Change is happening, more predicted

2 Jun

Cipr web 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).

Pr conversations 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.

8 Responses to “Change is happening, more predicted”

  1. Philip 02/06/2010 at 6:28 pm #

    I like the football ground analogy – you will find me in the away supporters end, hoping no-one notices my accent. Say hello to Toni – like you I think PR Conversations is the most important forum we have for serious and enlightening discussion.

  2. Barbara French 03/06/2010 at 12:12 am #

    The analyst relations body — International Industry Analyst Relations (IIAR) — is based in the UK and has introduced its own certification program. Is it your belief that the UK industry would be best served by merging IIAR with the CIPR or PRCA?
    I’m based in California, and not a member of any of these organizations. I do belong to the American Marketing Assoc and PRSA.

  3. Richard Bailey 03/06/2010 at 10:14 am #

    Thanks for the comment, Philip. I’ll pass on your thoughts on PR Conversations to Toni.
    Barbara, my view is a personal one – but the answer to your question is ‘yes’. I can see that analyst relations (like public affairs and many others) is a specialist practice area – but I don’t think this amounts to a claim to professional status.
    After all, very few organisations want analyst relations as an end in itself (any more than media relations should be the end product of PR programmes); these are a means to an end (the end being corporate reputation, or stakeholder relationship management, or shareholder value, sustainability etc).
    The bigger picture would be best served by one confident professional body embracing the many practice areas in public relations (across multiple sectors, in-house and consultancy).

  4. David Phillips 03/06/2010 at 1:53 pm #

    Richard, there is a difference between the agency world and in-house world.
    Agencies specialise. As a huge generalisation, most run events and issue press releases. They know their media and have good relationships with media.
    In-house, the internal politics, deep understanding of departmental knowledge and practices and the regulatory/legal structure that constrains activity is much greater.
    In agency, the range of stakeholders is narrow, in-house the range of stakeholders is huge. Practice is different too.
    Yesterday, I spent some time thinking about an FD who was a great mentor for me. We spent long hours gossiping and I learned a lot about fiscal and corporate finance, budgeting and corporate financial management. He was also one of the most useful guys (with an equally helpful Company Secretary) to help understand the nature and process of Mergers and Acquisitions. An experience rare in Agencies. This experience was in addition to running a department with a budget that was many many times larger than the two Agencies’ retainer fees and included a significant amount of media relations as well as CSR activity etc.
    A month ago, some account execs went to a CIPR training day. They mixed with in-house people.
    Pretty obviously there was a cultural divide. They found the course less than relevant.
    Merging CIPR/PRCA would be a big cultural problem.
    In the meantime I am looking forward to finding out how many people the agencies are employing this year over last. I think that, in the name of recession agency manning is in decline but I expect the reality is that a growing slice of PR agency revenue is being lost and diverted elsewhere and this may have an impact on your debate.

  5. Richard Bailey 03/06/2010 at 6:21 pm #

    I think there are some PR consultants who perform a form of management consultancy. But I suspect they are outnumbered, even within PRCA ranks, by publicity agents.
    So there’s already a wide range of PR practice within the consultancy/agency side.
    When did you ever shy away from ‘big cultural problems’?

  6. Heather Yaxley 04/06/2010 at 10:07 am #

    First – thanks for the nice words on PR Conversations and we look forward to you and your readers joining us there for debate on various topics.
    On the matter of merging CIPR and PRCA (or other organisations), I’m not totally convinced of the merits of the idea. You state that both are professional bodies, but in reality I feel these (and other organisations, like the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association with which I am involved) are bodies for professionals (practitioners even) in public relations.
    As such, members need to have a clear sense of identity with the body and a reason to join. That means that “practice area” of other features such as culture will be relevant and I don’t see a problem in their being competition between different bodies.
    After all, qualifications at University level are in competition, there is a wide choice of training providers within and outside such bodies, people identify with different types of networks and so on.
    Indeed, the socialising side of membership of bodies is where the benefits of separate networks is most relevant, in my view. I don’t really buy into sub-groups as the CIPR is structured as it ends up being contrived. What we need more of are communities of practice – whether they be online, in organisations, sectors, geographical areas or common interests. That’s where you get energy and real engagement rather than exchange relationships based on having paid a subscription to a “professional body”.
    I don’t necessarily agree with David that you cannot mix in-house and consultancy people – we do that successfully in MIPAA – but we have a common area of interest. You do need to be aware of different needs and accommodate those when devising training or other activities. For example, within the motor industry, we constantly have to guard about being too car-centric when we’ve members from a wide range of in-house organisations (as well as consultancies representing different types of clients).
    However, if you are arguing that PR requires a single representative body for status or other professional reasons – that is less about individual members and more about the body of PR as a whole.
    I can see the value of such an organisation – but I don’t see it as requiring the size or wider remit that both PRCA and CIPR are currently pursuing. A body that represents the PR industry and offers overall guidance on standards and so forth could be a much smaller organisation (3-4 staff people) without delivering all the commercial elements of training, events, conferences, qualifications and so forth. Indeed, it might be better for not being a deliverer as it could then comment in an independent manner and take a better role in driving forward standards.
    So, on reflection, yes I do support one body – but let’s be truly radical and strip out all the elements that aren’t about the profession and leave that to the competitive marketplace.

  7. Richard Bailey 05/06/2010 at 1:41 pm #

    We’re agreed that there should be a wide diversity of clubs and communities based on shared interests – but fewer bodies representing the ‘profession’ as a whole.
    So here’s my revised suggestion: let’s have Heather’s MIPAA engineer a reverse takeover of the CIPR and the PRCA. Stranger things have happened.

  8. Heather Yaxley 10/06/2010 at 1:31 pm #

    How funny 🙂 Edmund King – a MIPAA member, who also belongs to PRCA and is a Fellow of CIPR would be a great industry leader – but he is rather busy as President of AA. Should we merge that in too – at least we’d all get breakdown cover, insurance and nice men who could salute us on the roads!!

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