Seeking PR excellence in the Middle East

 18 Nov 2013 - 3:41

By DR Mohamed Kirat

Are public relations’ departments doing what they are supposed to do? Are they professional? Do they enjoy the professional standards of PR to promote the organisation and make it successful? Are they building the corporate image of their organisation? Are they managing in a professional way the reputation of their corporation if it does have one in the first place?

The issue of communication value and how PR practitioners and CEOs should believe in PR and value it as a catalyst of democracy, transparency, objectivity, frankness and criticism has been debated for decades. Image building and reputation management are today’s public relations pillars and raison détre. Strategic management is another aspect of professional public relations, alongside symmetrical communication, external communication and more PR managers than PR technicians in the industry. The communication environment of the 21st century which is characterised by the significant role of social networks, digital media and electronic PR, needs professionals and highly qualified PR practitioners with values that promote excellent PR with a participative culture, organic structures, symmetrical systems of internal communication, and high job satisfaction among employees at all levels. This requires a maximum use of human resources. The stakes are very important given the fact that without a good image and a good reputation the organisation cannot survive and finds its way in a very competitive market and in a worldwide economic crisis that is threatening almost every business, economy and company. Public relations practitioners and departments should get rid of the culture of press agentry, propaganda and spin doctoring. They should rather focus on strategic management, evaluation, research, environmental scanning and public segmentation. More attention should be given to institutional and organisational communication, open communication with internal and external publics, and professional approaches to image building and reputation management. These professional standards and values require a high qualification of practitioners through continuing education and periodical workshops to keep up with the latest developments in the world of public relations and other related fields.

The profession of public relations remains one of the most polemical and controversial ones in most parts of the world. In the Middle East, after more than four decades of its practice, public relations is called ironically “the profession of who 

(s)he has no profession” and still suffers from a bad reputation and receives harsh criticism. Despite all this, public relations in the Middle East is growing rapidly. Government departments, businesses, educational institutions, welfare organisations, hospitals, political entities; sectors like tourism, sports, arts and the like are investing in public relations by setting up their own PR departments or outsourcing PR agencies. In addition, the teaching of public relations in colleges and universities in the Middle East is mushrooming and expanding at a very fast pace. There are more than 200 universities in the region offering PR degrees. Moreover, more than half of the students enrolled in Mass Communication departments in the Middle East specialise in public relations.

Everybody nowadays is talking about public relations but few raise the issue of standardisation, professional PR, symmetrical and managerial PR, professionalism and excellence. Today, public relations in the Middle East suffers from a poor reputation, lacks professionalism and focuses on publicity and press agentry. The challenges are huge and the stakes are even higher. 

How can we build a sustainable and successful industry in public relations in the Middle East? What are the opportunities and challenges?

The question to be answered is where to go from here? What to do to move forward towards professionalism and excellence in the profession benefitting from the Western experience, mainly in the US, the birthplace of PR and the country where most models and theories of public relations originated and were criticised and developed. To address the issue of PR professionalism and excellence, the status of PR should be analysed and assessed and the criteria of both professionalism and excellence should be studied thoroughly and carefully. Are people in the industry aware of such criteria? Are they trying to implement them? Is the social, economic, political, educational and cultural environment in the Middle East feasible for professionalism and excellence in the practice of public relations?

Talking about public relations professionalism and excellence in the Middle East is to raise issues related to knowledge and skills based on a body of theory developed through research. This is to assess the academic programmes in charge of qualifying students to meet the challenges of public relations in society. Are these departments and colleges teaching the right courses and skills and offering the right training to future PR practitioners? Does the community and society in general recognise the public relations profession as a provider of a unique and essential service? Is there enough autonomy in practice and acceptance of personal responsibility by practitioners? Are there codes of ethics and standards of performance enforced by PR societies and associations?

Concerning the topic of excellence in public relations, issues such as involvement of PR in strategic management, integrated PR function, having professional managers head PR units, as well as the practice of two-way symmetrical model of PR, symmetrical system of internal communication, ethics and integrity should be discussed and researched thoroughly and with deep concern and responsibility. Public relations in the Middle East played important roles and successfully supported various development plans in all sectors of life. 

However, the question to be asked is to what extent is the PR industry applying the parameters of professionalism and responding to the requirements of excellence in PR. It should be noted here that in addition to the ethical foundation and moral imperative, indicators of professional status include the following: Specialised educational preparation to acquire unique knowledge and skills based on a body of theory developed through research; recognition by the community of a unique and essential service; autonomy in practice and acceptance of personal responsibility by practitioners and codes of ethics and standards of performance enforced by a self-governing association of colleagues.

According to the excellence theory, the following are to be applied and respected: Involvement of public relations in strategic management; empowerment of public relations in the dominant coalition or direct reporting to senior management; integrated public relations function; public relations as a management function separate from other functions; public relations unit is headed by a manager rather than a technician; two-way symmetrical (or mixed-motive) model of public relations is used; department with the knowledge needed to practice the managerial role in symmetrical public relations; symmetrical system of internal communication and diversity embodied in all roles and ethics and integrity.

In Qatar, the profession of public relations is expanding and growing fast following the rapid development of the country. Major international PR agencies are catering to multinational companies and businesses operating in the country; ministries and government departments have their PR unit, Qatar university has been offering a major in PR for over a decade now, the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) has a Gulf chapter whose vice president is a Qatari national. 

The Middle East Public Relations Association (MEPRA) has as well a chapter in Doha and strives towards developing the profession and the practitioners. The challenges are important and with goodwill and determination, there is a chance to bring about professionalism and excellence in public relations in the region.

Dr Mohamed Kirat is a professor of Public Relations and Mass Communication in the Department of Mass Communication, Qatar University.

