessed online.
Jamaica is an exciting place to work and an even better place to unwind after a week of high-level meetings, writing speeches or managing a crisis. It also presents opportunities to demonstrate the strategic value of PR, its contribution to organisational success and its influence on corporate reputation.
* For useful information on the media landscape in Jamaica, Market Research Services Limited publishes an “All Media Survey” at: www.mrslja.com