10 areas of pain in public relations

StateOfPRThe CIPR State of the Profession 2015 report tells the story of a profession that pays lip service to qualifications and professionalism; is stressed and unhappy; is woefully unprepared for social and digital; and is backward in addressing diversity and gender pay.

The report is based on interviews with more than 2,000 practitioners across the UK. It’s a damning read for the public relations profession with very little to celebrate.

Here are ten findings from the report that should act as a wakeup call for any practitioner wanting to avoid becoming irrelevant.

#1 Unqualified

Half of respondents (52%) don’t hold a professional qualification. Just a third (33%) of associate directors or head of communications hold a CIPR, PRCA, CIM or other relevant industry body qualification, compared with 40% of all managers and 42% of non-managers.

People at the top of their career are least likely to hold a professional qualification in public relations (21%).

#2 Crude definitions of professionalism

Being considered a professional is important to 96% of respondents. Yet more than half of all respondents reported that they believe ‘satisfying clients and/or employers’ (55%) is the clearest demonstration of professionalism in public relations. Worse still, enrolment in continuing professional development (CPD) was only believed to be the best demonstration of professionalism by 5% of all respondents.

#3 Work/life imbalance

According to the report, 40% of PR professionals experience a high level of workplace stress. What’s more, 6% of all respondents claim they are “extremely stressed”, with 34% giving a stress rating equating to “very stressed”. Only 19% indicated a lower level of workplace stress.

#4 Job dissatisfaction

Not everyone is happy in their current role – 27% of respondents are undecided on their level of job satisfaction and 10% actively dislike their job.

#5 Media relations is our mainstay

The majority of respondents (76%) indicated that they still spend some or most of their time working on media relations.

#6 Lack of digital and social skills

Digital skills proved to be the weakest competencies for survey respondents. Most respondents (79%) said HTML and coding were among their greatest weaknesses, with 84% of all in-house private sector employees falling within this demographic.

Confidence in social and digital media correlated negatively with the number of years spent in the industry: 26% of practitioners still in the first five years of their PR career indicated that social and digital media management was amongst their strongest competencies.

Only 12% of practitioners with over 21 years of industry experience felt confident in their social and digital media management skills.

#7 £8.5k gender pay gap

A clear pay inequality gap of £8,483 exists in favour of men, and is a figure that cannot be explained by any other factor such as length of service, seniority, parenthood, or a higher prevalence of part-time work amongst women. Findings also reveal the biggest influences on the salaries of all public relations professionals; with gender identified as the third biggest influence on salary, more so than education background, sector of practice, graduate status, and full-time/part-time status.

#8 Lack of diversity

Four per cent of public relations practitioners who were university graduates attended either Cambridge or Oxford University to study an undergraduate or master’s degree. From the graduate respondents, 28% attended a Russell Group university (excluding Cambridge/Oxford University), which is an increase on the national average of 24%.

Black, African, Caribbean and Black British professionals accounted for just 4% of survey respondents – whilst only 2% said they considered themselves to be Asian or Asian British. The overall percentage of practitioners who consider themselves to be from any ethnic minority background was 9% versus an average in England and Wales of 14%.

Public relations professionals who identified as having a disability or a long-term health condition accounted for just 6% of survey respondents. In real terms this equates to 109 respondents. This compares to the national average of 16% of the working population that identify as living with a disability.

#9 Stagnating budgets

Results show signs of stagnation within all in-house public relations budgets, with respondents’ budgets more likely to have stayed the same (37%) or decreased (31%), than increased (21%) – when compared to 12 months ago.

#10 Convergence

Finally, 78% of in-house respondents said that the social team is working more closely with the public relations function than it did two years ago. According to more than half of respondents, social and marketing (53%) are the only two departments with which the PR function has started to work more closely during this timeframe.

Survation interviewed 2,028 public relations professionals online on behalf of the CIPR between October and December.

You can download the full research report, commentary analysis and review the key findings, and follow the conversation about the report on Twitter via the hashtag #StateOfPR.

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Stephen Waddington

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


  1. It’s a shame that the PR industry isn’t considered diverse. Diversity in the industry will only improve its understanding of public perception and make it more interesting as a whole.

  2. Steve, with the greatest respect, I have a real problem with your suggestion that anyone who doesn’t have a “certification” from a trade association is somehow unqualified. And even bigger issue with the suggestion that not doing formal continuing education with a trade association means that you’re unprofessional.

    If you want to succeed in marcomms, you need to be intellectually curious enough to keep learning and soaking up new things. You shouldn’t need formal industry education to do so. There are a million ways to seek training and stay up to speed. CIPR offers some. There are gobs of others. Formalising it as somehow being “official” because it’s from an industry body couldn’t be any less relevant, especially in the converged world you reference later.

    Sorry to be disagreeable, but we have to be thinking more expansively. I’m keen for team members who have a range of experience, from paid media to search to development, and so forth. I’m anxious for people who ask “why?” a lot, and are hungry to learn. I want people who have been honed in the marcomms arena, not educated in a narrow area in a professional qualification course or at University or in where the curriculum is probably three years out of date anyway.

    So if you want to get into comms, my advice is learn to be persuasive. That means learning to think critically, argue well and having a good, personable way of interacting with colleagues and clients. Most important, be engaged. Be curious. Be impatient. Professionalism is a question of demeanour and behaviour, and it can be learned. It’s not a course.

    • Marshall,
      “Professional” is a term that has come to mean many things to many people. In the broadest sense of the term, it is not the case that you need to be qualified to be professional, but in an objective sense, qualifications are an important part of validating a person’s claims to be professional. This is the relevance of CPD and other foundation professional standards (accountability to codes of conduct being another) – it provides a meaningful, verifiable way for people in public relations who do exactly what you say they should do, to present this to the public in a verifiable way.

      I agree with the all of the characteristics you identify in your comment. The challenge for the CIPR and its members is to take the range and depth of experience you outline, along with the individual skills such as critical thinking and analysis, and make them a part of the validation process that is genuinely helpful. This isn’t just a course and it doesn’t all need to be done via the CIPR, but we are the only people taking this question seriously and we have structures of validation that, while not perfect, are making professional standards real.

  3. Interesting- I feel your pain Stephen, but maybe I’m a glass half full person. I see opportunities where you see problems. Young graduates have skills that are in demand – so your Number One is met by CIPR accredited degree graduates, You define “professionalism” as CPD, but this maybe short-sighted. Training can take many forms- it doesn’t HAVE to be in a CPD structure. Imbalance and stress (#3 and 4) are no worse than in many sectors- in fact, better than many. Before we slate the PR sector for unequal pay, let us also take time to be glad that there are jobs for women in big numbers, and PR gives a way to be part-time and freelance, too. Diversity is an issue- but it can be tackled by degree programmes that are open access (like Southampton Solent) and by positive role models, championed by the CIPR. Budgets? Maybe that’s a case of PR getting out of the traditional media relations ghetto and going for the goodies of “Content Marketing”- let’s do a land-grab and reclaim it for Content PR.
    Maybe the results reflect the older age and agency profile of respondents. For the younger practitioner, I see challenge and opportunities, not pain and despondency!

  4. A good read. Important issues to address. I wish they were being as aggressively pursued by professional associations in the U.S. One contrary view … accreditation (at lest in the U.S.) is not fully developed to make it a valuable credential to pursue. I can be, but not there yet. That is unfortunate, given the many years it has been discussed.

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