There's a new look to the CIPR website this week. One obvious change is that the site is now optimised for social media; it succeeds in looking both cleaner and more dynamic.
This has to be a good thing – but I'm even keener on a cleaner, more dynamic professional body lurking under the bonnet. There are some good signs, but I'd like to see a much more radical transformation. Here's one suggestion.
The body of UK public relations practitioners is not that large: there are only some 50,000 of us, small enough to fit inside many premier league football grounds. Yet this small industry has two professional bodies. The CIPR, representing some 10,000 individual members, and the PRCA, representing 100+ large consultancies employing around 5,000 people. There is some overlap between these memberships, and it has become even more blurred since the PRCA started welcoming in-house teams as consultancy members. There's overlap in qualifications too (both have their own Advanced Certificate and Diploma course: same name, but rather different content.)
Competition's a good thing – but confusion isn't. On reflection, this split serves no one except the officers of these two bodies (there would be fewer roles available in one merged association).
The historic logic that the PRCA was needed to represent the interests of consultancies no longer applies now that in-house teams in the public sector are becoming members. It's illogical – and it's time for a change. There are bigger challenges out there (like embracing other disciplines that threaten to form their own bodies like public affairs/lobbyists, experts in analyst relations etc).
The other makeover this week is to PR Conversations. It was always an international, collaborative effort, but its driving force Toni Muzi Falconi (who I'm meeting in Italy next week) has now handed it on to his collaborators.
Its intention is to spark a global conversation between practitioners, academics and others about the role,status and development of public relations and communications and I think it has already made a big contribution in this direction. More is promised.
I think PR Conversations offers something very promising to the industry. It builds bridges between thinkers and doers and it opens the doors to debate. It also shows the potential of group blogs to challenge the academic publishers who continue to support little-read journals, affordable only by large university libraries and so inaccessible to most.
If public relations is to gain professional status (a question that's also very open to debate), then it needs above all these two things: a strong and unified professional body, and a valuable exchange of ideas between practitioners and academics.