PR in Practice: Between Changing Narratives and Attitudes

By Inyene Ibanga

Inyene Ibanga

The practice of Public Relations(PR) captures the reality of issues that the contemporary PR practitioner navigates in his/her everyday work in the frontline as managers of communication.

Undoubtedly, issues in contention encapsulate the numerous challenges that knock the image or reputation of individuals, businesses, government, and not-for-profit /non-governmental organizations.

However, every individual, group, or organization has a narrative about a particular issue around their immediate environment. Such a narrative is based on the perceptions, mindset, and experience of the narrator, and how it impacts on his/her socio-economic wellbeing.

I am especially thrilled by the way certain messy situations are changed into positive awe-inspiring narratives. In many instances, chaotic circumstances become transformed into a warm, inviting, and attractive scenario.

Those positive scenarios are quite inspiring. This is achieved when the PR practitioner drives the narrative rather than leaving it for the media or other external forces outside its control.

Although public relations is mainly concerned with communication, perception and reputation management, we must be mindful of the fact that communication has to be purposeful, objective, and measurable to impact on its target and drive the message home.

More so, PR covers every form of communication strategy necessary for solving a problem, negotiating resolutions and resolving misunderstandings/misperceptions or crises among individuals or between an organization and its internal and external publics, stakeholders, or audience.

Interestingly, change in a narrative can go a long way in repairing a battered image of any organization whether public or private sector. To make this a reality, an organization must carry along every group within and outside its premises.

Sulaiman Aledeh, former Head of Media and Communication, Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDC) shared the back-breaking but fruitfully rewarding strategies the company initiated to improve the relationship with electricity consumers within its area of coverage during his stint with the company.

In his presentation on Changing the Narrative from Bad Reputation, at the online School of Impactful Communication, Aledeh observed that EKEDC was able to gain the confidence of consumers by making genuine efforts to understand the problem from the perspective of the customers and reach out to them in good time with the steps being taken to address such issues promptly.

According to him, creating a sustainable platform to engender steady engagement with the customers helped them to see the commitment of the company towards ensuring a regular supply of power within the available volume.

Aledeh revealed that “these moves endeared the customers to us. The narrative started changing. How would you feel when you get a call or text from your service provider concerning an issue?

So, from about more than six thousand followers on twitter, we started witnessing tremendous growth in our following. At the time I left it was over 20 thousand and presently over 21 thousand.

This is simply due to the engagement and resolution of faults and complaints via the platforms’’, he added.

From the foregoing, the EKEDC survives on the patronage by electricity consumers who pay for the power supplied. The company provides power to the consumers at a fee. Consumers must pay to enjoy electricity and the company must ensure the power supply is regular.

PR in practice takes another dimension in military, para-military, and law enforcement institutions. PR practitioners in these institutions have a herculean task to make the people understand their role of providing security, protection of lives and property, and curbing activities of criminal elements in the society. The power of these institutions lies in the force and weapon they wield as part of their tools for enforcement of law and order.

Imagine the great length military personnel have to go to convince the unarmed civilian populace that contrary to his work tools (firearm), he is a friend that should be trusted. The civilian populace holds the military and para-military personnel in morbid fear as an enemy who is always a threat to their lives.

On the other hand, the military / para-military agencies view the civilian populace as obstacles to the effective discharge of their constitutional responsibilities of protecting the territorial integrity and internal security of the country. This attitude has continued to pitch them against each other instead of working as partners in the fight against all forms of criminality and threat to the safety and security lives and property.

This misperception of the military/para-military institutions by the civilian is the `culprit’ responsible for the wide gulf of mutual suspicion between the two key stakeholders in the Nigerian Project. There are several means of checking the activities of this `culprit’.

This much is the experience of PR practitioners working for military/para-military institutions who are perceived to hold the gun in one hand and the carrot in the other hand. What is the guarantee that a “bloody civilian’ can collect the carrot and still stay alive?

On the contrary, Abdullahi Maiwada, a Public Relations Officer with the Nigeria Customs Service is confident that relating closely and directly with community members will enable these institutions to tell their story and in the process gain their sympathy and understanding. The story must not only be true, but it should be supported by facts.

Also in his presentation titled “Addressing ‘We-Versus-Them’ Mentality in Civil-Military Relations Crisis” Maiwada observed that “many times when we try to manage crises, we create more crises; and this often happens through denial. It is a bad PR to deny an accident, the easiest way is to acknowledge whatever had happened, accept responsibility where applicable and explain to the public in their emotional language.

We may not always tell the whole truth because of regimentation and sensitivity of issues, but we must never lie. If we can’t tell all the truths, at least, let us tell all the facts.’’

Certainly, effective deployment of PR strategies can solve real-life situations for every type of profit and not-for-profit organization. It’s all about relationship management through consistent communication of your message to your target audience. A consistently objective and purposeful message is a catalyst for reversing negative narratives, attitudes, and perceptions into positive levels.

Platforms should be created to ensure constant dialogue between organizations and their internal and external stakeholders at all times, not restricted to crises periods. This will engender a healthy environment for developing mutually-beneficial relationships where truth and facts dominate.

Inyene Ibanga, a Manager Special Projects with Image Merchants Promotion Ltd wrote in from Abuja.