How to avoid crude insult in political public relations, by Abdullahi A Maiwada

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Abdullahi Aliyu Maiwada

The primary function of public relations (PR) is to enhance the reputation of a brand and build a positive image of that brand among the public, potential customers, partners, investors, employees, and other stakeholders. This gives the brand an appearance of honesty, transparency, and responsibility.

In politics, public relations is a strategic communication process used by politicians to build a mutually beneficial relationship with the public. For clarity’s sake, PR is an important component of the work of politicians.

People tend to have a simplistic view of public relations in politics, believing that it only involves news management and media relations. Nevertheless, this approach omits other critical areas.

Even though I often disagree with the views of our able Professor from Atalanta about certain issues, I think his point about the way we practice political public relations in this part of the world is apt. Our so-called PR managers have cultivated the culture of crude insult as a tool to get ahead of their political opponents and as well sustain their political goodwill. Crude insult of opponents can never be a tool for persuasion. It is time we redefine political public relations by putting a round peg in a round hole. PR is about strategic communication, it’s not reporting as obtainable in journalism.

My communication colleagues from the other side of the divide often disagree with me. Some assume they can swiftly transit at the peak of their career from newsroom to top PR position. I believe they can do that if they procedurally pass through the rigour and rudiments required to understand and practice Public Relations. Undergoing four courses at the undergraduate level as a Mass Communication graduate is not enough reason to parachute and accept a top PR position. You must take your time to master the profession just the way you cannot automatically accelerate from a cub reporter in a few years to assume the role of editor in chief in a newsroom. You have to pass through the ranks. Why then do people think they can overnight succeed in a PR position without the requisite experience and knowledge? PR is more than the ability to speak and write good grammar.

Some of our political actors sometimes have a misperception that popular TV presenters, prolific newspaper columnists, desk editors or mastery of English language are the yardstick for assigning sensitive PR positions. This is wrong and the reason some of our PR practitioners are seeing PR only from the prism of publicity and bribing newspaper editors to ‘kill the story’.

PR is about persuasive communication to get the buy-in of your public. According to Prof Farooq Kperogi in his article titled ‘Verbal Primitivism as PR in an Election Year’, “Persuasion takes time and work. Even at its best, it is often a gradual process consisting of small, incremental changes at a time. Crude insults don’t persuade; they only lead to a boomerang effect. Smart persuaders don’t mimic the tactics and strategies of critics. While critics tear down, persuaders build up. And they can disarm critics with grace, warmth, and facts (if they have fact, that is)”.

When I decided to explore Internal Communication as my final and ultimate academic journey in PR, my extensive review of related literature relevant to my topic humbled me more to affirm my position that Public Relations is so diverse and not limited to media relations or publicity. This suggests the need for practitioners and regulators to do more PR for PR. This will mitigate the flagrant abuse of this noble profession in this part of the world.

Even though my specialization during my MSc in Mass Communication is Public Relations and Advertising (PRAD), I have never for once written a piece on Advertising because I feel inferior to comment deeply on what I have never practised.

For those that ignorantly equate PR with propaganda, my over a decade of practice of public relations made me identify and keep close contact with practitioners and academics that have carved a niche within different fields of public relations. Be it Crisis Communication (Cricom), Reputation Management, Community Relations, Internal Communication (IC), Digital Public Relations, Government Relations, Media Relations and many other areas.

To handle a political office holder as a PR person is not just about having peripheral knowledge of Public Relations, one needs to have a deep mastery of political public relations and political communication in its entirety.

It is ridiculous for people out of self-deceit to think the knowledge of the newsroom alone or popularity as tv/radio presenters are enough to take the bull by the horn and accept a sensitive PR position. I remember assigning my video editors to perform a function they are not familiar with, they outrightly direct me to the right person to deliver that job. It is good we gauge ourselves and draw a line between what we have the requisite competence and knowledge to do and what we cannot do. Jack of all trades Master of all is almost a mission impossible, while jack of all trades master of none is just more like blind leading a blind they will be heading towards a disruptive destination.

Abdullahi Aliyu Maiwada is a Public Relations Practitioner based in Abuja. He can be reached via: abdulmaiwada@yahoo.com

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