“The future belongs to those who not only know public relations, but also know business—and who can think strategically and write.” – Jeff Conley, partner in Stratacomm, Washington, D.C, quoted in PR Tactics
Have you ever wondered why one professional can be more successful than the other? Ever asked yourself why do some PR careers derail while others take off and soar? I am sure you have also pondered over what factors contribute most to success in public relations. Is it the contacts, communication skills, experience or…? In my opinion, all the aforementioned and other factors contribute to a professional’s success in what I have come to call “Corporate Journalism”.
Having said this, I want to look at what it takes to succeed in the practice of public relations in our own back yard – Ghana. To do this, i want to throw the spotlight on one lady I have admired from afar and the current Institute of Public Relations Ghana’s (IPR Ghana) PR Discovery of the Year winner, Gifty Osei-Boakye Bingley , whose meteoric rise in the PR profession, as far as Ghana is concerned is not only commendable but worth looking at.
If you never knew, let me start off by pointing out that Ms. Bingley used to be a journalist with one of Ghana’s leading television network TV3, where she rose through the ranks from Broadcast Journalist to Head of News and Deputy Editor in charge of Assignments. After a decade with the inky fraternity, she finally called it a day and embraced public relations as her new found love.
I remember meeting her at the British High Commission in Accra on one occasion. I knew there and then that the face was familiar but couldn’t put a name to it. After some moments of quizzing myself, I remembered she was the lady who used to read the news. What was she doing here? I asked myself. Later on, I realised that she had quit journalism some years back and no one needed to tell me she was doing well in her new adventure.
The trajectory for her after the British High Commission has been upward; as Ms. Bingley has had a stint with Vodafone Ghana and is currently flourishing at Tigo Ghana, where she has made outstanding contributions to the corporate communications function of the telecommunications company and the country as a whole.
At this point in her career, I know her accomplishment cannot be compared to that of some older and established professionals but I believe Ms. Bingley’s story just like others gives a good indication of what young professionals in Ghana need to do as far as succeeding in the field of public relations is concerned.
In looking at her professional life and that of others, who are making a mark and being discovered, I have come to realise that they share a few things in common and to follow in their great steps one needs to;
- Be addicted to the media
A public relations person should be someone who absorbs large quantities of information and always tracking trends or issues which can impact an industry, employer, or client. Thus, a good understanding of the media is key. PR professionals need to be aware of their audience and who is wielding influence for that audience.
In our current professional setting, being aware of the symbiotic relationship between traditional media and the new media is crucial and knowing how they can be used to amplify communication is a skill employers look out for.
Furthermore, an understanding of where the conversations are happening and where you and your organization can and must get involved is important. For someone like Ms. Bingley you just need to follow her on social media and will immediately realise that she is always on top of issues.
Personally, I believe her background in journalism has helped her tremendously with media relations; as she is in constant touch with what’s going on around her and how she reacts to it. On a normal day, you find her either contributing to a discourse related to the profession or giving her opinions on issues which are either social or political in nature.
- Ensure transparency and practice ethically
The practice of public relations can present unique and challenging ethical issues. Compromising as a professional may not come with an immediate cost to you or your client but it definitely does. If you don’t believe this, have a look at the recent Volkswagen Crisis. Thus, protecting one’s integrity and the public trust of an organisation are fundamental to the professionals role and reputation.
Topics like Transparency, Trust and Legitimacy have gained currency in recent times and has become a core value not just organizations but professionals as well. Thus, it becomes imperative that PR professional do not withhold information from the public distort reality, dabble in needless propaganda, and have a biased approach towards certain issues.
As a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, UK, Ms. Bingley isn’t only enjoying an international accreditation but has also by her association signed up to practice in an ethical manner because these associations demand that their members uphold the highest ethical standards of the profession.
It comes as no surprise to me that she has been recognised recently, because since starting Tigo’s Corporate Communications and Responsibility function in July 2014, she has made some tremendous impact by telling Tigo’s story across multiple channels and to various stakeholders, helping reinforce the company’s position as a Digital Lifestyle brand.
