|Chris Skinner and Gert Klopper|
In boxing, the difference between a champion and a pretender is a sleek, gold championship belt. The very best exponents of the craft are given these titles and accorded the ensuing respect. Similarly, public relations also has its champs and their title is Accredited in Public Relations (APR). This month, PRISA caught up with two of these, one a heavy weight - Chris Skinner and the other an emerging force - Gert Klopper.
|Chris Skinner APR|
Now residing in the cosy coastal town of Amanzimtoti, Chris has been inside the public relations ring a few times since he first joined PRISA in 1980. With a BA and MA from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, his first foray into the profession was in 1972. He attained his APR status in 1986 and has since forged quite a career in the education and consultancy sectors of public relations.
He has since become a leading authority on both the theoretical principles and practical application of public relations. His Handbook of Public Relations is now considered the seminal academic textbook in South Africa and each new edition introduces new perspectives and concepts that increases the body of knowledge in the country on the profession. He also sits on the PRISA KwaZulu-Natal Durban regional board as an executive member.
As Chris continues to be a shining light on the academic development of public relations, Gert too has been advancing the cause of communication professionals in the notoriously difficult mining sector.
A newly minted APR, Gert is a University of Free State graduate; he completed a BA in Communication and honours in Philosophy from the institution. He entered the field with the alacrity of an exuberant new fighter getting his first shot at the world title. His first job in 1993, at the old South African Communication Service (now GCIS) provided him with a unique tutelage on the challenges facing the communication industry. This was from skills, credibility and relevance point of view, challenges which are still prevalent in the profession today. Once he had served his apprenticeship and gained enough experience, he joined De Beers in Namaqualand as a communication officer.
This is when Gert realised that he was punching above his weight. "When I arrived, I found that communication was not a stand alone division or department in the mining sector. It was always combined with other functions "This lack of a clearly defined role could have easily deterred Gert, yet he did not throw in the towel. Instead, he put his shoulder to the wheel and set about changing the perception mine bosses had about public relations. He counts professionalisation of public relations to a respectable, independent division and improving the understanding of stakeholder relation at de Beers as two achievements he is very proud of in his career to date.
|Gert Klopper APR|
Having sparred enough with the two gentlemen, it was time to take the gloves off and fight out why accreditation is so important to them. Chris immediately came out of the metaphorical corner swinging. "There is no greater privilege in our profession than to attain the Accredited in Public Relations designation and it is an honour. It means that there are around 200 of us and I feel that is something to be proud of. The recognition not only locally, but also internationally means that I am a standard bearer in the profession". Chris also served on the accreditation panel for eight years and feels that even more suitable candidates should apply and undergo the accreditation assessment.
Gert was a little more circumspect with his jabs, but he too was eager to express the importance of becoming an APR. "The APR exam served as a reality check and helped me gauge whether or not I am operating at the levels I need to be. All PRISA members should aspire to be an APR". It helped point out the areas that he needs to improve on and gave him confidence in others.
They both stated that the title must be promulgated widely to all PRISA members.
Looking ahead, there is consensus that PRISA must be the leader and sole statutory body for all public relations and communication professionals. As Chris offered, "We need to look at the United Kingdom model, where it is impossible to practice without legally registering with their governing body. That would improve standards, accountability and you would say, bolster PRISA membership. " He also stated that PRISA members should not underestimate their capacity to become change agents and take this issue into their hands to influence the government.
With all this fighting talk, it is encouraging to see that these APRs pack a professional punch.