Ronel Rensburg joins us from South Africa: a lot is going on in that part of the world! Welcome.

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I have pondered about entering into this very interesting and unique debate opportunity about our subject and after reading a few postings I am now convinced that as a citizen of Africa (South Africa to be precise), I have a voice.

The recent PR Festival has been held in our mother city, Cape Town, and a few pressing issues came up in some of the sessions on the programme. One such session – that I have been chairing – the Academic Forum – had numerous heated debates. The main issues were still:”Does PR get the acknowledgement it should? Is it being recognised as an undividual practice and subject? What about its unique existence – will it be smothered by the marketing of communication fields? Et cetera…” An old, but a continuous surfacing debate…

My answer to this is simple: Get a life!Every discipline in the world has – and will always have – this type of debate. It is like asking what the meaning of life is – but life (as we know it) still continues.PR needs to overcome the pressing identity debate and makes its own destiny. We need to rather revisit its philisophies, theories, models, strategies and tactics and the ways in which we tranfer knowledge and skills in the field – but never should PR/corporate communication doubt its existence. Rather should we be asking: How can we bring the “lustre” back into the field of study and its performance dimensions as a practice.

We will be launching a drive to investigate the accreditation issue of PR across the African continent. During this investigation we will be asking all stakeholders (accreditation bodies, employers, education providers, academics and students) what skills and competencies the basic PR deliveree should possess. If we can create – after this exercise – a basic accredited PR course/module throughout Africa to add to our future business sustainability, we will have contributed something substantial to the “what about our existence?”-debate.

I wish for the day when corporate communicators and PR scholars and practitioners alike, would feel similar about PR and corporate communication as chartered accountants all over the world feel about their disciplne and practice.Proud and secure, with a vision of knowing where they are going. Where education, training and practice as a whole(and on an international scale), is solid and makes more sense.

How I wish I could see that day….When PR scholars and practitioners will not debate the “existence” of the subject field, but rather the consequences that the levels of PR has as an instrument of immense power and influence. And how PR can make a sustainable and continuous difference in the lives of the people and causes it serves.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Obviously I am not the only South African who has been peeping with interest at this blog. Thank you, Toni, for giving us Africans a voice through Ronel, i.e. an opportunity to bring to the fore our issues (that you must now be quite informed on, after your visit to Cape Town)! Anyhow, it was wonderful seeing you and Joao south of the equator.

    I attended the Academic Forum at the PR Festival that Ronel chaired – it sure had the most heated of debates. About the question of whether PR gets the acknowledgement it should, I think it gets the acknowledgement it deserves. If it wants more, it should do more. That is, focus more on doing the ‘right things’ rather than doing ‘things right’.

    Will it ever be universally recognised as an individual practice and subject? Only when it brings a unique perspective to the table. And that does not boil down only to ‘talking’ or ‘communicating’ on behalf of the organisation (carrying the message out) but also ‘listening’ on behalf of the organisation (as Joao so rightly commented) so as to be able to participate in deciding what the message should be about. Even more important, at whom the message should be aimed.

    Must say that I caught my breath when a well-known South African PR personality said during Ronel’s forum at the Festival that it doesn’t matter whether PR or marketing does it, as long as the message is ‘carried out’. It didn’t help to get my breath back when I read that “Public relations is primarily about telling a story well…. through as many channels as possible.” As a lecturer in strategic public relations, I find that to be quite a limited view. (This chirp is meant for Judy Gombita, who asked elsewhere for ideas on what PR should or shouldn’t do).

    Catherine–I do not disagree that PR is about building relationships. However, that remains a limited view because it focuses on the organisation and who it thinks its stakeholders are. The European view that our unique purpose is to reflect societal norms and expectations into our organisations so that they can adapt strategies and behaviours to be in sync with society, seems to me the ultimate purpose of PR. As Derina Holtzhausen says, PR people should be internal activists — in this instance, we should convince our senior managements that social and environmental sustainability are strategic organisational goals as much as economic sustainability is. And while we should support the achievement of the latter, it is the strategic role of public relations to assist our organisations to achieve the former two goals — contributing to the Triple Bottom Line by focusing on its ‘People’ and ‘Planet’ components.