- Embrace and employ the use of social media
Today’s public relations requires expert knowledge of social media and the art of engaging in a conversation with multiple audiences in real time. It has become a glaring reality that conversations about brands (individuals and organisations) have moved to social media and thus mastering the social media universe (insta-messaging, blogging, vloging, RSS, SEO, etc) is an add-on skill every professional should embrace.
For professionals like Ms. Bingley, I can say without fear or fervour that with their current approach to the practice of the profession, they will continue to always lead the pack. I have been following her on social media and can say that she is an avid user social media and has embraced several platforms, which she uses in her line of work as a listening tool for her organisation.
She is what I call will call a ‘social’ professional and you will find her either posting on Facebook, Tweeting or blogging. A couple of months ago, she impressed me, when she took engagement with Tigo’s existing customers and prospects to another level by organising a Twitter chat. In an era where organisations (especially telcos in Ghana) will not flirt with the thought of having a chat with customers, she took that daring approach and the results of this action, I believe were good for the brand she represents.
- Always remember the basics
No matter the changes the profession will experience in the future, public relations basically has and will always be about excellent writing and presentation skills. These are still fundamental if you want to survive in the modern day practice of the profession. Probably that explains the reason why some companies engage ex-journalists like Ms. Bingley who possess very good writing and presentation skills to start or fill PR roles.
Also, remember that public relations has and will always be about establishing and maintaining relationships. Being objective isn’t the last resort but the first response in this vein. Sometimes, you have to be the voice of your audience with management. What stories will fly and what won’t? As a professional, striving to put that at par even when seeking the interest of those who “butter your bread and sugar your Koko” is the way to go.
- Make continuous education a part of your daily life
In the last decade, the practice of public relations has changed dramatically. With the emergence of new technologies and approaches, the profession is assuming a new outlook and thus those who do not keep up with the changing scenes will be left behind and at worst become irrelevant.
Making a conscious decision to pursue continuous education through reading, seminars, and short courses should be part of anyone who wants to practice professionally.
Again, being knowledgeable about areas such as business, economics, and the triple bottom-line i.e. profits, the environment, and sustainability are things that PR practitioners need to equip themselves with, as the role of businesses in society is fast changing.
Ms Bingley is a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (UK) and the Institute of Public Relations Ghana (IPR Ghana). Both professional associations encourage continuous learning and development for members.
On several occasions, I have seen her share photos of books she has bought for her personal library and that in many ways have encouraged some of us to never relent on upgrading our knowledge base. For anyone with plans and dreams of following in her footsteps, you don’t need to be told. Watch and learn.
- Avoid the technician mentality
To be successful in this ever-changing profession, one needs to hone their ability to be a strategic thinker and do creative problem solving. A career in PR always present countless opportunities to be creative, not only in terms of writing but also in coming up with new ways to promote businesses and approaching new clients.
The profession is constantly seeking fresh ideas and lateral thinking on how to approach issues and problems, so having or developing a creative thinking can be a crucial skill to bring you to career success. I admire what Ms. Bingley has been doing so far since she joined the ranks of Tigo Ghana. She has been involved in very laudable social intervention programs like the Mobile lab and the Shelter for Education projects; projects which are ‘social-centric’ in nature and to all intents seeking to create value for the community.
- Develop your research skills
Having an in-depth knowledge of research and evaluation strategies as an integral part of the PR profession because it became crucial when one has to plan a campaign. A PR person needs to be a good researcher in order to communicate accurately and authoritatively on a subject.
In order to succeed and stand out in the profession, you will have to keep track of fast-paced markets and be knowledgeable about your clients and their needs, keep up-to-speed with current affairs and enjoy learning about new markets. As one of my lecturers at GIJ used to say, being inquisitive should not be second nature of only a Journalist but a PR professional.
Just have a look at the Shelter for Education initiative by Tigo Ghana and all the initiatives Ms. Bingley has been involved in and you will realise that a lot of research went into finding out the needs of the stakeholders involved.
What are your thoughts on succeeding in public relations in Ghana? Let’s have a conversation.