What does it take to become a Public Relations practitioner in Nigeria? This is one question I encounter almost every time I have an opportunity to speak on Public Relations. And it might as well be the reason you’re reading this.

I’ll be giving you a straight forward answer in six simple steps. And I am confident it will provide the right information you need to make the right decision.

STEP 1: Understand what Public Relations (PR) is.

It would be illogical to want to get into a career you don’t thoroughly understand. PR is a field that’s terribly misunderstood. Many people have a very narrow view of it. So you need to figure out exactly what it is and what the work requires. It’s only then you’ll know whether your talents, temperament, values and passion flow with it.

I like to define Public Relations as the art and social science of building and maintaining enduring relationships with key constituents of an organization or a personality using communication tools.

Because the crux of PR work is relationships management, its sub-fields, which are sometimes confused as PR itself, include: Media Relations Management, Government Relations Management, and Employee Relations Management. Others are Community Relations Management, Customer Relations Management and Crisis communication management, a specialism that addresses communication problems with stakeholders in times of crisis. A practitioner can specialize in one or more of the sub-fields.

It is vital to note that Public Relations is not just a vocation; it is a profession like law, medicine and accountancy. What this means is that you have a body of knowledge to master, a code of ethics to guide your conducts and an institution which registers and disciplines erring members; one that you are expected to maintain a lifelong loyalty to as long as you remain in the profession.

STEP 2: Do a fitness test

The best Public Relations professionals are great communicators, both in speaking and writing. They are creative, imaginative and persuasive. They are also sociable, emotionally mature and tactful, and can work and relate with all types of people. They have what it takes to work under pressure because that’s what the work sometimes requires. What’s more, they possess leadership qualities, and they are excellent organizers.

Do you possess 60-70% of these qualities naturally?  Then, you are a right fit for the profession. The rest can be developed on the job.

STEP 3: Master the PR body of knowledge

Getting into and doing well in any profession requires mastery of the body of knowledge of the profession. Public Relations is no exception. In Nigeria this mastery is tested through the graded examinations of the Nigeria Institute of Public Relations ( NIPR), the professional body empowered by the laws of the Federation to admit new members into the body of practitioners and regulate the profession.

You begin the process by registering as student member of the Institute. The least qualification accepted for registration as a student member is WASC, GCE ‘O’ level with credits in five subjects including English Language. Next, you register and write the qualifying examinations which are in three stages.

Everyone seeking admission into the body of PR professionals is expected to write and pass these examinations, except holders of Masters Degree in Mass Communication and Marketing, who can be admitted directly. Holders of Bachelor’s Degrees and HND in Mass Communication are only exempted from the first two stages while their counterparts in marketing are given subject to subject exemptions based on the discretion of the Institute.

STEP 4: Register with the professional body

That you’ve passed the NIPR qualifying examinations or hold a Master’s Degree in Mass Communication or Marketing is not a license to practice Public Relations in Nigeria. You must register with the Institute as a member and receive your practice number. To do otherwise is to act in violation of the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the consequences are grave.

STEP 5: Go for internship

Theoretical knowledge alone does not create ability. Ability comes when the knowledge is put into practice.  Internship in a Public Relations firm or a Public Relations department will help you:

  • Learn the practical ropes and become grounded in the field.
  • Develop relevant skills and expertise.
  • Gain practical experience.
  • Develop the right work habits for success in the field and in life.
  • Expand your network in the course of your work in the field. This could work for you when seeking employment.
  • Determine a clear direction for your career in the field by experiencing different career opportunities available first-hand and knowing the one that is the right fit for you.

STEP 6: Launch your career into the field

Depending on your personality, taste and preferences, you can choose between an in-house or Public Relations Agency job. Start by putting together a decent portfolio of what you have done in the course of your internship, covering both online and print materials. If you are going for the in-house option, pick companies in the industry or industries you’d like to work in and start contacting people there. Remember that industry knowledge is vital in PR; therefore work hard to gain some knowledge of how your chosen industry works. Employers are always interested in PR people who understand their businesses.

In sum, you require the right talents, temperament, values and passion to flow in the profession. Top that up with knowledge of the body of knowledge, build the right skills-set through internship and you’re right on your way to a rewarding career in public relations.