The year 2022 could present three important situations for most practitioners of Public Relations in the maritime industry in Ghana, and by extension the subregion; good, not good enough and try again. Successful PR professionals may have penned down or rolled out their communication strategy for the year by now.
Others probably may have presented their communication strategy to management and are waiting for executive endorsement on their budget. But the truth is many are also yet to brainstorm on their plans and programmes for the year, and they may end up not having any strategy throughout the year – even though communication strategy is basic in the practice of the profession.
Many practitioners go through what is often mockingly described as ‘Allahamdulilah’ or ‘by His Grace’ kind of PR practice. They do not have plans. They just move along as the year advances.
The maritime industry has a positive outlook for the year 2022 and it is important that Communicators in the industry equip themselves with certain forecasts to avoid surprises and crises. 2021 gave Ghana an enviable spotlight in the industry: Ghana’s Minister of Transport was named Chairman of the Maritime Organisation for West and Central Africa (MOWCA).
In addition, maritime piracy saw a nosedive thanks to the strong collaboration that exists among industry agencies in the sub-region. The Ghana Navy also acquired four fighter vessels to fight against piracy. MPS chalked up success by receiving the deepest drought ship, MSC Beryl.
The Ghana Maritime Authority purchased seven patrol vessels, two Search and Rescue (SAR) vessels and two Skimmer vessels to fight against plastic pollution and harvest water hyacinth at sea. The Ghana Shippers’ Authority has also just inaugurated its Elubo Freight Park, which is expected to boost Ghana’s transit trade to an estimated GH¢134million annually. This year appears to be promising.
The West African region is home to the vibrant but volatile Gulf of Guinea, providing passage to mega container ships, fishing vessels, undersea telecommunication and Internet cables serving millions if not billions of people worldwide. It is estimated that the gulf carries an average of 2,500 vessels of different kinds on a daily basis and is home to several species of aquatic animals.
The region is also blessed with large deposit of petrochemicals and precious underwater stones. Technical, public relations officers in this field are mandated to break down industry jargons and bring to their various publics understandable briefs or communiqués.
Herein lies six well-calculated and carefully predicted trends for communication professionals in the maritime sector of Ghana. Industry experts from West and Central Africa could glean important industry information from this article.
In order not to appear as an ingenuous prophet, a few low-hanging expectations in the sector have been highlighted and further explained in a conversational manner.
- PR Plan and Strategy for the year
Public Relations professionals are in the business of building and maintaining positive image and good brands in the eyes of their stakeholders, often known to industry folks as ‘publics’. Communication strategies of a PR Department or agency must be revised, recycled and re-used. It is unwise to begin the year with old and moribund strategies for a different year.
Communication strategy used for 2021 should not be used for 2022 unless your organisation has no serious publics or you literally want to kill your career. A strategy may not be an industry trend, but it is the fulcrum on which the entire PR department or unit depends because it encompasses all the PR goals, plans and tactics. The most critical step is creating a comprehensive plan to set your expectations and define measurable results.
The plan must be concise and effective. Some goals can be achieved within months while others can literally take years. It includes placing a finger on your priorities and leading the course with a sharp focus on one or two areas in public relations.
I’ve had several calls from industry friends who shared important information on significant areas of PR to channel their energies on for this year. I often tell them this…. “Look within your organisation and find out exactly what makes you stand out and channel your efforts to that area while working on your organisational weaknesses”.
Container terminal. Source……pexels.com
This is called ‘situational analyses’. Prioritise what makes your organisation stronger. It is also important to keep your target audience in mind when writing your PR plan. The audience decides what tactics to deploy. Textbooks or the Internet can be a good source of information, but one cannot relegate past PR experiences to the background. PR gurus often say it is better to look within for a PR solution.
As sophisticated and technical as the industry may seem, there are evolving dynamics which must be taken into consideration – especially in this COVID-19 era. For instance, the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) through the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution to designate seafarers and other marine personnel as key workers to help resolve issues of the seafaring community. In effect, it is important for industry practitioners to know the trends and dynamics and act accordingly, especially issues relating to crew change and access to medical care. Know your audience first and plan accordingly.
- The Blue economy is going Green
The World Bank defines the blue economy as the ‘sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, and ocean ecosystem health’. Two major things come to mind when the blue economy is mentioned: preservation and regeneration of the oceans, and the generation of economic activity.
Currently, it is estimated that the value of key ocean assets is US$24trillion. The ocean is central to the livelihood and food security of billions of people around the world, with an estimated 4.3 billion people reliant on fish for 15 percent of their animal protein intake, according to the Global Environment Facility.
One thing that’s for sure from now onward is that global institutions in the throes of climate change are pushing for sustainable solutions to global problems. The shipping sector is going green and autonomous, with the goal of eliminating greenhouse gases and making the world a safer place for us all while reducing threats and obstacles at sea.
With this knowledge, Public Relations practitioners working in area, such as the seaports and shipping lines should make this their priority and incorporate it into their short-, medium- and long-term goals. The major role of Public Relations Officers is to communicate organisational policies, programmes and aspirations to various stakeholders with utmost clarity devoid of ambiguity.
The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) intends to cut annual greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping by at least half by the year 2050. In 2020, the IMO made an ambitious move to reduce sulphur dioxide from ships emissions from 3.50% to 0.50% – known as ‘IMO 2020’. Regulation 14.1.3 of MARPOL Annex VI stipulates that the sulphur content of any fuel oil used in ships outside Emission Control Areas (ECAs) must not exceed 0.50% m/m from January 2020. This regulation is expected to be reviewed in 2023.
