Communication is certainly a tool for development. It is generally used to support development initiatives by way of disseminating effective messages which will encourage one's publics to support development-oriented projects.
Public relations, it is said, is the management function that establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organisation and the publics on whom its success or failure depends.
The public relations officer (PRO) is one person who establishes a good relationship between an organisation and its stakeholders.
The PRO, therefore, ensures that there is a mutual and effective understanding between two or more entities in a way that, to a very large extent, brings about peace and harmony in national development.
The PRO takes positive steps to achieve goodwill, takes action to safeguard reputation and creates both internal and external relationships.
Undoubtedly, his/her functions transcend the boundaries of his or her organisation. The nature of the public relations profession is now becoming more challenging as a result of sophistication.
The wider perspective of the profession, therefore, requires much stamina and intellectualism. Some of the challenges which the profession must brace itself up to face are in the areas of democratic and economic development, good governance, crisis management, research and evaluation.
All PROs must wake up and face these challenges head-on, because a key skill for public relations will be not to see every problem as a nail and every solution as a hammer.
They have to go into national debates and explain to the people of Ghana that effective public governance helps to strengthen democracy and human rights, rule of law, promote economic prosperity and social cohesion, reduce poverty, enhance environmental protection and the sustainable use of natural resources, and deepen confidence in government and public administration.
PROs have to help in national debates which promote public sector transparency and accountability.
As communicators, they should not look at themselves as armchair officers, but must move some miles ahead to encourage our politicians to correct and sustain macroeconomic imbalances, reduce inflation and undertake key trades, exchange and other market reforms needed to improve efficiency and sustained economic growth.
Also, a more proactive approach in advocating policies and the development of institutions and administrative systems which eliminate the possibility for bribery, corruption and fraudulent activity in the management of public resources must be heralded.
The Institute of Public Relations (IPR) should also draw up an agenda which prompts it to go all out to tackle all other relevant aspects of national development, including production of an economic surplus and the promotion of social and cultural integration.
It should as well endeavour to promote homogeneity among the national population that is strained by diversity. It also has the daunting task of explaining some of the attributes which promote distinctiveness in our livelihood.
It is also relevant that the institute works hard at linking all the superpower economies with Ghana. There should also be a sort of economic alliance which will break down all the trade barriers between Ghana and these economic powers.
Perhaps the best and the shortest way to strike this economic alliance is by speeding the demise of the last vestiges of protective barriers through the use of fiber-optic cables linking computers, telephones, facsimiles and the Internet.
It is believed that the global marketplace thrives on this rapidly developing global telecommunication system.
The task for the institute, therefore, is to bring all economic forces together and link their activities and products in order to accrue the desired goals of the various organisations they represent.
From a tiny spark, it is said, comes a great conflagration. This gives a clue apropos the enormity of the task for PROs in managing crisis.
The world today is a fragile one in which hardly a day passes by without us hearing of one industrial strike action or the other or some stakeholders withdrawing their membership from a particular organisation.
It is against this background that the public relations practitioners in Ghana who are engaged in any business organisations, small or large, private or public, should have a crisis management plan afoot.
They should as well bear in mind that whatever their positions are within a company, they will not be the only people affected by a crisis.
And insofar as they occupy a position to influence or manage crisis, they should consider themselves fortunate. But if things go so badly, at least they had a shot at controlling their own destinies, for there is simply no valid reason why a PRO should not know where the flashlights are kept.
More important is the urgent need for a research to be commissioned before any public relations programme is planned out.
This will always produce desirable measures or indicators for a smooth kick-off. On some occasions some practitioners are gripped by fear just at the mere mention of research.
It is, however, usually thought that research belongs to only the long-bearded intellectuals. But it must be understood that most public relations work includes a considerable amount of research, since it is basically a process of organising perception and experience.
And for an effective execution of public relations programme, the practitioner has to employ the techniques of motivation research, opinion research and market research which have been evolved to provide solutions to any kind of problem or challenge.