You need to be tough to survive in PR

The public relations and event management industry in South Africa is generally turf that only the fittest can survive.

There is scant information on the exact numbers of black-run service providers available in the market since the industry is dominated by established companies. There is no room for emerging small, micro and medium enterprises (SMMEs).

The Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa (Prisa), the public relations industry regulating authority, puts more emphasis on helping individuals and consultants with expertise in the field, which in turn puts small companies at a disadvantage.

The emerging companies have to struggle to get jobs from both government and private sector.

Happy Nkhoma, managing director of Nandi Marketing, a Johannesburg-based event and public relations management company, says it was not easy to break into the industry because there are many companies competing for a slice of the cake. He says perseverance and hard work are the only hopes if you want to make it in this industry, but it is possible.

Public relations and event management companies, both old and new are fighting for tenders to service the private and government sectors. The common cry among them is that government in particular takes too long to pay after they have rendered services.

Nandi has taken the Gauteng government to court for failure to pay.

Nkhoma says the industry consists of two groups of public relations and event management companies. There are those who get jobs on merit and the other group gets tenders because they know people in government departments.

"It is a two-way process. Whether you have been in existence for a long time or are new makes no difference. I would not be wrong in saying many companies get tenders because they have strong connections in different sectors. Only a few get them because they possess the necessary skills," Nkhoma says.

The norm, according to Nkhoma, seemed that a service provider had to know someone to be able to get a contract.

"If you do not know someone who decides on the contracts, you will find it very difficult to get one."

Black business in particular survives mainly from jobs they get from government.

The private sector prefers to give jobs to white-owned established public relations agencies.

Emerging black public relations and event management entities are in many cases run by mainly young and less-experienced people.

Some are former journalists with less than the required experience and expertise to run them.

A consultant in fundraising and communications says she believes service providers, government and the private sector are not familiar with their differing payment procedures.

"Generally service providers to government are not told how the public sector's payment processes work."