Let's Change Public Perception of PR Practice in Kenya

A woman using a smartphone with various icons of smart technology. [Getty Images]

Many people in Kenya, including leaders and professionals, continue to inappropriately perceive or rather misunderstand the meaning of Public Relations (PR). For most of them, PR means public stunts, which are done to conceal, divert or distort information for self-gain. This perception not only taints the profession but also puts a bad taste in the mouths of those practicing and studying PR.

The public is now normalising the initials PR as a household name for false or deceitful public image management practice. Phrases like "Hii ni PR," "PR tupu," or "wacha PR" in Kiswahili are now being used to mean this is just a PR stunt whenever organisations or the government speak through various channels.

In respect of the profession, this perception should come to an end. The public should be educated about PR and its relevance to them and their organisations.

According to the Public Relations Society of America, which was established in 1947, PR is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organisations and their publics.

It is a practice that organisations use to maintain positive relationships with their target audiences, and in doing so, the majority of PR work is categorised in several areas namely: Media relations, strategic communications, crisis communications, community relations, internal communications, public affairs, and digital communications.

Media relations often involves working with media practitioners to churn out important, timely and factual information relevant to the public. Unlike advertising which is paid for, PR is earned. Journalists work with PR practitioners to access information, filing actual stories per the profession.

Internal communications, on the other hand, entails how organisations communicate to their internal stakeholders such as employees, while public affairs involve building good relations with government leaders on leadership matters like better policymaking.

All these practices fall under PR, and with their practice, many brands have good relations with their audiences. At the same time, many publics are also able to access timely information and better links with their favourite brands.

In 2022, East African PR practitioners led by the Public Relations Society of Kenya commemorated 50 years of professionalism in Mombasa where a landmark promise of lobbying for the enactment of the Institute of Public Relations and Communications Management Bill into law was made.

Through the law, which will standardise and regulate the practice in the country, many organisations and their publics have the opportunity to have a quality and regulated PR industry which will also come with more benefits.

For instance, in the new world of misinformation, PR will go a long way to help the public tackle challenges such as misinformation and inaccurate reporting.

According to the Social Media and Fake news in the 2016 election Journal of Economic Perspectives by H Allcott and M Gentzkow 2017, the spread of unreliable information can lead to social disruption and even cause serious problems in society. These are among some of the challenges which PR solves on a daily basis but will never be seen.

With data from the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2022 indicating that misinformation has continued to thrive in Kenya as platforms fail to learn from past mistakes, the need to recognise and widely accept the role of PR in organisations and change its public perception becomes vital.

Businesses and the public, in general, should realise that PR practitioners play a crucial role in their daily access to information.