Practitioners should make room to help educate locals on the protection and preservation of marine life. PR professionals in the industry should imbibe in their Communication strategy a tactical way of informing residents living around coastal areas to eschew the habit of dumping waste, especially plastics, into the sea. In doing so, it will be important to develop PR programmes and events such as beach clean-up exercises, coastal community durbars and so on in their bid to meet this aim.
The entire maritime community is going green and autonomous. Container ships and other vessels are now being remote-controlled from a central location, and it is proving to be successful. Sustainable marine biodiversity, coral reefs, oil spills, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing are some topics expected to cover the front pages of industry newsletters and other news platforms.
The explosion of the Floating Production, Storage and Offloading (FPSO) Holy Trinity in the Ukpokiti Terminal in Delta State of Nigeria has already generated discussions on safety and security of crew members and the marine environment. As it currently stands, the FPSO vessel has the capacity to process up to 22,000 barrels of oil per day, inject up to 40,000 barrels of water per day and store 2 million barrels of oil. This tragedy has got industry captains talking about the adverse effects on marine life, oil spills, increased level of toxicity and climate change. A lot of stringent regulations are expected to take place in that sector.
- Boundary Spanning
Boundary Spanning is a Public Relations term which basically translates to joining forces with other practitioners through external relations to meet objectives and solve shared problems.
In 2022, it is expected that PROs in sister agencies in the industry will cooperate and collaborate with each other to achieve sustainable goals. Boundary spanning symbolises the ‘system’ nature of the practice, with the view that various organs work together to make a perfect system.
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated boundary spanning and transformed it from a theoretical concept into practice. This means organisations can equally depend on each other for information supply and other incidentals. So, for instance, the Ghana Maritime Authority (GMA) can depend on the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) or audio-visual materials on ships and other related areas for mutual benefit.
This also means that the Ghana Shippers’ Authority can also collaborate with an organisation like the Meridian Ports Services (MPS) to organise events on shipping and container matters. In a world where our most pressing challenges span boundaries, so too must we as Communicators. We must pool resources and expertise together and solve issues pertaining to the maritime industry.
PROs must endeavour to make contact with counterparts in other organisations. It makes the work much easier while creating avenues for the constant flow of credible information. We must continue working together as communication professionals to meet our targets, goals and aspirations. We may be independent, but the industry requires us to be interdependent and interconnected to enable us solve some of the world’s challenges.
- PR skill sets
Public Relations practice is gradually evolving from the usual strait-jacket writing and speaking profession. Hitherto, most PR professionals would engage the services of professional photographers to handle simple conferences and other events. In recent times, the story has become different; professionals are now acquiring photography and other skills – ostensibly to cut down on cost and eliminate delays.
The National Film and Television Institute (NAFTI), the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ) and the African University College of Communications (AUCC) offer good short courses on photography, video-editing, broadcast journalism and other PR-related subjects that could be useful to PR professionals.
Again, graphic designing has become a useful tool in conveying information from the abstract to life. Infographs, posters, programme outlines and banners are materials often deployed by PR professionals to communicate to various publics. Every PR Unit needs an in-house Graphic Designer to meet the daily needs of designing. It is important for young professionals to grab skills that will make them indispensable to their career.
Graphic designing is one key skill needed by all PR Units or departments. Learning web designing could also be a plus for industry professionals. The PR industry has long evolved from analogue to digital, and it is now catching up with this side of the world.
In the light of skills acquisition, young professionals could also challenge themselves with extra lessons on interior and exterior decoration as this has become indispensable in organizing corporate events. A touch of colourful decoration at an event makes it classy – and often leaves attendees wowed if well designed with simplicity. The added advantage is that this could also serve as a ‘side-hustle’ for professionals.
- Keep an eye on maritime piracy
Piracy is bad news. It only becomes good news when the pirates are captured and no harm is done to crew members and the vessel. The sub-region for some time now has become the citadel of this illicit activity, taking over from the notorious Horn of Africa. The United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) in a 2021 report disclosed that ‘27 of the world’s 28 recorded kidnapping at sea incidents occurred in the Gulf of Guinea’.
Thankfully, Ghana’s maritime domain happens to be a safe zone in the midst of a turbulent region. It is however not good enough. With the frequent patrols and aid of the Vessel Traffic Management Information System (VTMIS) manned by the Ghana Maritime Authority and allied stakeholders, maritime piracy is expected to record a single digit this year.
Further, the European Union (EU) and United States Coast Guards have also pledged their support to fight this menace in the Gulf. For instance, the EU’s Coordinated Maritime Presence (CMP) has deployed warships from Spain, Italy, Portugal, Denmark and France to protect the Gulf of Guinea for the next two years. Regional authorities are also working extremely hard with strategies aimed at repressing pirate activities in the Gulf of Guinea. Piracy is expected to give Public Relations officers of maritime administrations and navy forces an uncomfortable and needless PR headache.
Insofar as 2022 promises to be great, the industry is likely to see some negative news which may require excellent public relations tactics to foil or reverse crises. PR experts in the maritime industry must not cross their legs and practice armchair research. Efforts should be made to visit the field and practice what Communicators call stakeholder engagement. The sure panacea for bad PR is proactive public relations.
>>>the writer has practiced public relations in the maritime industry a little over eight years. He is a published author and a Poet. He can be reached via [email protected] and LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter via Ralph Dinko.