ACW 2021: Professionalising PR and Communications
Public Relations (PR) and Communications is a profession which calls for responsible management of relationships between an organisation and its various audiences, including stakeholders, investors, the media, the government and the general public.
As these audiences have differing needs and an organisation’s objectives for each audience differ, PR professionals are tasked with creating and implementing diverse communication strategies.
During the recently held Africa Communications Week, the session themed ‘Professionalising PR and Communications practice’ sought to explore the importance of upskilling in the profession.
The panellists were Andras Staniszlav FCIPR, Chair of CIPR International, and Philippe Borremans, President of the International Public Relations Association (IPRA), while Ukwori Ejibe, Communication Consultant and IABC Member, moderated the session.
Building your career in PR and Communications
Professionalising communications requires continuous investment in education and training, according to Philippe Borremans. “PR and Communications professionals should all be up to standard, and our ethical code plays a key role here,” said Philippe.
Andras explained that there is no global definition of professionalism. “The most important for me is credibility and authenticity, then the ethical standards and behaviour, and lastly the best use of tools and technology. All of these form part of a PR Communicator’s professionalism. The art of listening and understanding is also important.” He added that, during the pandemic, he realised that professionalism also means that one must be ready to apologise for any mistakes.
In terms of CIPR, Andras highlighted that he had personally achieved Chartered Status in 2020 after completing an assessment, and noted that there are multiple ways of learning, including university courses which provide CIPR qualifications, online training sessions, Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and CIPR International which has a lot of materials, recordings and webinars.
Science and PR – two-dimensional role
The panellists emphasised that science plays a vital role in the PR industry as it was important to get the facts right. Andras underlined that the pandemic had demonstrated the importance of PR and communications professionals and what they bring to the table.
For his part, Philippe noted that communications must be based on research, science and behavioral science, adding that “when we take all of these together, science-based insights and then professional developments, we see how important PR is.” He also suggested that PR professionals should start thinking about data-driven culture.
Benefits of PR associations
Andras highlighted that the key benefit of membership of a PR association is in demonstrating a commitment to professionalism, in signing up to its professional code of conduct and completing an annual CPD to be an Accredited PR Practitioner, in the case of the CIPR.
Andras explained the fundamental importance of accountability and noted that, with regard to the code of conduct, if there is an instance of unethical behaviour then there is a process to be followed to resolve the issue. Besides enforcing accountability, being part of a PR association also offers a plethora of opportunities, he added.
In terms of collaboration, Andras mentioned that CIPR has had partnerships with IPRA to learn from each other, and that CIPR has a lot of members from Africa who are also invited to join CIPR International’s activities.
Technology also has an important role in connecting PR associations and their members, according to Philippe, which he saw could “open doors and build bridges”, based on his personal experiences of working in countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone in previous pandemics and epidemics, which have to face challenges with a minimum of resources. “The role of an association is to bring professionals together. It is incredible right now to be bringing so many people from the African continent and outside – CIPR is doing it and IPRA is doing it for international members as well,” he commented.
When the pandemic first broke, PRSA, IPRA and CIPR connected automatically, Philippe explained. “we asked for those who want to volunteer, who want to give away hours to any other colleague who is fighting for information. And boom! We have given free consulting to colleagues in need. This was very powerful,” he underlined.
Opportunities, Challenges, Ethics and Awards
It was noted that while there are opportunities for PR and communications professionals to set high standards and build greater understanding of the profession among corporate leaders, there are enormous challenges such as the profession’s slow place in adopting technology. Philippe warned that “we are way behind. If we do not learn from our science and academic colleagues, then we won’t achieve the aim.”
The importance of abiding by industry ethics was underscored by Andras, who noted that, at CIPR, completing an ethics course was a compulsory part of CPD, where professionals could then follow the path to Accredited and Chartered Status.
Awards in the industry were also crucial, in Philippe’s view, as long as a system was in place. “The award alone doesn’t take you anywhere. It’s only when you have case studies, then you can compare. It is the inputs of the case studies, the tactics, techniques, ideas and so on so that we can apply. Those vanity metrics really don’t serve anyone,” said Philippe.
For his part, Andras explained that he introduced a ban on Advertising Value Equivalents (AVEs) two years ago when he became the President of the Hungarian PR Association but then “on an international jury I was faced with tons of entries, and I was in a challenging situation because I couldn’t understand who is walking the talk”. He cautioned that the objective should be to rise above financial value equivalency to spread the news about PR campaigns and different uses of technology.
The road ahead for PR professionals
Looking at the path ahead, Andras considered that it was important to focus on personal layers, abiding by the professional code of conduct and conversation. “Ethical challenges are changing all the time, and we as professionals have to talk about these with friends and peers. That’s how we learn from each other,” he commented.
Philippe noted that “if you subscribe to an association and in its Charter it says communications should be done for the common good, in the oil sector, how far can you go? As a consultant, you always have the choice to refuse to work with some clients. You have to respect that.”
Philippe summed up his views on the note that ethics is not about being right or wrong – it is about agreeing on a common basis. While that may be a difficult conversation, holding it together as an association is key to advancing in the profession, he concluded.
The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) has launched a special membership offer for members of the Africa Communications Week network which is valid until 31 December 2021. The offer will apply to both full membership (where the joining fee will be waived) and Global Affiliate membership (where a discounted rate will be applied). Full details are available by contacting Samantha Seewoosurrun FCIPR on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The full webinar, held on 25 May, can be viewed on YouTube here.