Loth Makuza is a globally-recognised, award-winning and leading Communications Strategist. Loth is the founding and former President of Public Relations Society of Tanzania (PRST). Currently, he works as Chief Communication Strategist at Lighten Minds Group Ltd and advisory board member at Public Relations Society of Tanzania.
With high profile experience working in communication, Public Relations and Marketing, Loth has helped public, private and voluntary organizations and business develop and manage their corporate communications, marketing and reputation strategies, achieving key business objectives, and through periods of rapid change. We caught up with him in Dar es Salaam for an espresso and to talk about his recent news, as well as the evolution of the PR industry in Tanzania.
You recently participated in the East Africa Public Relations Week, which was held from 14 to 18 November 2022. What do you remember about this major event that brought together participants from the entire East African sub-region in Mombasa?
It was one of the big and influential event that brought together Communication and Public Relations stakeholders from across the East Africa region and discuss how communication professionals can play their role in meeting the sustainability goals. I remember how much we learned from different Gurus in communication industry. Every session had its own uniqueness with different speakers and topics, participants gained more than their expectations. The key topics featured discussions on sustainability, climate change reporting, the blue economy, the post-pandemic workplace, and impactful partnerships are the moments that I really remember and feel them.
You spoke during a session devoted to (Name of the session to be determined), particularly in Swahili. Why this choice of language over English, and what impact does it have on the practice of public relations in the region?
I was one of the Speakers during East Africa PR Week and my session was deliberately set in Kiswahili (Swahili) and the topic was: Wajibu wa Maafisa Uhusiano na Umma Katika Utengamano Wa Jumuiya ya Afrika Mashariki, this means “The Role of PR/Communication professionals in strengthening the East Africa Community”. The main agenda here was to make sure the Swahili language becomes a communication tool in East Africa, while we push our own mission and vision of East Africa as a strong and united region. We explored the role of PR professionals in bringing development in the region. We also touched the main challenges facing the industry in East Africa as well, and we talked on the ways and techniques to solve the problems facing the industry in the region.
The last hot and confusing point was why Kiswahili/Swahili language has not been given a priority as a communication tool in different public and private parastatals? We stressed on the importance of using Kiswahili/Swahili language as a communication tool in all and day to day activities at the HQ of East Africa Community based in Arusha City. And then we suggested when the Heads of Members States, Ministers, East Africa Legislation and Permanent Secretaries meet, Swahili language should be used as a communication tool. In order to attain and meet our goals as a region in East Africa, we must have a common language that unites all of us, which is Kiswahili/Swahili. Regardless of different Swahili accents spoken in the region, still we can be able to communicate and understand each other and make our region united and strong.
PRST has done a tremendous role in educating the employers to understand the importance of employing well-trained and competent PR professionals to their organizations. Thus, no one can be recognized as a communication/Public Relations officer until he/she is trained well from a well-recognized university or college.
You are the Co-Founder of the Public Relations Society of Tanzania (PRST), the leading organization for PR professionals in your country. What is the state of practice of the profession in Tanzania today?
I am so inspired by the achievement of Public Relations profession in Tanzania since the establishment of Public Relations Society of Tanzania (PRST) The number of professionals joining the association is increasing daily and this is due to good performance of PRST in Tanzania. The number of Communication experts who are employed by the government and private sector is growing compared to the previous years, when anyone who knows to speak in front of the media without communications skills could be employed as PR. PRST has done a tremendous role in educating the employers to understand the importance of employing well-trained and competent PR professionals to their organizations. Thus, no one can be recognized as a communication/Public Relations officer until he/she is trained well from a well-recognized university or college.
Therefore, the state of practice of Public Relations profession in Tanzania is encouraging and improving daily as long as PRST is implementing its role to nurture professional and quality practices of PR in Tanzania. As long as our vision becomes clear that PRST aims to become effective Public Relations professional body for guidance, promotion and overseeing the profession excellence in the country.
Tell us about the main challenges PR professionals face in Tanzania in practising their profession, and how the organization is helping to improve things?
The biggest challenge professionals face is not knowing their primary roles in their organizations they work with. Most of them are treated like cameramen, press release writers, preparing breakfast for their bosses and arranging for their travels, which all these are not strategic roles to any PR professional. To summarize the main roles of PR professional is to counsel the management at all levels in the organization with regard to policy decisions, courses of action and communications including crisis communication. To anticipate, analyse and interpret public opinion, attitudes and issues that might have an impact for good or ill. Doing research, Planning and Setting objectives, planning, budgeting and training staff etc. So, if we don’t understand what we should do in the organization as PR professionals, that’s a big challenge.
The biggest challenge professionals face is not knowing their primary roles in their organizations they work with. Most of them are treated like cameramen, press release writers, preparing breakfast for their bosses and arranging for their travels, which all these are not strategic roles to any PR professional.
PRST is working so hard to educate its members and expose what they should do in order for them to be able to deliver their primary roles in their organization. But also, PRST is helping all members understand how to perform and meet their organizational goals and access the C-Suite. Effective execution will lead more PR professionals to C-Suite levels in various sector and organizations, and this is the aim of PRST to prepare members by equipping them with relevant skills and knowledge for their future career.
Several PR organizations on the continent (Uganda, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana etc.) are very active in training, upgrading their members. What is the current status of PRST?
That is what PRST is doing, as one of the youngest national PR body in Africa, PRST has been learning a lot from other long time existing bodies like Public Relations Society of Kenya (PRSK), Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa (PRISA), Public Relations Association of Uganda (PRAU) and other bodies from Africa in general.
We always have yearly plan which consists of trainings, workshops, seminars, conferences with an intention to upgrade our members and improve their performance at their work places. We do this to make them updated and deliver and meet their organizational goals. It is always done in a rotational way going in different cities like the recently ended Science Communication Training and Workshop in Dar es Salaam and Mwanza City.
In your opinion, do brands in your country understand the importance of being accompanied by a PR agency in their communication?
As I mentioned in the previous questions, that we are inspired by the achievement of PR profession in Tanzania, and this goes in line with the awareness status of knowing that brands ca not stand alone without engaging to PR Agencies. Most successful brands in Tanzania are the ones which work directly and outsource PR agencies in making their brands firm and sustainable, and the few which do not engage PR agencies in their strategic roles do not perform well in the market.
What advice would you give to students who want to go into PR?
Public Relations is a booming industry and students with dreams to go into it should be aware that they will learn skills that will help them meet the dynamic changes of this exciting and growing sector which will make them more demanded in the market.
Public Relations specialisms are expanding too and those who graduate from this noble industry get employed in a number of areas like Crisis Management, Corporate Communication, Sponsorship and Internal Communication.
If you had the opportunity to have a coffee with an African public relations professional, who would you choose and why?
It’s a bit technical question, but I think my ambition is to meet with everyone who has done and played a part in this industry in order for me to learn and grow even better than I was before meeting them. It’s my goal to meet with all well experienced PR professionals from every nation in Africa. I would love to meet all Gurus in PR found in Africa and have a cup of coffee with.