The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development and Secretary to the Treasury, Ramathan Ggoobi, has called on Public Relations experts to use their skills to help government and organizations communicate effectively to the masses in order to achieve their objectives.
He made this call during his keynote speech at the first National Public Relations Symposium held at Hotel Africana held on April 29. The highly anticipated symposium was organized by the Public Relations Association of Uganda under the theme, “Public Relations in shaping the future of organizations.”
The soft-spoken economist who centred his address on how Public Relations Managers can effectively work with the media, said media is very powerful and influences public opinion, thus affecting decision making of organizations and government at various strategic and operational levels and thus needn’t to be taken for granted.
“We all know that the ability to communicate effectively is very vital for every Organization’s ability to function. We also know that good public relations starts with having a good working relationship with the media,” says Ggoobi.
“When we do not communicate, we actually communicate a message that will be received differently by a magnitude of audiences be it friendly, supportive, neutral or opposing and sometimes even hostile. Constant engagement of media improves relations and reduces media sinicism,” he adds.
Ggoobi appealed to the PR gurus not to engage the media only when they are faced with ‘bad press’ noting that in that case, it may be hard to fully rebuild the reputation and mend the damage already caused.
“Waiting to deal with bad press as we know is a poor strategy because setting the record straight does not fully rebuild the public relations damage already incurred. I am saying this in a month where at the Organization I head, we have had a very bad media coverage on an issue which those who set the agenda first ran away with, and it has become very difficult for us to set the record straight,” reiterates Ggoobi.
“We know that media is often sensational because it will always look for situations where ‘a man is biting a dog’. Rather than the truth, media publishes stories that sometimes undermine public support”
“We also know that journalists – not their fault, don’t have industry knowledge on what they report. They therefore often engage in reporting oblivious of their inner dynamics and therefore it is our responsibility to get the facts to them,” he adds.
Ggoobi expressed dissatisfaction with some Organizations which place PR managers under middle management, saying such distorts information the PR person has to communicate with the public, arguing that they should be part of the top management.
He explained that the importance of cohesion and synergy of this function heavily relies on inclusion of this function at the highest level (in the boardroom), so that PR is integrated into the decision making process and execution.
“It is your job as a PR manager to get these facts from the bosses and communicate them to the media in a proactive manner, not in a manner which awaits for the media to come but in a way which gets information to the media,” says Ggoobi.
“In addition, we also need to realize that the traditional press model – journalism of verification has ceded ground to the new journalism of assertion where information is offered with very little time and little attention to independently verify its veracity,” he adds.
He says Journalists no longer have the time and resources to verify information, revealing that many reporters lack the deeper understanding of the issues they are going to report about, thus asking the PR people to always rise to the occupation to fill the gap.
“With this realization, as Public Relations Gurus, you need to find ways of feeding the necessary information to the people who are supposed to communicate to the people and this is the media,” he says.
He however noted that much as PR managers always want fairness from the media, they ought to understand that the public has the right to know.
“The ‘right to know doctrine’ is still very alive. The role of a PRO is not to stop the public from getting the information, but to help an organization to use the available information to tell its story with facts so that the public can be able to discern what is wrong and what is right,” explains Ggoobi.
The knowledge packed event that had over 200 participants was lined up with several renowned panelists and a wide range of panel topics including, Journalism and PR in a crisis, Public Relations in shaping the future of organizations, Building the gaps between Classroom knowledge and practices, How PR and Marketing can elevate the Sustainability and ESG agenda, among others.
‘The success of organizations is heavily hinged on how well their PR is handled. We are convinced that this symposium sets a clear path of where the industry needs to focus on for us to further professionalize public relations practice in the country,’ said Stephen Mwanga, the PRAU President.
Mwanga also reiterated that the PR industry requires an all-encompassing approach to discuss some of the challenges the PR industry continues to grapple with including dis/misinformation arising from the use of social media.
He added that the association is also in pursuit of statutory recognition to that effect.
The event was graced by the Minister of ICT and National Guidance and PRAU Patron, Dr Chris Baryomunsi who was the Guest of Honor. The Symposium was attended by key players in the PR industry including; Yusuf Walusimbi, Brig. Gen. Felix Kulayigye, Julius Mucunguzi, Vianney Luggya, Hellen Nanteza, Sarah Kagingo, Jimmy Kibeeru, among others.
Among the key sponsors for the event are; Nation Media Group, National Agricultural Research Organization, UMEME Limited, Uganda Airlines, Electoral Commission, National Medical Stores, Parliament of Uganda, Uganda Breweries, Capital One Group, Stanbic Bank and Vivo
Others are Uganda Civil Aviation Authority, Uganda Electricity Generation Company of Uganda (UEGCL), Uganda Development Bank, Uganda Baati Ltd, National Water & Sewerage Corporation (NWSC), Centenary Bank, Uganda Printing & Publishing Corporation (UPPC) and Nile Breweries.
The National PR Symposium is a concept birthed by the current PRAU Governing Council led by the current President, Stephen Mwanga.
PRAU is the umbrella body of all private and public PR professionals, communication specialists, brand managers, mass communication & other related disciplines’ striving to promote PR excellence in Uganda.
The main purpose was to lay a platform onto which all communication professionals and key PR stakeholders in Uganda would meet to dialogue on pertinent issues relating to the communication trade in Uganda; aimed at strengthening the communication profession in Uganda.