By Karena Crerar and Corazon Sefu-Wandimi
It’s been a whirlwind two years for many businesses, as they were faced with one crisis after the next. This is when many recognised the crucial role that effective communications and public relations plays in businesses, and how it has been at the heart of navigating the storms brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
And as the global industry heads to a post-pandemic reality which sees it at a stronger footing than ever before – PR and communications agencies and professionals have certainly claimed their seat at the boardroom table, and it’s time to make more room.
From crafting effective crisis management strategies and navigating how to minimize reputational risk for clients, to expanding clients’ reach on digital and social media – the shift in focus to these areas of business has been substantial in the African region.
This according to a new report by the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA), titled, The State of the African PR Landscape 2022.
This is the first report by PRCA Africa, which is the newest arm of the world’s largest professional PR body, and which surveyed over 550 PR and communications practitioners from across 27 countries within Africa.
Two findings contained in the report show not only the agility and credibility of the industry, but also, it’s wide scope to effect tangible and positive change for businesses.
According to the report, 67% of respondents say the perception of PR has improved over the past two years, and not only that, when asked to describe the profession’s standing in the boardroom, 33% say leaders were relying on PR counsel more than ever.
“Across the world, PR professionals are increasingly taking more strategic and senior positions in companies – but there are still organisations where it is a relatively ignored or misunderstood discipline,” the report notes.
For Karena Crerar, CEO of Edelman Africa, bringing in PR and communications practitioners and agencies sooner as part of the strategic and advisory team for businesses, has value far beyond just navigating a crisis.
“We often find from a reputation management perspective that when struck by a crisis, companies like to hold their cards close because they’re not sure in that moment who to trust” she explains.
“They tend to only engage legal counsel at that point, which is certainly the right thing to do, but bringing in a reputation management partner with an ‘outside-in’ view is so important because otherwise, you’re consulting in an echo-chamber.”
Crerar says the advantage of entrusting PR and communications professionals to steer the communications of the business from the outset is about ensuring you always have the right counsel and positioning, long before you need it in a crisis.
The PRCA Africa report also crucially notes the changing role of the sector, and asked respondents which PR activities they thought had become more important in their country in the past two years.
Digital and social media led the charge by way of increased importance for practitioners at 51%, followed by reputation management at 48%, and crisis management at 47%.
To this, Crerar posits: “I do think that the pandemic provided an opportunity for communications consultancies to elevate their role for businesses and truly have a seat at the table in terms of real, risk related conversations. It created numerous unfamiliar scenarios and challenges that left some companies with no choice but to seek external expertise. On the flip side, firms such as Edelman were rallying globally to determine best practice for clients based on research and expertise.”
According to the report, COVID-19 contributed to a decline in the importance of event planning and organisation, as they only showed meagre levels of importance during the last two years. This is understandable in the context of the widespread lockdowns and restrictions on gatherings many countries in the region implemented.
In terms of what she would like to see going forward for the industry, Crerar says: “I believe communications has a fundamental role to play in many aspects of business, including but not limited to employee engagement after ‘the great resignation’, sustainability strategies and purpose-driven work. I think going forward, it’s about continuing to find ways to elevate the role that we play in helping organisations to build trust with their stakeholders – regardless of which areas of the business that is driven by – to achieve sustainable impact and outcomes.”