As the role of public relations practitioners continue to evolve in organisations, the Windhoek Observer (WO) caught up with Ashanti Manetti (AM), Public Relations, Corporate Social Responsibility and Stakeholder Officer at Namib Mills to talk about her role, career and her goals.
WO: What are some of the growing trends in the Public Relations industry?
AM: The Public Relations Industry has grown and has transformed over the past few years.
Things like the ever-evolving nature of traditional media and the rise of online media outlets. The growth of social media, with the public moving away from traditional media consumption, has literally renewed the industry. These elements will continue to evolve and we will need to work very hard to find new ways to connect and make our clients relevant.
Personally, things like visual storytelling and content are on the rise. Being able to tell a good story on behalf of your clients, and effectively selling that story to promote them has always been the defining strengths of solid public relations.
Content has to be strategic and include visual elements in order to cut through the clutter.
Press releases are changing. Mobile is still on the rise and will continue to grow quickly; which means solid mobile strategies are a must. Then, there is real-time communications. PR practitioners now need to find new and engaging ways to connect in order to keep the clients’ brand messages services and promises relevant. We also need to be strategic and proactive and take the time to plan and anticipate industry changes bearing all these factors in mind.
WO: Do you think all PR graduates should be registered as ‘Specialists’?
AM: Is it a specialised field, yes. Should graduates be registered as specialists? No.
I don’t think graduates should be registered as specialists. To become a specialist takes time and experience. I am now 11 years in the industry with PRISA accreditation and I am only now starting to refer to myself as a specialist. The Corporate Communications field is diverse and has at least two other legs being Corporate Social Responsibility, and Stakeholder Engagement. Mastering all these areas in real time is more important for me than the label “specialist.”
WO: What does it take to be a Public Relations practitioner?
AM: It takes hard work, patience, an understanding of the world economy, global shifts, a love for strategy, being laser-focused on results, nerves of steel, the ability to be a deductive thinker and a sense of humour.
WO: What is the state of public relations in Namibia? Do you think PROs get the recognition they deserve, both from their internal and external publics?
AM: I believe that if you keep your head down and work hard, the quality of your work will speak for itself.
The state of Public Relations in Namibia is still not ideal. A lot of education around the field is still of utmost importance; however, it is slowly growing. We now have a presidential spokesperson, communications executives have seats and a say on company boards where major decisions are made. These are things that 11 years ago were rare. It’s still not the norm in every organisation, but things are gradually changing.
WO: Have you ever had to handle a social media crisis? What did you do?
AM: Yes I have. Social media is a very special beast and as with all crises, handling it is part of my organisational role of managing stakeholders.
Engaging with the right people in the right way may be the difference between success and failure. For me the best thing to do is to keep it open and honest, keep employees informed of the situation and communicate with customers and suppliers. Update early and update often on the progress regarding the issue.
WO: What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
AM: Being a Corporate Communications Practitioner means wearing many hats. Every organisation has its own strengths and weaknesses. What I have found over the years is that setting up proper communication channels can be challenging. Transformation and integrating the company ethos into its employees as well as educating them on the role of public relations in the organisation and then managing expectations, can all be difficult, but not impossible.
WO: Do you see the media as information dissemination partners or threat? Do you have a specific strategy of handling the media?
AM: Professionally I don’t see them as either. For me, it’s more a sense of a symbiotic relationship. We are associates that need to work together in an environment that is fickle, issue driven and often hard to control.
My strategy is to take all this into consideration, respect them, keep it as honest and transparent as possible, make sure they can easily access any information that they may need and address any issues that I think may have been dealt with unfairly, in order to ensure that we work in a way that is mutually beneficial.
WO: How did you end up in PR? Is it something that you had planned?
AM: Yes. I did a double major during my graduate studies majoring in both communications and business. I couldn’t choose just the numbers over the communication, so I did both. As soon as I entered the business world, it was a natural progression towards Corporate Communications.
WO: What do you do to unwind?
AM: I unwind by knitting, playing chess, reading, gym, netball and engaging in mindful and mindless conversations with interesting people.
WO: What is your favourite sport and team?
AM: I am an avid Netball player. I currently play for United Netball team, so naturally that’s my favourite sport and team.