Ghana's PR evolution: From errand boy to professional practitioner

Most high-level PR executives would balk at the prospect of having to run errands as part of their job. Yet that’s precisely what managers used to get their PR people to do during most of the post-independence years in Ghana. Their aim was to keep them as busy as possible to avoid engaging with the "troublesome nosey media," who they fobbed off with occasional press soirées and propaganda-style press releases.

The few exceptions were those multinationals in the mining and service industry who made genuine efforts to maintain professional PR units to support their industry agenda and interact, on the whole, with their own stakeholders.

It was no surprise PR played a supporting role to marketing, sales, and advertising, often taking place behind the scenes. This common state of affairs was frequently kept going by corporate cost analysis, which showed the first three departments raking in significant profits, while PR hardly made a mark anywhere.

Fortunately, the winds of change swept through the country during the early 1990s when multi-party democracy, liberalization, and media plurality brought a fresh dose of PR professionalism. Tired of years of military rule, the Fourth Republic reawakened a desire for truth and honesty. It did not matter that the former military junta leader had ditched his military fatigues for a civilian suit and tie. Where arbitrariness once reigned, the rule of law took over.

Gone were the days of only one state-owned national TV and radio station. Instead, we had two state-owned print newspapers and a state-owned newswire agency that spawned hundreds of privately owned TV, radio, print, and magazine businesses.

POPULATION  26.9 million (2016 CIA est)
POPULATION SPLIT 54% Urban (2015 CIA est)
CURRENCY  Ghanaian Cedi (GHS)
MAJOR LANGUAGES  English (Official)
AV LIFE EXPECTANCY  Male: 64 years, Female: 69 years (2016 CIA est)
GDP  $115.4 billion (2015 CIA est)
GDP PER CAPITA  $4,300 (2015 CIA est)
UNEMPLOYMENT RATE  5.2% (2013 CIA est)
INTERNET USERS  6.181 million (2015 CIA est)

State-owned Graphic Communications Group stable of newspapers comprising Daily Graphic, The Mirror, Graphic Business, Graphic Sports, and Junior Graphic; state-owned New Times Corporation's Ghanaian Times and Weekly Spectator; privately owned Daily Guide; privately owned Business and Financial Times
UTV, TV3, Viasat 1, Metro TV, Multi TV, state-owned Ghana Television
Multimedia Broadcasting Company's Joy Fm and affiliate stations, EIB's Starr Fm and networked affiliate stations, OMNI Media's Citi Fm and affiliates, state-owned Ghana Broadcasting Corporation's Radio Ghana and Regional Fm radio stations network, the Despite Group's Peace Fm and affiliates
AngloGold Ashanti, CAL Bank, GCB Bank, Ghana National Petroleum Company, Ghana Oil Company

Now, technology has led to scores of online news sites opening up a highly competitive, brand new media arena. Such proliferation has naturally led to greater press liberalization and freedom of speech. This, together with an open market economy, has created countless new opportunities for professional PR practitioners.

With any new growth industry, it’s no surprise to see a few charlatans eying up the bountiful, financial windfalls. That’s why we are pleased to see the involvement of a national professional body, the Institute of Public Relations (IPR) Ghana. This provides development, training, and accreditation opportunities to local pros and has helped in encouraging professionalism in the industry since its inception in 1992.

The result is an increasingly healthy PR industry across a wide variety of sectors. These include everything from oil, mining, and power to financial services and banking ¾ not to mention consumer goods, sports, entertainment, film, and telecommunications.

Clients also seek to ensure the pros they hire have a high level of expertise in everything from planning to implementation. This means clients expect PR pros to be dedicated, intellectually curious, and highly knowledgeable about the operations of the company. A one-size-fits-all generic approach has been replaced by well-researched, insight-driven strategies and counsel.

Currently, there are a number of top-class international PR agencies making inroads into Ghana. There are also a number of indigenous Ghanaian agencies that are highly ranked and well regarded.

Although great strides have been made since the days of errand boy PR, the evolution is still ongoing. Yes, there is now a general acceptance the PR function has to be more strategic, professional, and versatile ¾ especially in dealing with the fast pace of modern communications. Yet some industries and clients, grappling with dwindling budgets and difficult economic times, still need more convincing that a significant portion of their operational expenses should be directed toward PR.

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