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PR needed to build African brands

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The compelling story of Africa and other emerging economies can only be told effectively when the emerging economies appreciate the role of country brands where people are proud of their country and have a strong sense of unity.  This brand and its story will greatly benefit from the major contribution that the public relations discipline can provide.

This was a key finding of the recent World Conference for Public Relations and communications in Emerging Economies (WCPREE) hosted by the Public Relations Society of Kenya (PRSK) and supported by the Global Alliance for Communications Management (GA). The conference clearly articulated how public relations could influence sustainable development, industrialization, businesses, and the fight against terrorism in emerging economies.

The 500 delegates meeting in Kenya’s capital Nairobi noted that to improve country brands, national pride is a prerequisite. It is based on public relations practitioners understanding the values of their nations and repackaging the emerging economies stories in a way that would attract investment, see increased tourism, and enable those nations to attain a stronger voice at the global level.

On the other hand, the political situation in Africa also demands public relations that is responsive and responsible to ensure that there is accountability in delivery of services to the citizens. In this narrative, peace and security are life-threatening issues facing the emerging economies while public relations is a strong force in a position to influence how media reports/frames terrorism acts.

Recent developments indicate that in the emerging economies like Kenya today, development stories are “selling”, showing a dramatic shift from the past when the media believed that only politics sells. This challenges public relations practitioners to package development issues in a compelling manner.

It also calls for a redefinition of the role and value of the public relations discipline, positioning it to play the critical role of information-sharing, enhancing buy- in, and damage control across all sectors – in government, business and the social sector.

Whereas public relations has to follow the global trends, in the emerging economies culturally sensitive approaches to communication need to be adopted in light of the critical role of the profession in the development agenda (think globally, act locally but professionally).

Professional bodies like PRSK need to be empowered and proactively engage in bridging the gap between academics and practitioners. It is critical for these linkages to be established and strengthened between industry and education institutions, and to maintain continuous dialogue in order to develop and enhance the impact of the public relations profession.