  2. Welcome dear Ronel and…welcome dear Benita!
    We needed Ronel also in order to involve you! Great achievements, I believe..
    But of course, as you rightly say Ronel, there is a great need for the global professional community to learn much more about the impressive development of public relations studies and practice in the African continent. I realize that Africa is a huge continent and highly clustered, not only country by country, but also inside each country. But the same is true also for other continents such as Asia (the practice in Malaysia is highly different from that in Japan and in Shanghai it is different from Bejing. Just as Tennessee is different from New York. Banal?
    Yes, but many of us who operate under ethnocentric assumptions that the old anglosaxon model is THE way that public relations is practiced, can learn to be aware that not only this is not so in most of the world today, but that specific practices which are well established like, for example, oramedia in continents such as Africa and Asia, are becoming pervasive also other countries in the Americas, Australasia or Europe (word of mouth/viral etc..).
    Please Ronel, tell us more about your activities in investigating the accreditation experience, upload documents that you feel can be useful to better understand.
    We don’t have even half as many regular visitors as we would like to have, but those that we have are not only avid but they are also relevant in their own professional or academic communities, so the word…gets around.
    Or, at least, this is our hope.

  3. Benita,

    Good to hear from you and Ronel and I am looking forward to reading more. I am intrigued by your comment:

    “I do not disagree that PR is about building relationships. However, that remains a limited view because it focuses on the organisation and who it thinks its stakeholders are”.

    How does it focus on the organisation? I would venture to suggest that any limitation is imposed by the practitioner, as there are any number of complex and interwoven relationships that need to be facilitated and nurtured in the public interest, not just the organisational ones. The practitioner has always had an advocacy role, central to which is the ability to listen, understand and co-create the necessary meanings so that relationships can be formed and sustained. (We had a thread a few weeks ago and a month or so before that on listening, understanding and co-creating meaning in multi-channel and multi-layered environments). Derina Holtzhausen’s activist theory reflects the activity undertaken by many practitioners in many places over the years and the open systems approach – practiced in Europe, here and the US – is just that – another approach.

    While public relations is about building relationships – and maybe somewhere along the line that can be agreed by the many rather than the few – the the actual practice model will be specific to the culture in which the practitioner is operating.

    Holtzhausen (plus Petersen and Tindall I think it was) also examined how influences from a range of practice models had formed – or were forming at that time – a unique public relations model for South Africa – incorporating the conflict-based Western Dialogic model rooted in dissensus, the Activist model promoting change in organizations, the Ubuntu model favoring harmony and reconciliation in the workplace, and the Oral Communication model focusing on the use of oral media in the communication process. In Yunna Rhee’s study of public relations in Taiwan, the findings showed that excellent public relations practice in South Korea may be enhanced by collectivism and dynamic elements of Confucianism. Other studies conducted around the world replicate the findings that public relations practice is often a combination of bits of so-called ‘Western’ and specific cultural models because these are the mechanisms most suitable and appropriate to that particular setting. This ‘mix’ is also reflected in the virtual environment as people find themselves building relationships across the internet and become immersed in diverse online cultures. I think it would be invaluable to share the various practice models that exist around the world at this time – as even in countries where ‘Western’ or ‘European’ public relations have been a considerable influence there are still many differences and nuances of practice.

    I suppose what I am getting at is that by defining public relations as building relationships, the culturally-appropriate practice model can be determined and applied by the practitioner, who, during the acts of listening, understanding and taking action can facilitate change, advocate improvements and benefits to the layers of relationships and help to move people and their organisations (activist, commercial, altruistic or otherwise) closer together for the common good.

    I’m afraid that I don’t subscribe to the view that public relations is simply an organisational function (commercial, political or otherwise) and have long held the belief that it is consistent with, and a requirement of, change and social improvement. And change and social improvement is very hard to accomplish without the necessary relationships in place.

    I think it would be marvellous if Ronel’s investigation into skills and competencies could be replicated across the Global Alliance – we would then be able to determine some central core skills and competencies for all practitioners, wherever they were based, as well as establishing local and cultural abilities pertinent to their geographic or virtual sphere of operation.

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