(Naole Media) In an era marked by dynamic shifts in communication paradigms, Tina Wamala stands at the helm of the Public Relations Association of Uganda (PRAU), steering the course of the profession into uncharted territory. With a decade of experience as the President of PRAU and a distinguished career as a communications specialist, Wamala is a vanguard of change in the Ugandan public relations landscape. In an exclusive interview, she sheds light on the evolution of the PR profession, challenges it currently faces, and her strategic initiatives to elevate the standards of communication and professionalism. From harnessing the power of technology to fostering skillset upgrades and fostering regional collaborations, Wamala’s insights offer a glimpse into the future of PR in Uganda.

How would you describe the evolution of the public relations profession in Uganda over the last decade, and what significant changes have you seen during your tenure as President of the Uganda Public Relations Association?

There are so many changes I have observed in the last decade but for purposes of this interview I will mention three. We can’t underscore the role of technological advancement in supporting and amplifying communication, which has led to the rapid growth of digital communication and social media. Technology has had a profound impact on the PR industry globally, with Uganda being no exception. Social media has allowed PR practitioners to engage with the public, disseminate information, receive feedback and manage crises. Organisations have started appreciating PR as a critical role in business and organisational success. Organisations now realise that reputation management, stakeholder engagement, and continual engagement with the public are success factors that they can’t downplay. PR is gradually evolving from being seen as a tactical function to more of a strategic function, whose contribution to the overall organisational objectives and success are critical. Lastly collaboration with media has been strengthened, with a reinforced approach to story generation and storytelling, benefitting both parties and the audiences alike.

Could you elaborate on the main challenges that the public relations industry in Uganda currently faces, and what steps are being taken under your leadership to address these challenges?

PR in Uganda is unregulated meaning it is difficult to regulate who joins the profession or claims to be a PR practitioner. As a result PRAU’s membership entry is voluntary in nature not compelling practitioners to join the umbrella body. There is no standard code of professional conduct that defines the framework for PR practice in the country which leads to incidences of unethical PR practices that go unchecked. If statutory recognition is realised, it shall offer a framework for guidance and regulation for PR practice in Uganda. This shall include streamlining how one can join the PR profession, a clear Code of Conduct that all members of the profession should adhere to, a clear structure for Continuous Professional Development, minimal academic qualifications/experience, strengthening systems for restraining unethical practices, among other considerations.

There continues to be a significant number of practitioners and organisations that misinterpret or appreciate PR. Some practitioners commence their careers as novices without acquiring some training or mentorship to aid their conceptual and practical understanding of the profession. This has resulted in significant misunderstandings about what PR is, and the value that it brings to an organisation. Some of the initiatives we aim to undertake include designating and implementing campaigns to enhance better understanding and appreciation of PR practice in Uganda, profile and amplify the image of the PR practice in Uganda, including best practices and implement thought leadership engagement that aim to position PR as a strategic organisational management position to mention but a few. 

You recently led a benchmarking visit to the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority to discuss crisis management best practices. What key insights or lessons did you gain from this experience, and how do you plan to apply them within the PR Association of Uganda?

As part of our capacity building drive we regularly embark on benchmarking visits to Corporate Organisations to learn and exchange best practices in the PR industry. Our visit to Uganda Civil Aviation Authority was intentional because we know how turbulent the aviation industry is, and over the last few months we have witnessed how effectively they have managed several crises. Amongst the critical tips we learnt was to anticipate potential crises that your organisation may face and develop mitigation plans to address these. The visit also emphasised the importance of having a comprehensive crisis management plan in place, that is well defined and that outlines roles, responsibilities and procedures during a crisis. They also spoke candidly about being transparent and apologetic to your audience if your company is in the wrong, and to pay keen attention to the complaints of your audience. They mentioned transparency and open communication with various stakeholders, providing regular updates, accurate information and addressing concerns promptly as important drivers during a crisis. They also touched on monitoring the conversations on social media because of the significant role of social media during a crisis, and to actively engage, respond to complaints and comments and address misinformation circulating online.

Effective communication is crucial in project planning and implementation. Can you share some of the key issues discussed during your meeting with the Uganda Intergovernmental Fiscal Transfer Program Communication Focal Persons, and how do you envision improving communication practices in future projects?

During my meeting with the Uganda Intergovernmental Fiscal Transfer Program Communication Focal Persons we spoke about PR not being a reactionary function as most people assume, but more of a proactive function and the importance of preparation for all PR practitioners in creating impact for their organisations. We talked about the significance of having a communication strategy developed for all key activities, setting clear objectives, knowing your target audience, having key messages for effective communication. We discussed the need to develop concise messages that project the projects purpose, goals and intended outcomes to the different target groups. We talked about the creative channels that can be used to disseminate the information (including utilising technology) and the need for the strategy to be developed at project planning stage and assessed at regular intervals of the project. We also touched on regular monitoring and evaluation of their communication efforts to assess their communication effectiveness, including gathering feedback from stakeholders, measuring the reach and impact of their communication and the need to reset their communication efforts as and when required. Lastly we benchmarked on successful campaigns, and identified key levers that made those campaigns a success that the practitioners could emulate.

It’s been mentioned that under your leadership, the Artfield Institute of Design and the Public Relations Association of Uganda have partnered to foster a skillset upgrade for PR professionals. Could you provide some details about this partnership and the specific initiatives or programs aimed at enhancing the skills of PR practitioners?

We have noted over time that many organisations expect PR practitioners to be multiskilled and multifaceted, as a cost saving strategy to avoid outsourcing agencies or professionals who possess multimedia skills. Our partnership with Artfield Institute of Design is aimed at supporting practitioners enhance and attain skills in Motion Graphics, 3D Animation, Interior Design, Audio Production, Visual Communication, Graphics Design, Multimedia, among others so that they can possess holistic/well rounded skills in their operations. We believe that this collaboration will provide valuable opportunities for skills development for PR to contribute further to organisational growth.

As the president of the Public Relations Association of Uganda, what is your long-term vision for the industry’s evolution in the country? What are some of the goals you hope to achieve during your tenure, and how do you plan to work towards realizing them?

I am exciting about launching the Makerere University/PRAU practical courses which will focus on capacity building and skills development for our members. We are also keen to launch an internal campaign, using internal experts to share best practices & successes in their area of work because through continuous engagement amongst ourselves we can only enhance our skills.

We are excited to launch the second edition of National PR symposium in Uganda in August that will bring together key stakeholders to discuss topical issues affecting our industry, in order for us to learn from each other’s experiences.

Uganda has been given the honour of hosting this year’s East Africa PR week in November 2023, which will a great opportunity for us to showcase our successes in the PR industry and to synergise PR efforts across the region. This will bring expert voices from the region and continent to discuss the future of PR and we shall position Uganda as the prototype given our incredible successes over the last few years.

I look forward to also rolling out the PRAU mentorship programme, by linking up PR experts with the next generation of PR professionals in Uganda in order to support their career growth and give them confidence as they prepare for the job market. 

Pursuing statutory recognition is high on our agenda and we shall continue to engage stakeholders on the bill until it is ready to be passed by law.

If you could have a coffee with an inspirational African communications professional, who would you choose and why?

If I could have coffee with an inspirational African communications professional, I would choose Strive Masiyiwa, a renowned Zimbabwean entrepreneur, philanthropist and telecommunications mogul. I would want to learn entrepreneurial acumen from him and how he influences on shaping policy and Governance in Africa. I consider him an inspirational leader who I can learn great skills from, including resilience, determination, commitment and how to create social impact in the field of communications.

Interview by Cyrille Djami.