Public communication & credibility

Alauddin Masood

FOR success and glory in this highly competitive world, an organization should not only be efficient but it should also look efficient to the people otherwise even its good performance could remain unacknowledged and unappreciated quite often. It means that the top management of every organization should be aware of the wide spectrum of the media available for interaction with the people and also intelligent enough to select the most appropriate media of choice of each and every segment of the society. As the cure for a malaise can only begin after its right diagnosis, likewise, the selection of right media and technique is crucial for the penetration of messages into the target groups. Identification of the problem (malaise) that one wishes to address and forceful interaction with the circles where that problem exists (through the media of choice of each and every circle) is the basic and prime job of persons engaged in scientific public communication, which is popularly called Public Relations, Public Affairs/Information, Public Diplomacy, etc.
We can identify the dimension and nature of the problem through research, which also enables PR practitioners to find out the public reaction to their organization’s plans/policies/activities or their negative perception about its activities. In other words, research is the first basic, vital and crucial step for any meaningful and result-yielding interaction with the people. Acting as the early warning system, research enables the communication experts to identify a problem before its eruption or assuming alarming proportions. Furthermore, it enables PR professionals to locate the groups of people having negative perceptions, their geographical/demographic characteristics, and media of choice as well as biases and the reasons for the existence of negative perceptions. Equipped with this knowledge, the communication experts can apprise top leaders about the likely emerging situation, aimed at making necessary changes/amendments in the policies and plans, or disseminating messages to groups having negative perceptions through the media of choice of each and every group or their peers and leaders.
However, in Pakistan, a majority of our organizations engage in communication efforts without strategically planning their programmes/projects and then measuring the results of their communication efforts periodically. In most of the cases they do not have any programme for the “internal publics” (organization’s employees, executives, management, shareholders etc.) although such programmes have a vital bearing on the efficiency of workers and success of their organizations. Furthermore, in societies like ours, most of the persons engaged in public communication remain engaged in performing the easy job of highlighting the activities of their bosses or publicizing the policies and activities of their organizations without periodically assessing their impact or public reaction to those policies. Hence the leaders remain deprived of benefitting from the early warning system that can be developed on the basis of research data. To remain abreast about the public sentiments, President Ayub Khan had established Bureau of National Research and Reconstruction (BNR&R) and Pakistan National Centre, manned by competent persons. However, over the years, BNR&R became a parking lot for the dead wood in the information set-up. Instead of strengthening, these institutions were disbanded by General Musharraf in 1999.
The fact remains that like the discipline of health, engineering, education, etcetera, Public Relations is an ancient discipline, which also attracted the attention of classical philosophers like Aristotle and Cicero who wrote whole treatises on it. However, in Pakistan we have yet to officially recognize Public Relations as a distinct profession, frame its code of ethical conduct and set-up a regulatory authority, following the precedents of the developed countries where it has been officially defined and its ethical parameters notified through official gazettes. For instance, the official notification issued by the French Ministry of Information, on 23rd October, 1964, appeared in the official gazette – Journal Official de la Republic Francaise – on 1st November, 1964; while the government of Britain defined it in 1969. Most of the developed countries, including the US, and the International Public Relations Association (with headquarters at The Hague) have well-defined Codes of Ethics and the PR practitioners have to adhere to those codes of ethics. This brings to the fore the need for setting-up a PR regulatory body for the registration of qualified PROs and for ensuring that only registered PROs are allowed to engage in communication activities, adhering to the ethical code of conduct. These measures would rid the society of unfounded tall claims made by service-providers or manufacturers of products, etc.
This means that we have yet to make a beginning for laying the foundation of a sound PR discipline that can serve as an early warning system or first defence against any negative perceptions about the organization that may be brewing in the minds of the public. For want of this, some people in this country have fanciful ideas about PR, believing it to be a service that uses gimmicks to achieve its goals and purposes, or that every Tom, Dick and Harry can practice it without acquiring any education or gaining knowledge, insight and experience. The fact remains that enlisting public support or transforming hostile public opinion into favourable opinion is a tedious and difficult job, requiring great skill, expertise and constant contact with the “publics” (both internal and external) so as to remain abreast of their aspirations, moods and sentiments. Unless we start practising PR, both in letter and in spirit, we would neither be able to improve the country’s image globally nor improve the credibility of our organizations and thereby increase our exports significantly or get rid of agitations, demonstrations, sit-ins, strikes, etc. The day we succeed in this mission, Pakistan’s efforts would start getting recognition and the country would then emerge as an important member of the global community.
— The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

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