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One voice, one profession...

In a wide ranging interview with the Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa (PRISA), to clarify issues raised by the industry and put certain regulatory initiatives into perspective, Communicate Editor, Louise Marsland, presents an edited version of the Q & A with Margaret Moscardi, PRISA executive director. Seugnet van Niekerk, in charge of PRISA education, was interviewed regarding training.

The issue of PRISA relevance

Q: Is PRISA still the most relevant body representing PROs in South Africa - in the context of the many consultants who are not members, and reported increasing membership of marketing organisations in place of PRISA?

A: In an unregulated industry PRISA is the only recognised professional body with a code of professional standards and an independent ethics committee consisting of other professionals - an advocate, an accountant as well as public relations specialists.

PRISA has access to global networks and provides business referrals for its members. Advocacy and reputation of the profession is vital and it is in the interests of all public relations professionals (whether members or not) to take an active role in enhancing the reputation of their chosen field of expertise.

Some of the consultants are joint members of the Marketing Federation of SA and PRISA. If you look at relevance, at the moment what we are doing, is getting all the different PR and communication bodies active in the industry together: Unitech (Universities/ Technikons PR & development officers); Sacomm (academics); PRCC; Consultants Chapter of PRISA; IABC (International Association of Business Communicators); GCIS (Govt Communications Information System); the Investor Relations Institute of SA and the SA Institute of Fundraisers.

We started in January 2003 and are busy forming an over-arching body - through a Section 21 company - to look at ethics in public relations and the communication management spectrum of activity. Everyone has different codes and it is important for there to be one voice for the profession, and it is important for the Services SETA to have one organisation representing the discipline.

The working title of the new body is the Council for Public Relations and Communication Management Associations. It ties in with the international body - the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, the association for all associations globally, whose main purpose is to position the profession internationally with a global ethics protocol and help national PR body start-ups in Russia, China, etc. All members of the Global Alliance, including PRISA, have three years to bring their associations in line with international standards, deadline 2006. PRISA is a founder member of the Global Alliance.

Q: Is it unfair criticism when PRISA is accused of not keeping up with trends, ie, global communication trends and training?

A: Yes, we are doing a lot of positioning locally within the SETA system, globally through the Global Alliance, and we are aligned with Government's long term career development programme. Yes, we understand that for PR consultants, every hour means money and about keeping their consultancies sustainable. We actually started a training course for consultants, initiated by the PRCC, to assist them in running professional consultancies and equip them with the necessary business skills, ie, marketing to clients, billings, contracts, etc. We couldn't get it off the ground as consultants couldn't make the time to attend.

Q: PRISA is not seen as a player in the business arena and is not seen as a significant organisation among PROs/consultants themselves. Is this due to consultants remaining outside of the process, or insufficient communication by PRISA?

A: If one has to be absolutely honest, it is a bit of both: consultants and members don't read our communication, however, we have recognised that the work we have been doing over past three years hasn't been actively communicated externally. Now we have a story to tell...

Q: Why does PR have such a poor reputation in South Africa?

A: Unfortunately, many PR people are insecure because they don't have and are not specifically interested in the financial business side of organisations and they can't talk the talk. They prefer the tactical, and you have to have the tactical, but they can't relate it to the bottom line and they don't talk the professional business language. They dumb down their own function. It is all about dialogue and sadly, what PROs often do, is one-way communication - they blast out those press releases, and that is often a contributing factor to poor reputation. In the United States, PROs are becoming advocates for the profession by education and become the people who are driving business speak.

Q: How do you intend to address negative perceptions of PR in the SA business and media landscape?

A: The repositioning of PRISA from the Marketing Chamber to the Business Chamber within the Services SETA is an indication of the repositioning of the discipline of PR within the business landscape. This move gives us access to the business community and our network has expanded from marketing and the advertising industry to sitting on the same council as the BMF, SACOB and NAFCOC. This is a very important mindshift for the industry.

Q: How are you going to reach all those communication consultants out there and convince them to become members of PRISA?

A: Through ongoing presentations and personal contacts. PRISA President, Kate Bapela has a media strategy which she is driving. We can't force anyone to become members, but the benefits have to be reiterated. The discipline of PR is becoming more relevant and we need the industry and the wider business community to recognise that.

Training

Q: Has PRISA re-examined its courses to match evolving business practice?

A: We do not focus on grooming these days as has been reported! The formal PR diploma now includes: media studies, communication science, business economics, English, financial accounting, marketing, law, industrial relations, etc. Our 2nd and 3rd years receive practical on-the-job training which is very project based. It is a very practical diploma now, all part of the outcome based education system.

Q: Does training take into account the Government's empowerment protocol?

A: Issues of corporate governance are taught on the management course. The new diploma, redeveloped over the past six years and implemented in 2001, keeps pace with change.

Q: Does training take into account global shifts in communication where PR practitioners/communication professionals are becoming brand custodians, upskilling in branding, marketing and media strategy?

A: What is important and what most people don't understand, is that we do training for long-term career growth - career pathing. The PR management course includes industry affairs, environmental PR, how PR fits into corporate strategy, ROI. It's very strategically positioned. Less than 10% of PR is media work - PR is about building relationships with the public in various forms. Public relations can contribute so much to business success through ethics, social investment, environmental responsibility and in terms of positioning companies in terms of corporate governance. And our diploma is recognised by the Institute of PR in the UK!

Communication

Q: The way forward - how is PRISA going to transform itself into a truly representative and respected industry lobby group?

A: Through our journey to one voice for the industry: "One Profession, One Voice". The Section 21 company is a virtual organisation which will regulate the industry, through lobbying, addressing regulation and ethics. It will be launched by year-end.

For more information on PRISA, to go www.prisa.co.za. There is also a click through to the Global Alliance site from there.

About Louise Marsland

Louise Burgers (previously Marsland) is Founder/Content Director: SOURCE Content Marketing Agency. Louise is a Writer, Publisher, Editor, Content Strategist, Content/Media Trainer. She has written about consumer trends, brands, branding, media, marketing and the advertising communications industry in SA and across Africa, for over 20 years, notably, as previous Africa Editor: Bizcommunity.com; Editor: Bizcommunity Media/Marketing SA; Editor-in-Chief: AdVantage magazine; Editor: Marketing Mix magazine; Editor: Progressive Retailing magazine; Editor: BusinessBrief magazine; Editor: FMCG Files newsletter. Web: www.sourceagency.co.za.
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