Sunday, 21 April 2013

Are PR associations past their 'sell-by' date?

As there is a real debate-led CIPR presidential election campaign in the UK, it's time to ask whether PR associations perform any real purpose other than ensuring their continued survival.

They can offer benefits but I am unsure whether they do so at present. I'd welcome the views of the CIPR presidential hopefuls, Stephen Waddington (@wadds) and Jon White (@drjonwhite) about how CIPR or a refreshed version would perform.

My membership of CIPR goes back 30 years, so I should declare an interest here. What follows may lead you to ask "why are you still subscribing to it?" Good question!

The purpose of professions is seen in two perspectives - maintaining status quo and playing a positive role in society (functionalist) and self-promoting and restricting entry to the field (revisionist). Jo Fawkes has written recently that "traditionally professions secured (or at least asserted) public trust by virtue of their professional status (body of knowledge, extensive training, extra-moral ethical standards)".

Some commentators consider that the concept of professionalism, often called the "professional project", is under threat and professional identity is in crisis. Professional bodies, they say, are  bureaucratic mechanisms to promote exclusivity and monopolistic practices.

As CIPR is largely inward looking, is doing little to build PR's body of knowledge, is not able to control entry to the field and has a difficult ethical stance to maintain, its main contribution to the professional concept is training. However, it is not alone in either offering training or setting standards. PRCA and numerous training companies offer the same services, not forgetting the extensive university sector.

So what is the purpose of CIPR if it is not able to offer the objectives of most professional bodies? And it can't achieve the negative aspects (according to revisionist critics) of restricting entry to the field to those of established knowledge and professional standing. 

All evidence of recent studies is that PR=publicity and is practiced as a craft, not a profession.Recently, I wrote about inspecting 70 papers that reported on PR practices in UK organisations. I can't think of one that demonstrated high professional standards. Reading entries to CIPR's own AVE-laden PRide regional awards reinforces that impression. PR is not practiced as a profession by many CIPR members, let alone the 85% who aren't.

In an earlier post (http://fiftyonezeroone.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/prs-future-sing-along-with-tammy-wynette.html), I discussed the separation of strategic/organisation communication from PR/publicity. If CIPR wants to renew as a genuinely professional body, that is a serious option to consider.

So my question to the two candidates is: what would they do to develop the professional project for public relations in the UK of, if is is bust, how would they reorganise CIPR for a post-professional organisation age? At 65 years old, CIPR is an OAP. Retirement may be a valid option.
  • My thanks to Jo Fawkes's article, "Interpreting ethics, public relations and strong hermeneutics", published in Public Relations Inquiry, 2012, Vol. 1, No. 2, 117-140 for its discussion of professionalism.