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Public relations as a profession: applying for Chartered qualification

There is little that separates public relations practitioners from car salesmen and women, estate agents, journalists or lap dancers. All are respectable occupations to varying degrees but none require a professional qualification or any form of formal training to operate.

Professional aspirations
Public relations practitioners aspire to sit around the boardroom table with other professions. It is going to remain tough to expect a seat until we take our own professional development as seriously as other professional advisers such as accountants or solicitors.

Individual public relations organisations and firms have codes of conduct, of course, that you are expected to follow as a member or employee but they don’t go far enough and provide limited confidence to the boardroom.

The CIPR made a significant effort in 2005 to address this issue in the UK when it was granted Charter status by the Privy Council.

Chartered status was granted in recognition of the role that the CIPR plays in leading the public relations profession in the UK, the contribution that public relations makes to the UK economy and, here’s the key bit, public relations as a profession and practitioners with specialist expertise.

Chartered status and Continuous Professional Development (CPD) are the gold standard in other professions such as accountancy and marketing.  After an initial burst of activity the CIPR has been slow to promote its Chartered status to public relations practitioners in the UK and the broader business community.

Criticism: Chartered qualification lacks recognition
Perhaps I’m being overly simplistic in linking Chartered status to the Chartered Practitioner qualification.  It’s an issue that was raised during the recent election for a new President of the CIPR when the benefit of Chartered status was called into question.

Chartered status is one of the best opportunities that the public relations industry in the UK has of shifting from a craft to a profession as measured by other occupations.

According to the CIPR, Chartered Practitioners are experienced, active members of the PR profession who have the breadth and depth of experience to consult at the highest levels within organisations; practitioners that are passionate advocates, advancing the profession through their expertise, learning and conduct.

There are plenty of critics both from with the CIPR and beyond. Aside from the lack of recognition for the Chartered Practitioner status, the process of qualification is reportedly time consuming and expensive. Less than 40 people have qualified.

The Chartered application process
Rather than remain a critical voice from the sidelines I’m going to put myself forward for the Chartered qualification and I’ll report on the process and my progress via my blog.

To apply you need to be signed up to the CIPR CPD scheme and have worked in a public relations or communications role for at least ten years. Anyone with a CIPR recognised qualification can cut the process by a year to two.

The Chartered qualification is in three parts. There is an initial questionnaire probing qualifications, career history, leadership, strategy, learning, innovation, and communication; a formal paper on a topic related to the industry; and then a board interview. Applications and assessments can be made at any point in the year and you need to pass each stage before moving on to the next.

I’m about to apply for the first stage and submit my questionnaire. I’ll write more about that soon. In the interim it’d be good to get feedback on the perception and benefits of Chartered status in public relations and other professions.

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Stephen Waddington

European Digital & Social Media Director at Ketchum and President of the CIPR. Author of Brand Anarchy and Brand Vandals; and editor and contributor to Share This and Share This Too.