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CIPR candidate calls for greater cooperation between CIPR and PRCA. Gets my vote

It’s that time of year again.

Candidates for CIPR offices, the CIPR Council, and PRCA Council are reaching out to the members of each organisation in a bid to secure election. And like previous years there’s talk of the opportunity for greater cooperation between the two organisations.

In his candidate statement for CIPR President Elect Lionel Zetter has called for the CIPR to “join forces with another industry body.”

The name of the body that cannot be named is the CIPR’s nemesis the PRCA. Zetter’s call is one that rational industry observers have been making for some time.

Zetter has form. He was CIPR President in 2007 and is currently Senior Counsel at APCO Worldwide. In a previous role he oversaw the creation of an industry alliance for the construction industry.

The CIPR is the UK’s professional body for public relations while the PRCA is the industry trade association representing agencies and in-house teams.

Until 2007 there was clear ground between the two organisations. That changed when Francis Ingham left the CIPR to breathe new life into the PRCA as CEO.

The PRCA is thriving. It has doubled in size in the last three years and is managing the industry’s apprenticeship scheme, the industry agency and in-house management standard, and is a strong voice for the industry on lobbying.

Equally the CIPR’s report card is strong with leadership regionally, in social networking, Continuous Professional Development, professional standards and qualifications.

But in recent years the CIPR and PRCA have become fiercely competitive. Granted the economy is tough and competition is typically a good thing, but in this instance it borders on destructive.

There are clear areas of overlap in events and training, to the extent that the same speakers and trainers, myself included, represent both organisations. I’ve also sat on the CIPR Council and PRCA Council for the past two-years.

Privately practitioners that have a foot in both camps will tell you of their unease at being asked to favour one organisation over another.

There is a danger that the public relations industry could become irrelevant if doesn’t take the opportunity created by media fragmentation and the shift to audience engagement enabled by the Internet.

Alternatively with leadership and a move towards professional standards it could become better understood and respected as a management discipline and thrive. That was Dr Jon White’s conclusion from PR 2020, a research report produced for the CIPR.

If the CIPR and PRCA settled their differences and invested the effort spent obsessing about each other into the future of the industry it would be incredibly powerful. We need a clearer, louder voice on the national and international stage.

A merger of the two organisations is probably a call too far and the CIPR’s Royal Charter would almost certainly prevent such as move.

However there are clear areas where the organisations could cooperate for the good of the industry. It’s time to end this damaging divide.

That is Zetter’s vision. He gets my vote.

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.

17 Comments

  1. Indeed. I’ve been a CIPR member throughout my 23 years in public relations and as MD of my own consultancy I ensured it joined the PRCA. I believe strongly that the profession and industry requires both bodies and that they should serve distinct purposes. The CIPR represents the profession and individuals. It is the body responsible for issues such as ethics, professionalism, best practice and standards. The PRCA represents the industry and employers. It should be the body that represents consultancies and in-house departments and runs the consultancy management standard; and advocates to promote and expand the industry. There is some overlap, but there shouldn’t be any competition, rather greater cooperation. A call for a merger is definitely a step too far as the CIPR must continue to represent individuals and the PRCA should return to representing employers.

    • The distinction is clear as you say. I think what’s needed is greater cooperation particularly in areas of competition and on areas of common interest where the industry needs a common viewpoint and strong voice.

  2. Totally agree with Stuart here. The differentiation between the two bodies has always been very clear to me and as Stuart describes: PRCA for consultancies and employers; CIPR for individual practitioners and employees. Obviously the interests of these two groups don’t always align, but there is clearly common ground upon which they can work together to move PR as a discipline valued in the boardroom forward.

    • Who knew that you could talk such complete and utter commonsense. Thanks for stopping by Mark.

  3. As co-chair of the NUJ’s PR & Communications council I’m aware that the industry needs representation in a variety of different ways. As Stuart and Mark point out, there’s a role for representing employers and consultancies, a role for representing individuals and a generic view of the profession. And for the NUJ, there is a role for representing those who work in the industry in their everyday employment. We’re keen to work with others on issues such as transparency, ethics, diversity where we can and our views overlap. But at times the presence of different organisations allows for differences in opinion, role and tactics to play out. It will be interesting to see how this progresses!

    • Thanks for your comment Phil. As you note the interests of individuals and that the organisations that employ them aren’t always aligned.

  4. An interesting post. As an active member of the CIPR, a vice chair of the CIPR Greater London Group and an agency member of the PRCA, I have to disagree. Competition between PR agencies is healthy for everyone and helps push the industry forward. I believe the same is true for PR industry bodies.

    While doing a passable job in some areas, the CIPR for many was moribund during the past 10 years, failing to innovate fast enough and listen to the needs of current and potential members closely enough. I am very glad to see this changing.

