Interview: Being at the top of your game in PR will only get you so far, says CIPR CEO

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THE Value of Chartership Report was recently published by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) in conjunction with the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM). It shows that 72 per cent of respondents believe PR (and marketing) is less respected in comparison to other chartered professions, such as accountancy or engineering. Strategic’s editor-in-chief Orla Clancy recently caught up with CIPR CEO Alastair McCapra (pictured) to ask if it is time to formalise a standard qualification or licensing system for the PR profession.

McCapra’s view is that the sector can decide to adopt a standard and apply it on its own, as this is how most UK professions work. “In engineering, surveying, town planning, and accountancy there is a culture of developing people through their careers so they maintain high standards. It’s not imposed from outside, it’s embraced by each profession itself,” he said. “Broadly speaking, PR is still trying to get away with not behaving like its peers and there are consequences to this. Other professions get taken more seriously because they take themselves more seriously.”

When it comes to the pros and cons of formalising professional accreditation in the PR industry, McCapra said we’re already living the ‘cons’. “Employers are fighting for talent in a pool of people which is much too small because not enough people have been developed. People burn out at an early career stage and do something else because there’s a lack of clear career progression. And so on. What are the ‘pros’? Better retention and development in the sector, better status and reward,” he said.

What, in terms of collective confidence, can be done to increase the status of the PR profession in a wider business sense / among decision makers? McCapra said “Status and confidence are related but they don’t overlap completely. Some PR practitioners are very good at a limited range of things, so if they don’t actively work to broaden their knowledge and understanding, their options will be limited. In contrast, for example, management accountants have to pass exams in managing people and projects, cyber risk, and digital strategy as well as in finance and accounting. Knowing everything there is to know about accounts isn’t what gives them their professional confidence, it’s knowing the other stuff. Being at the top of your game in PR will only get you so far in most organisations.”  

He agreed that PR’s own reputation needs more PR to be positioned as reputation management and business advisory rather than its traditional remit of being known only/primarily for media relations. “We need to promote our members to clients as offering high-level advice, similar to the advice they might take from their lawyer. So what’s the difference? All qualified lawyers have shown that they meet a minimum threshold of capability, and they have to keep developing that through continuous learning. So as a client I am pretty much guaranteed that any lawyer I choose will be up to the job. How would I know a good PR from a mediocre one? If we don’t bite the bullet on standards how do we help the client make an informed choice?”  

To that end, the CIPR regards it as a high priority to improve the quality of the professional offer to clients as well as an enhanced status for PR professionals. It is working to achieve this by encouraging people to get chartered. Chartership is open to anyone in the secor who is prepared to commit to their own development and the development of others.