GUEST COLUMN | Public Relations: Thought leadership, or just another bullshit profession?

Visibly heard: Time for PR professionals find their voices

By Archie Mathibela

Zimbabwe is a seller’s market where consultancy and employment opportunities are few and far between. The Public Relations profession is staring down a relentless onslaught from fringe opportunists and a lull in activity in local associations affecting practitioners and future career aspirants. Unlike other professions with a singular mandate, communicators face the risk of being subsumed into other disciplines as decision makers often feel the bottom line trumps the PR function.

Yet, in all this uncertainty, lies a terrific opportunity to elevate our role as brand navigators. Communication professionals need to proactively engage and share their experiences and knowledge and collectively reflect on major global issues affecting the profession. Beyond messaging and channel improvement, PR is really about guiding clients on how to act and nurturing relationships. In fact, PR associations need to be well resourced to deliver dividends for grassroots membership. Alliances with senior practitioners and Consultants who can provide high level strategic direction and thought leadership for the profession can positively influence corporate decisions.

Communicators should stay ahead of the pack leading conversations on the most topical issues of the day, shaping boardrooms of the future where women can engage in equal conversation with male colleagues. It’s time we engaged in robust debates and embraced a more proactive stance on socio-political issues, with thought leadership on themes that engender plurality. We must be in the game to influence it, guiding and offering professional counsel and staying ahead of the demand for transparency.

“Today’s influencers have more responsibility as their entire lives are lived in the public domain”

Top of their game communicators should join the fray to lend an authentic flair and stamp their authority on what the profession stands for, to redefine PR’s remit in the new scheme of things as a brand awareness, reputation and sales driver. After all, the future of human brands lies in empathetic brands, spawning a new wave of outward looking consumers demanding accountability in return for their purchasing power. Let’s identify stakeholders who are missing out on our services or lacking mainstream attention, and find a suitable, culturally sensitive medium with which to reach them.

In today’s fast paced environment, the only constant is change. Communicators need to be agile enough to spot trends that keep their personal brand fresh and relevant. There’s scope for practitioners to leverage on opportunities in organizational change and providing consultancy services to public and private sector actors. When prospective clients go through organizational transformation, they also create opportunities to grow PR related business and add value to the profession through training and consultancy opportunities – stay woke and grab those opportunities!

Today’s influencers have more responsibility as their entire lives are lived in the public domain. Practitioners can expand their sphere of influence by serving as the ‘conscience’ of the nation with professional counsel to public figures and celebrities now more visible as a result of social media and the 24 hour news cycle. There is an opportunity to consult for Leaders by steering them towards acts of greater good and sustainable impact in a society that often regards them as role models and beacons of integrity.

Time for PR to grab a seat at the table

Whether communicators are practising in-house or outhouse, we need to change our mindset in order to survive. It’s time to start thinking like entrepreneurs and create communication solutions for our African context. There is too much linear thinking for an industry whose survival is based on disruption and bucking trends. There is no silver bullet solution to our problems. Whether you are independent or part of a holding company, the winning strategy is to have the best talent in the industry to serve clients. Choose to thrive in an era of collaboration where PR and Marketing practitioners collaborate on projects instead of jostling for brownie points – there are no winners there. PR needs to grab a permanent seat at the table, painstakingly leading the way and opening up room for the next generation of talent to blaze a trail.

Skilled stakeholder Managers are key. Without them, our nation remains a disparate echo chamber of ideologues congregated in ethnic prejudice. It’s time we embraced our disparate ethnic heritage to add to the creative diversity needed in our industry as opposed to engaging run-of-the-mill ‘talent’ through familial and social networks. Professionals must re-emerge as the moral and ethical voice that tells brands what they should do.

How do we gain that credibility?

Practitioners need to have accurate information gathered through mastering insights and analytics. It’s the only way to make sense of the shifting sands of technological disruption across industries, politics and socio-cultural upheavals which calls for communicators to appreciate how technological platforms are shaping the business environment.

“PR is the last refuge for inspiring ideas and content… “

More research and analytics are necessary to get more information about stakeholders to deliver tailor made solutions that enhance their ever changing reality and provide clarity in a world filled with so much clutter. PR needs to bridge the gap between people’s aspirations versus the inevitable shortcomings of politics through coherent communication and stakeholder relations and measuring the outcomes of communications activities to gain insights into what makes key audiences tick.

PR remains the last refuge for inspiring ideas and content that moves society forward with thought provoking and hopeful stories that inspire citizens towards great things every day. Instead of consolidating shareholding in boutique PR agencies and creating local affiliates as has been the fashion worldwide in the past decade, there is need for more innovation to provide better value for clients. At the centre of this narrative of sustained energy and vibrancy are young creatives with unconventional thinking and an all-round fresh approach to things. As demand for engagement and credible, verifiable branded content soars, PR is poised to get its swagger back.


Archie Mathibela is a PR Consultant with Junechild Corporate Communications, a converged Public Relations and Marketing communications agency providing services to the Private Sector, Government and Civil society. Contact him on