By DR Mohamed Kirat

Are public relations’ departments doing what they are supposed to do? Are they professional? Do they enjoy the professional standards of PR to promote the organisation and make it successful? Are they building the corporate image of their organisation? Are they managing in a professional way the reputation of their corporation if it does have one in the first place?

The issue of communication value and how PR practitioners and CEOs should believe in PR and value it as a catalyst of democracy, transparency, objectivity, frankness and criticism has been debated for decades. Image building and reputation management are today’s public relations pillars and raison détre. Strategic management is another aspect of professional public relations, alongside symmetrical communication, external communication and more PR managers than PR technicians in the industry. The communication environment of the 21st century which is characterised by the significant role of social networks, digital media and electronic PR, needs professionals and highly qualified PR practitioners with values that promote excellent PR with a participative culture, organic structures, symmetrical systems of internal communication, and high job satisfaction among employees at all levels. This requires a maximum use of human resources. The stakes are very important given the fact that without a good image and a good reputation the organisation cannot survive and finds its way in a very competitive market and in a worldwide economic crisis that is threatening almost every business, economy and company. Public relations practitioners and departments should get rid of the culture of press agentry, propaganda and spin doctoring. They should rather focus on strategic management, evaluation, research, environmental scanning and public segmentation. More attention should be given to institutional and organisational communication, open communication with internal and external publics, and professional approaches to image building and reputation management. These professional standards and values require a high qualification of practitioners through continuing education and periodical workshops to keep up with the latest developments in the world of public relations and other related fields.

The profession of public relations remains one of the most polemical and controversial ones in most parts of the world. In the Middle East, after more than four decades of its practice, public relations is called ironically “the profession of who 

(s)he has no profession” and still suffers from a bad reputation and receives harsh criticism. Despite all this, public relations in the Middle East is growing rapidly. Government departments, businesses, educational institutions, welfare organisations, hospitals, political entities; sectors like tourism, sports, arts and the like are investing in public relations by setting up their own PR departments or outsourcing PR agencies. In addition, the teaching of public relations in colleges and universities in the Middle East is mushrooming and expanding at a very fast pace. There are more than 200 universities in the region offering PR degrees. Moreover, more than half of the students enrolled in Mass Communication departments in the Middle East specialise in public relations.

Everybody nowadays is talking about public relations but few raise the issue of standardisation, professional PR, symmetrical and managerial PR, professionalism and excellence. Today, public relations in the Middle East suffers from a poor reputation, lacks professionalism and focuses on publicity and press agentry. The challenges are huge and the stakes are even higher. 

How can we build a sustainable and successful industry in public relations in the Middle East? What are the opportunities and challenges?

The question to be answered is where to go from here? What to do to move forward towards professionalism and excellence in the profession benefitting from the Western experience, mainly in the US, the birthplace of PR and the country where most models and theories of public relations originated and were criticised and developed. To address the issue of PR professionalism and excellence, the status of PR should be analysed and assessed and the criteria of both professionalism and excellence should be studied thoroughly and carefully. Are people in the industry aware of such criteria? Are they trying to implement them? Is the social, economic, political, educational and cultural environment in the Middle East feasible for professionalism and excellence in the practice of public relations?

Talking about public relations professionalism and excellence in the Middle East is to raise issues related to knowledge and skills based on a body of theory developed through research. This is to assess the academic programmes in charge of qualifying students to meet the challenges of public relations in society. Are these departments and colleges teaching the right courses and skills and offering the right training to future PR practitioners? Does the community and society in general recognise the public relations profession as a provider of a unique and essential service? Is there enough autonomy in practice and acceptance of personal responsibility by practitioners? Are there codes of ethics and standards of performance enforced by PR societies and associations?

Concerning the topic of excellence in public relations, issues such as involvement of PR in strategic management, integrated PR function, having professional managers head PR units, as well as the practice of two-way symmetrical model of PR, symmetrical system of internal communication, ethics and integrity should be discussed and researched thoroughly and with deep concern and responsibility. Public relations in the Middle East played important roles and successfully supported various development plans in all sectors of life. 

However, the question to be asked is to what extent is the PR industry applying the parameters of professionalism and responding to the requirements of excellence in PR. It should be noted here that in addition to the ethical foundation and moral imperative, indicators of professional status include the following: Specialised educational preparation to acquire unique knowledge and skills based on a body of theory developed through research; recognition by the community of a unique and essential service; autonomy in practice and acceptance of personal responsibility by practitioners and codes of ethics and standards of performance enforced by a self-governing association of colleagues.

According to the excellence theory, the following are to be applied and respected: Involvement of public relations in strategic management; empowerment of public relations in the dominant coalition or direct reporting to senior management; integrated public relations function; public relations as a management function separate from other functions; public relations unit is headed by a manager rather than a technician; two-way symmetrical (or mixed-motive) model of public relations is used; department with the knowledge needed to practice the managerial role in symmetrical public relations; symmetrical system of internal communication and diversity embodied in all roles and ethics and integrity.

In Qatar, the profession of public relations is expanding and growing fast following the rapid development of the country. Major international PR agencies are catering to multinational companies and businesses operating in the country; ministries and government departments have their PR unit, Qatar university has been offering a major in PR for over a decade now, the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) has a Gulf chapter whose vice president is a Qatari national. 

The Middle East Public Relations Association (MEPRA) has as well a chapter in Doha and strives towards developing the profession and the practitioners. The challenges are important and with goodwill and determination, there is a chance to bring about professionalism and excellence in public relations in the region.

Dr Mohamed Kirat is a professor of Public Relations and Mass Communication in the Department of Mass Communication, Qatar University.