A group of Cape Town public relations (PR) consultants are tackling their industry issues head on by proactively addressing skills development and industry transformation. Initiated by Brian Berkman, publicist and convenor of the industry networking platform, PR-Net, the group aims to enhance the profile of the public relations consulting industry and address issues experienced by Western Cape agencies in particular.
A steering committee, known as the PR-Net Brainstrust, came about after a shared need to meet with like-minded peers in a non-competitive environment to discuss challenges and opportunities within the local consulting industry.
"A major concern for the local industry is the significant gap between the expectations of PR professionals and the skills sets of graduates entering the market. We are also losing a significant number of promising black graduates to local corporates and Gauteng agencies, leaving Cape agencies lagging in industry transformation," says Berkman.
The Brainstrust consists of agency owners Brian Berkman, Leonard Solai of Denovo Communications, Wendy Masters of The Phoenix Partnership, Nicola Nel of Atmosphere and Rosemary Hare of Rosemary Hare Public Relations who is also chairperson of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology's Public Relations Industry Advisory Committee.
The sixth member of the team is Viv Gordon, owner of recruitment agency Viv Gordon Placements, who has more than 20 years' experience in recruiting and placing candidates for the communication industry.
Objectives for the group include enhancing the profile of the local PR consulting industry, identifying and implementing ways to improve skills sets of PR graduates, and attracting and retaining promising previously disadvantaged graduates to PR consulting. The team will also look at practical solutions to further support tertiary education institutions in their training efforts for students studying towards a communication qualification.
A survey of black graduates and entry-level professionals registered with Viv Gordon Placements found that 93% of the candidates were either in corporate or government positions. A mere 7% were in consulting.
"During interviews with graduates we found that although the majority had sufficient knowledge about corporate PR, they had very little understanding of what to expect in an agency environment. For example, very few candidates realized how much writing is involved in PR, a key performance area prescribed by all employers in the consulting sector," explains Gordon.
Hare explains that this can be attributed to students being educated by lecturers who usually have a corporate or academic background. "Examples and case studies are primarily corporate focused and students are rarely exposed to the reality of a PR consultancy. As a result, corporate positions are often perceived as preferable and more secure. We'd like to see the industry become more involved in developing and assessing student assignments, thereby setting a benchmark for industry expectations."
Masters, whose agency has guest-lectured at various tertiary institutions this past year, adds that it is imperative to intercept students early in their studies. "Many graduates admit that they are intimidated by the consulting industry because they feel they do not have the necessary skill sets to succeed in an agency. The Brainstrust encourages tertiary institutions to invite the industry to speak to students from as early as their first year and to dispel some of the myths that surround consulting. "
"The Brainstrust hopes to mobilize the local consulting industry to hone the way our trade will be practiced in future. At the same time entry-level professionals will gain much needed business experience," adds Solai who actively lobbies universities and business schools to place more emphasis on communication as a strategic business tool in tertiary and postgraduate programmes.
Nel concludes that the Brainstrust will promote the need for the industry to address transformation responsibly: "The reality is that sustainable transformation in the Western Cape is a long-term commitment and can only be achieved by attracting promising black graduates back to consulting. This is how we will set the tone to develop our industry's future senior management and business partners."
Western Cape consultants interested in participating in the Brainstrust's activities can send enquiries to .
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