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PRISA incoming President Tshepo Matseba on stimulating development and strengthening presence in the digital environment

August 22, 2012


First of all, congratulations on your new appointment as President of PRISA. You’re a young but experienced PR professional who brings enthusiasm and energy to the PR field in South Africa. You must be excited about this new challenge. Which are the main goals and initiatives you’ve set for the next 12 months?


Together with a team of the PRISA Board, Executive Management, and our various regional and consultancy chapters, we will provide strategic direction and governance to position PRISA as a leader of the public relations and communication management profession in southern Africa and beyond. To achieve this, I have to drive the PRISA team to do the following:


  • Create public and private sector partnerships to reinforce PRISA’s positioning as a professional body amongst public and private sector communicators, and raise the profession’s profile
  • Build a strong case to rebrand and reposition PRISA as an inspiring brand – one that professionals and different constituents are proud to be part of
  • Raise reasonable funding to support PRISA’s revenue
  • Create opportunities for ongoing dialogue on key strategic public relations issues
  • Leverage global partnerships to bring best practices from Fortune 500 companies to southern Africa
  • Continue to engage in a dialogue to create a self regulation framework for the PR/Communication profession and enforce PRISA’s code of good practices



Here are a few things that we need to speedily implement in order to fulfil our promise:


  • Redefine the PRISA brand essence, values, and identity
  • Fast-track the registration of our professional designations at the South African Qualifications Authority
  • Enhance benefits for our members to give them more value
  • Redefine our value proposition for public relations consultants
  • Crafting our Corporate member value proposition
  • Crafting a superior value proposition for the academic community
  • Crafting a sustainable value proposition for the student community
  • Designing and implementing a media plan to profile PRISA in relevant media as a thought leader in strategic corporate communication
  • Strengthen PRISA’s presence in the digital environment (web, social media, search engine optimisation)
  • Conceptualise and implement  a Regional Media & Communication Forum for PRISA on a quarterly basis
  • Produce PRISA’s strategic communication best practice guidelines in line with global standards



On your blog you state that “We have an obligation to ensure that public relations and communication management regains its stature in strategic business discourse to enable us to manage Africa’s reputation globally”. In which ways do you think PR and communication management can enhance Africa’s reputation as a whole turning its huge potential into a real asset?


Today, the majority of organisations and managers recognise that corporate communication goes far beyond spamming the media with high volumes of press releases.


Managing stakeholder groupings proactively, with emphasis on establishing sustainable and mutually beneficial relationships, can save organisations significant amounts of money that would otherwise have been spent on litigation. That is the role of strategic corporate communication. Corporate communication has evolved over the years into being one of the key strategic drivers of competitive advantage. Today, most successful organisations in South Africa and beyond recognise the value of having a sound strategy on how to engage strategically with stakeholders.


Corporate public relations is not limited to tactical day-to-day activities such as handling the media. It is about managing complex interests of different stakeholders, and managing the company’s reputation to ensure that the organisation is seen favourably by the key stakeholders.


One way to add value is to provide intelligence to help analyse the macro-external environment within which an organisation operates – and identify key strategic issues that are likely to influence the business.


Any industry that seeks sustainable growth must have a regulatory framework which governs entry and the conduct of its practitioners. The current reality of public relations is that there are no barriers to entry. Whilst an organisation such as PRISA can enforce its code of ethics and professional standards on its members, non-members are not obliged to follow this code of conduct, which really guides the actions of public relations professionals in Southern Africa.


As such, we need to fast-track legislation to ensure that the industry functions in line with global best practices and observes the code of conduct. Just as much as you need a license to operate as a medical practitioner, the same should apply to public relations – and we are working tirelessly with different stakeholders to get there.


The second challenge is maintaining professionalism. There are a significant number of highly professional practitioners in South Africa; however, a few less professional practitioners can do reputational damage to the entire industry.


We have put together task teams to formulate a common approach to managing these challenges. From these, a detailed discussion document will be produced which will serve as a basis for a regulatory framework.


There is also a shift towards accreditation to ensure that public relations practitioners conduct themselves in a responsible manner and follow consistent approaches to PR, in order to set the highest professional benchmarks in the country. In future, practitioners will be legally required to complete minimum qualifications and gain accreditation through a professional institute such as PRISA. On-going professional development will become a non-negotiable requirement for every practitioner who aims to operate in South Africa. Just like the legal, medical, or accounting profession, PR practitioners will have to earn their licence to operate and maintain it.



