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Two days in Entebbe

This blog post also appeared in Influence.

By Andras Sztaniszlav

Being the ViceChair of CIPR International, it is always great to get invited to PR events outside of London or even in the UK. At this time, it was in East Africa.

I got off with mixed feelings at the one and only international airport of Uganda a couple of weeks after watching 7 days in Entebbe.

As a comms professional, I am aware films can be real opinion leaders (btw it is a great strategic communication tool, as well) and this one had evoked not really favourable impressions about the East African country.

Fortunately, the two days spent here proved to be just the opposite: interesting market, lots of lessons to be learnt, opportunities and many-many communications professionals keen on learning.

The population of the country situated between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya is around 40 million: 19 million have already internet access and 2.5 million are active social media users.

I was invited by the local PR association (PRAU) to their annual meeting and General Council elections. A larger proportion of the 150 members works on the client/corporate side. The program had been scheduled for Saturday so I was not really surprised that it started with a 1-hour delay.

In my brief welcome speech, I pointed out that as a Hungarian citizen with a Russian name… sent by a British PR association and currently staying in Rwanda I attended a conference in Uganda… The situation could not be any more international, and so is our profession. We need to be open to each other, we need to learn and share experiences while learning the characteristics of each market. Without this, we cannot communicate with our stakeholders effectively. That is the main aim for our team at CIPR International.

There was a panel discussion with nine experts (which was quite surprising for me as a regular European conference participant) moderated by Raymond Muyuni, an investigative journalist.

The experts came from diverse sectors: bank, telco, police, international NGO, so it was a tough nut, I would say… and a real trend collection: Emilian Kayima from the local police, for example, stressed the altered role of police communicators. For a couple of years now everybody has become a communicator who has a mobile phone. Therefore, the police decided to find international best practices in order to act and react properly in such ever-changing circumstances.

Trends we already might be familiar with were named after one another just like that:

  • the strategic role of PR in management

  • blurry borders between different comms disciplines

  • the growing role of digital tools and practices

  • social media is not only a huge challenge but also a great opportunity to directly talk to stakeholders (if we have a good relation or at least we know them and their expectations well we can anticipate or manage crises without much harm – as one panellist emphasized)

  • fake news, manipulation, ethical concerns

  • the importance and learning and development for junior, mid-level and senior PR people

The previous board of the association had the chance to give a report (elections take place every second year) and the new board was also elected. This time Sarah Kangingo won and she highlighted the importance and need for cooperation and expansion so that professional development programs could reach more and more comms practitioners.

Luckily, I could talk to many of the members in person, as well. A great proportion has been enrolled in international studies, many have got acquainted with PR practices in a CIPR course to become a member of the UK based association. They were keen to listen about the newest trends (IoT, AR/VR, social listening, creative storytelling, influencer marketing), ethical issues and seemed to be dedicated to learn on and on.

Our dinner and little walk at night justified the view: yes, we have things to do in a country where:

  • there are huge inequalities (glass palaces next to slums)

  • there is an enormous humanitarian challenge (more than 1 million migrants in Uganda)

  • providing basic education is the responsibility of the corporate sector as well (under the umbrella of CSR politics)

  • infrastructure firms are influential (energy, telecommunication)

  • there is a developed (and from a certain perspective still developing) business sector

and where at the same time:

  • PR professionals are open, cheerful and eager to learn

  • the association is actively seeking international relations and aim to provide learning and development opportunities for their members and introduce more and more global trends (influencer marketing digital measurement opportunities, professional methods of public affairs, tools of reputation and stakeholder management)

This is a strategic opportunity (and also responsibility) for CIPR to provide Chartered status development programs in high quality for everyone interested. My very first trip to Uganda was merely a snapshot; still, it gave me the inspiration to run for being the Chair of CIPR International and the membership of CIPR Council. Working in international communication is not simply fun and a nice opportunity but a huge responsibility, as well.

Andras Sztaniszlav started his career as a journalist, then worked for the Prime Minister’s Office in Hungary as a communications advisor. In 2005, he co-founded his PR consultancy, PersonaR which provides strategic counsel to corporations on reputation and stakeholder management, sustainability, measurement, internal and crisis communication. Andras is an Accredited Practitioner of CIPR and currently the ViceChair for CIPR International


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