Between public relations and propaganda
The growth of Public Relations in recent years has been described as “explosive.” Among top companies in Nigeria today, 95 per cent have public relations departments or “corruptly” called communication, corporate affairs, public affairs departments, compared to 20 per cent in the 1970s. Over the years, public relations has broadened both functionally and geographically.
As consultants to government parastatals, trade associations, states and local governments, higher institutions, etc. public relations practitioners regularly become involved in products development and production, industrial development, tourism, shareholder relations, fashion coordination, home economics, press relations, preparation of company publications, community and employee relations programmes, corporate advertising and a chain of other related activities.
Public relations has its humble beginning in Nigeria in 1942 during the second world war, when the colonial office established liaison offices in Lagos and other towns in Nigeria to handle information between troops at the war fronts and their families back home.
These offices also served as information centres for news on the progress of the war. Late Chief Fadairo, former chairman, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), and the Alapinni of Ilaro in Ogun State, was the first Nigerian to head a war time information centre. It was from that lowly beginning the information department grew to become a government ministry.
In the business world in Nigeria, UAC Plc was the first company to establish a full-fledged public relations department in the country, but this department was manned mostly by white people.
In 1963, Chief Adekunle Ojora, was appointed as the first Nigerian public relations adviser and head of department in UAC.
By 1963, the number of practitioners in government ministries, corporations, parastatals and private sector had become very formidable. The association of public relations was established that same year. The association was the brain child of Dr. Samuel Apelle, who was the first president and the first member to be honoured with an annual gold paper lecture.
The agitation for professional recognition in actual fact, started with the founding president of the association. After 27 years of struggles, the glory that was public relations came on June 1, 1990 via Decree No.16, (now an act of parliament) the association metamorphosed into the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR).
The institute is now a member of Global Alliance, an international professional body for public relations and communication management.
Public Relations is an integral part of business, and not an isolated function. It is difficult to define in precise terms. It is one of the marketing mix and also an integral part of management function.
To be able to appreciate the functions of public relations in national services it is necessary to know the definitions of public relations in other countries of the world: In Norway, public relations activity is a planned and systematic endeavour to help people to understand the possibilities at hand and to supply them with a motivation to make sensible use of those possibilities.
In Belgium, public relations is defined as a spiritual activity. This idea has a long way to go before being fully accepted, thus giving our enterprises the forth dimension which they require.
According to the Institute of Belgian Public Relations, the crises of our contemporary civilisation are due to the fact that humanity’s technical progress is not counter balanced by moral progress.
In Russia: Public Relations is understood in very large terms. It is a relation between men, classes, and people living in the field of economy and also in science, technology, ideology, morals and culture.
In the United State of America: Public Relations practitioners are regarded as social engineers, making practical applications to human relations’ problems of the principles involved by the social scientists, particularly in the areas of communication, attitude, group dynamic and leadership.
In Britain, and most commonwealth nations, including Nigeria, Public Relations is defined as the deliberate, planned and sustained efforts to establish and maintain mutual understanding between an organisation and its various publics.
When we are studying, analysing, comparing or contrasting advertising, propaganda, sales promotion, merchandising, publicity and marketing with public relations, we should keep in mind, the fundamental issue that while there are principles relating to these forms of communication, they are always changing and there is no definite dividing line between them. That is the reason we should study and know the limit and functions of any medium before we employ it in prosecuting any public relations project or issue. From my own point of view, propaganda negates good public relations.
It has no place in public relations, and as such, should not be employed as medium to foster any public relations campaign.
Propaganda is the deliberate manipulation of words and other symbols with a view to changing opinions and attitudes and ultimately actions.
Today, the manipulators may bring more techniques to their work, especially using the social media negatively.
Their main purpose is not much different from the purpose of man and woman, who have sought to control other minds from time immemorial. Propaganda relates to politics, religion and power.
Public relations are not really concerned with, nor is it related to propaganda, because propaganda does not involve in truth.
The definition of public relations does not say anything about dealing in truth, but the code of professional practice does. A member shall conduct his professional activities with respect for public interest.
Member shall not knowingly or recklessly disseminate false or misleading information and shall use proper care to avoid doing so inadvertently. He has a positive duty to maintain integrity and accuracy.
Another code of conduct of public relations states that a member shall not be party to any activity which deliberately seeks to dissemble or mislead by promoting a disguised or undisclosed interest whilst or appearing to further another.
But where do we find code of professional conducts for propagandists? There is an unwritten code of conduct for propagandists. We get to know it from personal study. Their first article, the bigger the lies, the more likely it is to be believed and the more difficult it is to be refuted.
Another article, nothing your rival does is good, nor worthwhile. Every thing I say is true and it is good for you.
Majority of our government officials, especially political appointees are guilty of propaganda techniques to fostering public relations services in Nigeria. Of course, most of them are not professional public relations practitioners.
The results, they end up from where they started. If we accept the principle that public relations deals in truth, how could an organisation defend itself by telling a deliberate lie to the public, while what is being defended had already become a public property?
Public relations has an integral corporate functions, dedicated and shaped to the organisation’s, profitability and other overall objectives. Public relations does not make policy. But, it can and does assist management in articulating company policy.
By definition and practice, it has developed special sensitivity to the likely reactions and impressions of those affected by the actions of any organisation.
For this reason, public relations should be consulted on all major actions even those which apparently have nothing to do directly with public relations.
Motions speak louder than words, and all reputations are based on actions not words. But, words are a necessity, if the actions are to be known and understood.
Public relations, although a management staff function, does have a clear-out line responsibilities. To carry these out effectively with the budget and personnel provided, or available, assignments must be limited to those which are properly written for the scope of corporate public relations.
The public relations of any organisation is a part of everybody’s job. The objective of the professional is to develop in all areas an appreciation for the fact that communication is an integral and essential part of good management.
The notion of reputation is too often restricted to corporate reputation. Corporate reputation should be related specially to the particular interests of each of those groups which look on the organisation as a whole, such as stockholders, the investing community, government, educators and other opinions leaders.
People form impressions on the slimmest bases. The name of an organisation, driver’s attitude on the road, the voice of telephone operator, a single letter or a chance meeting with an employee. No effort should be spared to see that these seemingly minor evidences of personality are properly projected.
Because every organisation operates in an environment which is shaped by the force of public opinion, the right of people to ask question must be recognised.
People usually dislike or fear most what they understand least. When reasons and explanations are not provided, people invent them. Therefore, a liberal view must be taken regarding the disclosure of information. No distortion or exaggeration of truth is permissible.
The purpose of public relations is to state facts, so that the organisation can be fairly evaluated and in such a way that it will be of interest and also have impact on various publics. It is preferable to do a few things in superlatively well, than many things in mediocre fashion. Competition is very keen in the world of ideas, especially in gaining initial attention.
One of the basic assignments of public relations is to make an organisation interesting and also a very valuable corporate citizen of the nation.
Ajai, a public affairs analyst, lives in Lagos
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