Public relations has unique challenges in South Africa, such as skills shortages. Although PR has to take global social media into account, it must also remember that most South Africans don’t have access to the Internet, but they do have cell phones. The South African PR industry also needs to deal with public misconceptions, as some businesses don’t consider PR to be part of business strategy. If the PR industry is more aware of these factors, then it can make changes or, at least, try to work around them.
More skilled people are needed
According to IPRA.org, a major challenge in the South African PR industry is the fact that there are not enough senior candidates. This is partly due to immigration and partly due to PR people moving into other industries. Many people involved in PR tend to take more lucrative (and supposedly more ‘respectable’) paths, such as marketing or even journalism. This means that not enough people stay put to gain the relevant experience.
Due to the skills shortages, many smaller boutique agencies have emerged. These operations are tightly run, both personnel wise and budget wise. According to IPRA.org, smaller agencies are sometimes wary to ‘think big’, as this costs big. An effective agency, however, knows how to get around this, and even use it to its own advantage by offering more personalised client attention, for example.
The public in South Africa doesn’t know what PR consultants actually do. The general perception is that they simply organise events! Of course, there’s more to PR, and businesses needs to realise this. According to IPRA.org, a PR consultant should be seen as a skilled professional who doesn’t simply issue press releases, but who also plays a critical role in business strategy.
New PR and communications graduates have their own misconceptions. According to IPRA.org, young South Africans tend to have a slightly insular world-view, and this sometimes comes into play when they start work at a PR agency. They have trouble seeing the bigger picture, so it’s important that PR companies take time to guide and mentor them.
Role of technology
According to Marie Yossava (Grapevine Communications), the media landscape in South Africa has changed dramatically over the years. Media used to only comprise of print and broadcast, but the Internet has changed all of that. Although South Africa has always had a smaller media base compared to its global counterparts, social media has revolutionised the way PR is done.
According to Yossava, the most effective PR/marketing vehicle in South Africa is via cell phones (SMS specifically), as the mobile market has 100% saturation. In cities, many young people have web-enabled phones, so social media can be easily used to grab their attention (Bridgebuzz.com).
South African PR professionals know that they can’t rely on traditional media as much as they used to, and they need to embrace digital means, particularly mobile and SMS technology. They also need to understand that businesses aren’t quite aware of their strategic roles, and they should aim to change that perception. Although there are no quick fixes to these challenges, having an awareness of them can help the industry to move forward.