Archive for September 2008

When I was in South Africa last week, I made a visit that really gave me faith in fellow humans. It was to CIDA City Campus in central Johannesburg.


CIDA Campus is a private university set up by an NGO, Community and Industry Development Association (CDA), in 1999 to give bright young Africans who can’t afford to go to university the chance to study.


At present, it enrolls 350 to 400 students each year, with 90% from South Africa and the rest from Zimbabwe, Malawi, Kenya, etc. They all study for a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA), although there are pathways within it such as ICT, management, communications, etc. The first graduates were in 2004.


There are many extraordinary features of CIDA that are different from the mainstream SA universities or almost any university in the world:


        Students pay a token amount of fees per month at R150 (c. £10) which covers their teaching, two meals a day and housing. For the first Foundation year, students only pay R350 (£24.10) for the whole year.

        Students do cleaning and maintenance tasks on Saturdays; they are also expected to ‘buddy’ someone in their home town or area to encourage them in their learning and to work with their home community.

        They all do practicums with the corporate supporters during their studies which helps their employment. The latest data shows that 84% of recent graduates are in employment, mainly with the supporters.

        Teaching was initially undertaken by committed volunteers and part-timers; Now CIDA is moving to a more professional level.

        It relies entirely on corporate funding and support from charitable trusts. Examples include the CIDA Campus building which was given to it by the SA financial institution Investec; Michael Dell of Dell Computers personally donated all computers, servers and IT networks; Richard Branson set up the eponymous School of Entrepreneurship and visits 3-4 times a year; Thomson Reuters helped set up a replica stock exchange trading room and sponsors a School of Investment; etc.

        CIDA has set up Foundations in the UK and US by which to seek funds; it has also set up Empowerment and Investment Funds in SA to support students and young entrepreneurs (similar to Prince’s Trust in the UK). There is also a newly-formed Alumni Fund.


Before visiting CIDA, I discussed it with University of Pretoria academics who spoke highly of the CIDA students whom they have met during inter-university academic competitions describing them as “very bright and very committed to their studies; they absolutely appreciate the life changing opportunity being given to them.”


And that was the impression I gained from two students that I met – Innocent from Harare, Zimbabwe and Nombulelo from NE South Africa. Both were very strong performers at secondary school but did not have the resources in family or finances to continue to university. Apparently only nine per cent of “block matriculants” (similar to UK A-Levels) go to university in SA and CIDA offers an opportunity denied to the great mass of them. Nombulelo said that she had been offered a place at Wits University in Johannesburg but could not afford to take it up. Both students spoke glowingly of the opportunity given to them, how they treasured it and enjoyed their studies. It was a stark contrast to many UK students who expect to attend university as a rite of passage.


Touring around the Campus building was equally as inspiring as the students’ attitudes. It is spacious, mostly well-equipped and a secure place for study in a city with crime problems. Students were courteous but noisy as a young people are everywhere.


This is an incredibly noble venture aimed at creating a cadre of well-educated young Africans who can change their own weak economies and polities through knowledge, leadership and entrepreneurship – and it is delivering results; CIDA is highly regarded by major international corporations and really makes a difference to the lives of Africans through our knowledge and experience in higher education and key disciplines.

I’ve just chaired the judging of the AMEC awards for PR measurement and evaluation. I wouldn’t dare reveal the results as they won’t be announced until November 19. But I’d like to share my thoughts on the state of the PR measurement and evaluation business. Here goes:

– When media evaluation is combined with qualitative research on political and social issues, very powerful and valuable insights can be offered.

– There is growing confidence amongst evaluators with more offering well-based consultancy advice to clients. That shows growing maturity in the business.

– Compared with the 2007 AMEC awards, which I also chaired, online PR and media is now being included in many evaluation programmes. But much needs to be done on valid and reliable analysis.

– Coordinated cross-country analysis is developing, with much greater allowance for national media culture differences. For sophisticated organisations, there is less emphasis on uniform delivery of messages across greatly varying cultures.

– More debate is needed on the use of ‘Return on Investment’ as a measure. In many instances, it is strictly applied as a financial benchmark which ignores the contribution that PR makes to organisational strategy and efficiency of operations. The paper by Fraser Likely, David Rockland & Mark Weiner published on the Institute of PR website in 2006 would be a good basis for discussion.

– It’s disturbing to find organisations having prime PR objectives such as generating a volume of coverage (e.g. “1000 clips a year”) but ignoring the communication of key messages or influence on attitudes or stakeholders.

– There needs to be much greater understanding of statistical terms such as “correlation”. To imply that a distributed message is correlated with behaviour, such as product purchase, is the old problem of the “substitution game” in which outputs are presented as outcomes. If evaluators claim correlation, then they have to show the reliability and validity of their methods.

Overall, the AMEC awards when announced in November will demonstrate the growing maturity of the international PR evaluation business. There are some really interesting and challenging gold award winners, with a few of them being “great leaps forward”. You’ll just have to wait till they are announced!

After visiting Harare, I traveled south to Johannesburg and on to the Southern Africa Institute of Management Scientists’ conference at Misty Hills near Pretoria, which was wonderfully hosted by the University of Pretoria. (Congratulations to Prof Ronel Rensburg and her team).


I was one of three keynote speakers alongside Prof Leyland Pitts of Simon Fraser University (Canada) and Prof Philip Kitchen of Hull University (UK). It was especially welcome that my speech on PR research priorities was presented at a management rather than communication conference.


