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Many PR practitioners feel the profession is viewed as ethical. Picture: 123RF/eamesbot
Many PR practitioners feel the profession is viewed as ethical. Picture: 123RF/eamesbot

While there is improved sentiment across Africa about the role of public relations, a new survey shows that 50% of respondents say the  importance of PR is still not appreciated at board level. Practitioners say they must constantly “prove their existence”.

The annual “State of the African PR Landscape” report is compiled by the Public Relations & Communications Association (PRCA) Africa. While the discipline still has work to do in explaining the value it brings to business, almost 70% of more than 500 respondents across the continent say the perception of PR has improved since the start of the pandemic. And 33% of respondents say business leaders are increasingly reliant on PR counsel.

Jordan Rittenberry, chair of PRCA Africa, says: “If PR professionals can be better at showing the value and impact of their work, they are more likely to secure better budgets and investment in their function.”

The report says digital and social media are clear leaders in terms of increased importance, followed by reputation management and crisis management, both of which have been particularly relevant during the pandemic. Covid may also have contributed to a decline in the importance of event planning and organisation.

Bonnke Shipalana, group CEO of The Allure Group SA, a local PR agency, says one vital element the report does not touch on is the change decline of audiences in previously trusted PR communication channels. He says message dissemination has changed, with print sales decreasing, online growing, influencers leading in setting the agenda and the growth of satellite radios and fake news. “If PR represents bricks in building a house, then communication channels represent the cement. And we all know you cannot build a solid structure with bricks only.”

Public relations is increasingly being seen as a key tool in shaping trusted and reliable narratives
Tom Manners, co-CEO at Clockwork Media

Tom Manners, co-CEO at Clockwork Media, sits on the PRCA Africa board. He says the report confirms a growing appreciation for, and emphasis on, reputation as a vital strategic pillar for executives in businesses of all sizes.

“Landmark events such as state capture and the 2021 US Capitol attack have shone a light on the gulf between reality and perception. Public relations is increasingly being seen as a key tool in shaping trusted and reliable narratives.

“Thanks to enhancements in measurement and a more integrated approach to traditional vs digital communications, agencies, especially in SA, have enjoyed strong growth and are now being tasked with brand building, data insight and digital briefs that would previously have been reserved for larger above-the-line players.”

The survey says reduced budgets are the biggest concern facing the industry, along with recruitment and retention. Poor measurement and evaluation are also seen as significant threats. The survey says a quarter of African PR practitioners do not use any evaluation methods. The most common form of measurement is advertising value equivalents, which the PRCA believes are not rigorous or meaningful measures.

Rittenberry says: “It is also positive to see that many PR practitioners feel the profession is viewed as ethical. It is hard to overstate the importance of strong professional ethics in any serious profession. This is true of lawyers, accountants and others, and it must be true of PR as well.”

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