    The resurgence of the PRCA has forced the CIPR to raise its game, from improving its management and internal structures, better training, being more proactive on industry issues (particularly social media – finally!) and remembering to do its own PR. These improvements have benefited the industry as a whole and the PRCA biting at the CIPR’s heals has been the major driving factor.

    I am very happy to see the CIPR and the PRCA engage fully in a good natured and energetic race to the top and for them to co-operate on issues where necessary. The two are not mutually exclusive.

    I welcome this choice in training, qualifications, events, representation and support . History teaches us that monopolies rarely work to the benefit of the customer!

    • Thanks Daljit. Some related points. Merger may be a move too far and would almost certainly be prevented by the CIPR’s Charter but there is an opportunity for greater cooperation particularly in areas of competition and in areas of common interest where the industry needs a common viewpoint and strong voice.

  5. Nice post Wadds, bizarrely I think I agree with both sides of this argument on this one for once. I sit on the CIPR committee and have done for several years since I worked with Stuart Bruce at said Agency. We both believed strongly in giving something back to the industry both on a national and regional level.

    I think the CIPR helps individuals to get on and develop themselves but the PRCA seems to really try to deliver better standards within PR agencies. So I think Zetter’s vision is a strong one because if the two of them worked together in different areas they really might achieve a lot more.

    However, I also think Daljit has a point because let’s face it about 5-6 years ago the CIPR had really lost its way and just seemed to be an organisation full of infighting that delivered very little. It is only really in the last couple of years since the CIPR Social Media Panel and the new shiny website have launched that its head office in London finally seems to be making waves in the industry again. So I say keep the competition fierce and let them focus on different areas. However, better communication between the two will surely only help us all.

  6. Great post Wadds and good to have clarity and a call to action for comms pros.

    I am on the CIPR Inside committee and have been delighted to see the CIPR engage with internal comms pros more in recent years as our profession continues to find its voice.

    I agree with Chris’ point above that the CIPR helps individuals and PRCA is striving for standards. Having that wealth of choice available is a good thing, however I think cooperation is key; we need to practice what we preach.

    With regards to your point about a race Daljit I agree that competition can be healthy and good natured and energetic is indeed key. However it should not be to the detriment of the bystanders, and as long as the focus of both remains on delivering the best value to members, more power to both their elbows.

    • Thanks Rachel. And again a call to maintain the independence of either organisation but to align on areas of common interest where the industry needs a common viewpoint and strong voice.

  7. I agree with Daljit about the merits of competition between agencies, however industry bodies exist to represent the profession so competition can be damaging as it can be harmful to the overall industry. Both the CIPR and PRCA are membership organisations and therefore should reflect the views of those members who are willing and able to be active and vocal.

    If we’ve been unhappy with the performance of the CIPR or PRCA in the past then the power to change it is and should be in the hands of voting members. I don’t think many of the CIPR’s improvements over the last few years are down to ‘competition’, but rather because we have a growing group of members who are willing to work hard to improve things. I believe this, coupled with a strong dynamic new management team, is what has really improved things.

    • Good point well made Stuart. We forget the CIPR is a democratic organisation. I resigned at one point rather than try and influence its future. I now recognise the error of my ways.

  8. Good post Stephen. I’m just not quite sure how you arrive at your conclusion that Zetter gets your vote.

    Zetter implied during the debate that the CIPR is making losses. We do have significant financial challenges but we have made a profit in the last two years and are, by all accounts, on track to make a profit this year.

    There’s clearly great agreement between all of us here (and both presidential candidates) that we need to collaborate and cooperate with other bodies. The industry needs a harmonious and unified voice but a merger is not the way forward.

    A vote for Zetter seems to me, without putting too fine a point on it, to be a vote for the death of the CIPR. Turkeys voting for Christmas. Or is Zetter is seeking to take over the PRCA?

    For we cannot merge with the PRCA without losing our hard-won chartered status, something which Zetter yesterday called “a straightjacket”. Well, it’s clear where he stands. For many of us the CIPR’s chartered status is indeed the gold standard and we should fight to preserve it.

    It is a pity that the election has descended into this. We need to shape the future of the CIPR; we must continue to improve it; we need to debate how we can best achieve this. Instead we are wasting time discussing this hoary old chestnut which has no future.

    • Thanks for your comment Eva.

      Please see my subsequent blog post that followed CIPR TV – CIPR TV debate: no winner and some misinformation.

      I want to work and be tested against the highest possible levels of professional practice but I question the value of Chartered status when so few people have taken up Chartered Practitioner and it has no recognition outside the CIPR. Sure this is core to the value of the CIPR’s proposition and the reputation of the public relations industry.

      I’d be interested in your views.

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