If you think about, public relations has always been defined as a management activity, although often operationalised as a communication delivery process. The most widely quoted definition, “The management of relations between an organization and its publics” (Grunig & Hunt 1984) exemplifies this as does the paradigm of PR as relationship management proposed by Ledingham & Bruning (1999).


I was pleased to point out to the SAIMS audience that the top priority in the PR research priorities study was “public relations’ contribution to strategic decision-making, strategy development and realization, and efficient operation of organization”, and fourth ranked was “public relations as a function of management”. Also in the top ten were “management of corporate reputation” (7th) and “management of relations”(10th). These also confirm PR’s place in management functions.


The discussion of my speech led on to questions as to where PR education should be situated in universities – in a business, journalism, liberal arts or communication/media school or faculty. If PR is to gain continuing recognition as a management function, programmes need to either be situated in business schools (separate from marketing programmes) or have a strong managerial focus if placed elsewhere.

Although there is good news from Zimbabwe in that the power-sharing agreement has now been signed, life for its citizens is very tough. I mentioned this in my previous blog, PR in Zimbabwe. Here are examples that I saw or was told about.


– The houseman in my hotel in Harare told me that each day he travels to the city centre on an overcrowded bus or mutata (mini-bus). After work he has to queue for three hours at a bank to draw a tiny amount (the maximum allowed by the government) to pay for his next return fare. Because of the hyper inflation, he has increasingly less for food and relies on the hotel to feed him. In any case, the shops are empty of food (and almost anything else) and his family has to rely on the expensive black market. “We are suffering but I hope it will change soon,” he told me.


– The second example came from a PR colleague, George Makore, and illustrated the impact of hyper-inflation. His wife wanted to buy a school uniform skirt for their daughter. In one week, the price rose from ZD40,000 to ZD700,000 last Saturday. It was not possible to draw enough money but their daughter still needed the new skirt.


– In the satellite city of Chitungwiza south of Harare, which was originally planned for 30,000 and now has more than one million people, I saw sewage running in the streets and the smell was foul. This, according to the Sunday Mail of Harare of last weekend, was fouling water supplies. The paper reported an outbreak of cholera and deaths. With so many people from rural areas crowded into Chitungwiza, it is imperative that the infrastructure is repaired before cholera spreads further. I saw a tanker delivering clean water but there was a sad irony that many of the women carrying buckets to fill with water had to splash through sewage to get to it.


– All around Harare and Chitungwiza, there are mounds of household and other rubbish which are festering in the sun. Although these can be seen in other African countries, the sheer number and size of the rubbish dumps, some smouldering, was greater than I have seen before. It seems that any form of rubbish collection or clearance had stopped many years ago and is exacerbated by the flood to the city of dispossessed rural workers and their families.


As a friend of Zimbabwe, it is sad to relate these sad tales but it is what life is like. Let’s hope the power-sharing government really puts aside long-held enmity and acts for the people.

Imagine working as a PR professional in an economy with inflation running at more than a million per cent a year, in which there has been political conflict for most of a decade. That’s what I found when meeting a group of senior PR people in Harare, Zimbabwe last Friday. Despite these problems (and many more), they were very positive about the future as the deal to share power between the ruling ZANU-PF and opposition Movement for Democractic Change had been announced the previous night.

“It’s our good news 9/11”, former ZIPR chairman Ray Mawerere told the meeting. And fellow PRistas all agreed.

I was in Harare to renew contact with Ray with whom I had worked earlier in the decade as a PR consultant. Much has changed in the past seven year since my last visit. Harare, once a confident capital city, is now rundown and dirty. Long, long queues snake outside banks as Zimbabweans seek to draw enough of the hyper-inflating Z-dollar to get them through every day.

Business in any conventional sense is almost impossible to operate but continues with enormous will of staff. PR people just “work on regardless” in this collapsed economyand provide best advice.

At Friday’s meeting, itself a haven from current problems, we discussed the types of issues such as strategy, evaluation and effective communication that PR people everywhere focus on. Many Zimbabwean PRs want to continue their professional development at home or at overseas universities. Already ZIPR runs its own diploma programme and hopes that with stability in government and currency, this will develop to higher levels.

The opportunity offered by the 9/11 agreement for stability and a return to economic growth rather than implosion will havew to be grabbed. My view is that Zimbabwe has immense potential in farming, tourism and resources yet to be realised. Its PR practitioners are ready to help communicate an improved ‘national brand’ and make it into one of Africa’s leading nations again.

With only one government controlled national broadcaster and very stringent limits on print media, there is a limit on democratic dialogue. With a change from the Mugabe-led government to shared power, it is expected that these controls may be lifted. In addition to major Western broadcasters, such as BBC, returning, new and alternative voices may appear as has happened in post-conflict nations.

This week I was back at Charles Sturt University (CSU) in Australia where I was Head of the School of Communication from 2003 to the end of 2006.

The PR course team invited me to give guest lectures on the evaluation of programmes to second year PR students who are studying a unit on public relations campaigns. It’s really important that students see evaluation and measurement as an integral part of campaign objective-setting, planning and management – and that’s what this unit fosters. The unit teaches them good habits for the future.

In addition to their lectures, the students work in groups to plan and manage campaigns for local and regional community groups. This gives them real-world experience and the opportunity to put learning into practice. It’s also a very good example of work-based learning that aids their future employability.

CSU had Australia’s first studies in public relations in 1971 (Thanks to Prof David Potts) and is still a leader in the field. My thanks go to Donald Alexander and Sharon Shoonmaker for letting me loose on their students.

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Tom Watson

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