PR in Dar es Salaam Part 1: I’m sorry that’s NOT what we do

3 weeks ago I landed my first ever public relation internship in my home city of  Dar es Salaam. For those who have never heard of Dar es Salaam, here are some general facts. Dar es Salaam, also known as Bongo, is the commercial city of Tanzania. Dar es Salaam means Haven of Peace and is home to the tallest buildings in East Africa, PSPF twin towers. Unfortunately, what Dar es Salaam is not known for is its’ public relation opportunities. So when I started sending out CVs to different creative agencies, I thought I would be lucky enough if I landed a company that didn’t confuse public relations with marketing.

Sometimes I think the only way you can understand the differences is if you studied two professions in university.

“So what is public relation again?” Isn’t that communication?  So your basically studying marketing. Those are just a few questions I got from family members.

So when I  started interning at LAS Consultancy, a PR agency run by 3 women, I was extremely excited. Finally, my explanation of what PR is and isn’t would be over. I would get to work with companies that understood PR and use tools I learnt in class. However, I was quickly brought down to the ground when I learnt a lot of companies don’t understand what public relation is either.

Most companies group public relation, marketing, and everything in between as ‘communications’. So when companies approach you, asking for PR services but really they aren’t asking for PR. You have to kindly explain to them that isn’t what you do and educate them what public relation really is. For example, they told me of a time when they went to pitch their services to a known bank seeking public relations strategies, but what they were really looking for were rebranding and marketing tools.

When I asked the ladies just how many times they have had this conversation, they turned to me and said loads of times. Situations like those are actually one of the reasons why they aren’t just public relation agency. They have had to expand and include more services like corporate event management. According to Salha Kibwana, one of the founders at LAS, it’s extremely hard to specialise in Dar es Salaam, businesses are looking for more than just public relations.  If you don’t offer anything else they will look somewhere else.

The companies that do have a brief understanding what public relation is, are just looking for the basic. CSR promotion and getting their names in the paper, they aren’t willing to commit to long term PR strategies.

The hard truth is most PR agencies or practitioners aren’t really doing PR, or are doing PR plus something else. In uni our teachers always pointed out when something wasn’t PR, some might call them PR supremacist. It makes me wonder what they would say about the diluted PR  in Dar?

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