With its 11 official languages and the cosmopolitan nature of this population, South Africa is often referred to as the “rainbow nation”. Which are the main challenges deriving from such a diverse and multicultural set of stakeholders?


The diversity of our country provides public relations practitioners with an opportunity to draft communication strategies that are focused on the unique needs of the diverse publics. The notion of ‘one size fits all’ wouldn’t work at all in this environment. Communicators have to produce tailored messages to maximize return on investment.



Democracy is relatively new in South Africa, as it was established in 1994, 18 years ago. Which role did the media play in strengthening this new political landscape after the end of apartheid?


In an environment that is underpinned by freedom of speech, we have a robust media which contributes significantly to society as a watchdog over government, business, and civil society. The media in South Africa operates independently – that ensures that they tell stories as they happen, in an objective manner. However, there is still room for improvement, especially in terms of the quality of journalism, and we believe that this challenge extends to other parts of the world.



Talking about social media, how are they perceived and used in South Africa? Does PRISA consider them as a cornerstone in its strategy in order to enhance the relationship with its stakeholders?


Social media is one of the key channels that we use to engage with our stakeholders. Whilst this is still growing in South Africa, it is certainly not a platform that any organization can afford to ignore. A significant number of issues that are covered in the media emanate from social media interactions. Therefore, having a presence in social media not only helps us to stay in touch with our members, but enables us to participate in a social dialogue on reputation management and strategic communication.



Let’s have a focus on the reality of PRISA. Which are the main bodies the Institute relates to? Do you deal mainly with PR professionals or do you also manage relationships with the public sector and the academia?


PRISA’s membership spans business, government, civil society and academia. In South Africa the profession is gaining recognition among business leaders for the impact it delivers on the bottom-line. Government has also recognised the professional’s contribution to effective communication by upgrading the public relations and communication management posts within its departments to chief director level.



Which are the main services PRISA offers to expand its members knowledge and raise the profession’s standards?


PRISA encourages the participation of PR Consultancies, individual members in business, and academia in its programmes and activities. By ensuring that academics receive CPD points for their research dissertations, they are encouraged to grow the body of knowledge by sharing the benefits to practitioners of their research. In order to bring academia and practice closer together, articles are published and presentations are made at PRISA events.


Members have access to a wealth of best practices on the PRISA website and through our quarterly journal, the Communika.



At the PRISM Awards PRISA held in Johannesburg in March, the Splash PR and Media Consultants has won the overall Gold Award for its ‘Vote for Table Mountain’ public relations campaign. What are the key aspects of excellence of this project?


We wouldn’t want to single out a specific campaign as all PR consultancies that we represent produce excellent campaigns with emphasis on creating long-term value for their clients. We are pleased with the quality of campaigns that we have assessed recently in the PRISM awards.



At the beginning of June PRISA held a successful Annual Conference on the theme “the power of PR”. In your opinion, what is the power of Public Relations in today’s context? And focusing on the South African reality, how can PR contribute to create collaboration and dialogue between business, government and civil society to enhance South Africa’s to growth and development?


The power of public relations lies in the principle of reputation management, which is a key strategic driver in business today – as such, as public practitioners, we have a significant role to play in stakeholder engagement as outlined in the King III report on corporate governance. This is a critical area for competitive advantage and therefore necessitates an organisation of PRISA’s calibre to set the tone regarding ethics and professional standards ensure that practitioners apply best practices in line with global trends.


Every aspect of public relations is fascinating for me, from strategic communication planning, crisis communication, media relations, stakeholder engagement, and corporate social investment. But the most appealing part of my responsibility at PRISA is crafting a vision and strategic map on reputation management which is about the initiatives that organisations undertake to position themselves favourably in the minds of their stakeholders. In a nutshell, we set the agenda regarding how organisations are perceived by their various stakeholders.



At the Annual Conference another key theme was “Green PR”. In your view, how can PR help South African companies in effectively building and communicating their commitment towards sustainability ?


We have the relevant expertise and experiences in different industry regarding what needs to be done to achieve sustainability. The challenge is to get business to genuinely buy into sustainability as opposed to merely funding social responsibility programmes. PR practitioners are playing a critical role in spearheading sustainability as pioneered in the King III report and businesses are fast realizing the importance of sustainability, but there is still much to be done.