For those who have been keeping tabs with me through my blog posts, you know by now that my primary audience is my people back in Kenya. It’s my small way of keeping in touch with my countrymen. I made it clear that as long as I am away, they will walk and finish this journey with me. No lefting. Lol!
So far I have written about my housemates in Cardiff, our packing escapades from Kenya to the UK, my impressions about Cardiff City, my Chevening journey and now, I feel the need to tell you something about my studies. I am in Cardiff University to pursue Master’s degree in International Public Relations and Global Communication Management.
This course promised a practical experience in global business strategy, leadership, and how this could be used to advance the interests of media and public relations brands, reflecting on innovation and entrepreneurship challenges which are emerging as significantly important skills for Media and Public Relations (PR) managers all over the world. Given that the programme is global in its outlook and reflects business systems, standards and practices from around the world, drawing upon international case studies and fostering intercultural fluency among students, this was a sure sell that pursuing such a course will come handy in my pursuit to join the diplomatic world in the future.
I have six classes in a week. One of my classes is dubbed; Professional Practice- Speaker Series. In this class, we have guest speakers who are basically renowned media and PR professionals in the UK. So far, we have had three speakers. My blog post today, will be based on my reflections from my interaction with our first guest, Kim Fletcher Brunswick. He is the co-founder at Brunswick Group, ranked Top Tier PR and Communications Firm based in London.
It’s a Thursday afternoon, our two hour class starts at exactly 1pm. This class is fashioned in three stages. Our lecturer introduces the speaker who then takes to the podium for the next 40 or so minutes to make submissions based on the topic of the day, then, there is class reflection conducted through question and answer format.
Kim is here to talk to us about the space of Public Relations in today’s world. Does anyone understand it? Is it important? What do PR Professionals do by the way? Is their work all about crisis management and writing press releases? Are they the ‘Mr. Fix it’ or ‘the Spin masters’? What are some of the challenges encountered by PR professionals in their day to day lives?
As you might have known by now, there are not so many people who study Public Relations for the sole purpose of practising PR. Many PR professionals are former journalists who move because the newsroom is no longer exciting. They are tired of reporting life challenges yet seeing very little or no change in reality (vitu kwa ground). To others, PR is a soft landing after tough life as a journalist. They just want to look for something different. They want to be part of the story and craft it.
So this is the same case with Kim. He is a former journalist with 25 years’ experience in mainstream media and now, about 10 years in PR. “The moment you make the move, you encounter your first challenge. As a journalist, your work is to tell the truth, you want the truth out. You don’t care who it affects, your duty is to report. People died, well, you must say that. The government messed up, yes, you must say so. No sugar coating” said Kim. This is the life of a journalist, unmasking the truth and saying it as it is. Then you move to PR world and your life changes.
“Your job description now is to stop the truth by all means. Whatever it takes you to do so. You cannot afford to tell people the truth because it will look bad on us. Kill it. If you have no choice, then sugar coat it.” remarked Kim.
For the next 40 minutes, Kim and I connect at a very personal level as 98% of my DNA is in journalism. I am a journalist. On the other hand, 98% of my current interest is in Public Relations. I have lived both worlds and enjoy them, I understand these challenges first hand.
“So why are we always in the headlines for the wrong reasons? Why is it taking you too long to fix this mess? Please explain again, why do we pay you every month? PR professionals in this room, have you been asked these questions before?” asks Kim. And the class answer is a resounding yes.
“A company is sacking or firing its employees. In PR, you cannot say that Xyz Company sacked its employees, it is not palatable, it is bitter. So we have to fashion it in a manner it does not make the company look ‘bad’ and say, Xyz company is downsizing, right sizing, sunsetting, restructuring, has declared redundancy or even closing down. PR is not your daily language, it is the language of hiding the truth, making it cloudy rather than clear,” remarked Kim.
As we try to unpack this reality, I will console you, worry not. When organizations find themselves in a mess or undergoing a crisis, most of the time, it has nothing to do with you as a PR professional. In most cases, it has everything to do with half-truths, rogue dealings, unmatched value system and unmet expectations from clients.
PR professionals face a myriad of challenges including that of “not looking the part and being too young to offer a solid advice.” You see, journalists look fancy and their job looks glamorous when they are young. In PR, people are looking for direction, for advice that will make them look good all the time. Sadly, we equate sound advice to age. If you are young, many organisations will find it hard to hire you, the assumption being you are yet to have the ‘right’ experience/age. As a PR professional, your job requires you sitting at the table. Most of the time, these tables are for “older people” and so, you do not look the part. So many PR professionals spend their lives second guessing themselves.
Your bosses are not happy with your deliverables, on the other hand, clients and those in the boardroom are doubting and judging your capabilities based on your age.
So, yes, it’s a safe landing if you spend sometime in the newsrooms before moving into PR world. One advantage with this, and this is from my own experience, your newsroom contacts will be of great importance to you. As a PR professional, your greatest resource is your media networks. You know who to call in each of the media houses, you know who to negotiate with if you have “to kill a story.” Yes, as unethical as it sounds, sometimes, as a PR professional, you will have to kill a story. It’s your paycheck at stake and you do not want to spend the next two weeks tiptoeing in the office and avoiding the “when will you fix this mess?” question, knowing very clearly you had warned about “this mess” but your advice was ignored. You find yourself in a catch 22 situation on a daily basis.
Ignore PR professionals at your own risk. These are the guys who sit to decide how they will brand and re-brand a service or a product. These are the guys who tell the big bosses “when media calls you, please say no comment for now, promise you will get back to them or refer them back to me. When they call me, I will tell them, I cannot find you on phone. I know they have a deadline to meet, so they will publish the story without our comment and that is how we will let the story die. Should they accuse you of any malpractice, your first cause of action should always be, deny, deny, deny! Then, we will investigate and respond to them. When in doubt, refuse to answer the question. Switch off your phone, if you must. And when they reach out to you women with scandals, your first line of defence is, protect yourself and other women folk with a simple answer “This is a sexist comment, I refuse to answer. You cannot continue making profits by objectifying women through media platforms. This bad habit has to stop.” In this case, you haven’t accepted or denied the allegations, instead, you have changed the conversation.”
When you understand how PR people work, you will appreciate their role. Until then, they remain “You PR people, I don’t understand why we pay you.” The hustle is real out there.
Next week, I plan to write something about Journalism as a profession. Media Council of Kenya has appointed a new Council effective October 2019. Will they eradicate the quacks in the industry or will they help journalists understand why accreditation is important to them? See you then 🙂
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