A question of competence

Less than 3% of public relations practitioners participate in a credentialing scheme. It’s an issue that needs urgent attention.

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The business of public relations took a step closer to establishing a worldwide competency framework today.

The Global Alliance team of Johanna Fawkes, Professor Anne Gregory, Jean Valin and José Manuel Velasco, presented the latest version of the Global Body of Knowledge (GBOK) project at the World Public Relations Forum in Toronto, Canada.

The GBOK project is an iterative piece of work that started with a crowdsourcing exercise, gathering credentialing systems from around the world in 2014.

It resulted in a framework published in 2015 for consultation among Global Alliance members.

The latest version of the framework incorporates feedback and describes two levels of practitioner, namely entry-level and mid-career or senior level. A series of behaviours and skills have been attributed to each role.

Are you any good?

Building a framework that has global application from the Netherlands to Kenya or from China to the US is an ambitious task.

It needs to be relevant globally and locally. It must be broad enough to cover developed and emerging markets and yet be sufficiently granular as to be meaningful.

Time served is the typical measure of competence for public relations. But not all experience is equal and when media and technology are evolving so quickly it’s a lousy metric.

Without a competency framework it’s difficult to benchmark one practitioner against another or apply a strategic approach to building educational, training or continuous professional development (CPD) programmes.

Value of professional organisations in public relations

It’s an issue that strikes at the future of professional organisations in public relations.

Without standards for competency, professional organisations will continue to struggle to promote professionalism in public relations. They’ll be unable to demonstrate their value to members and society.

Data is hard to come by, but it’s estimated that 2.5% to 3% of practitioners in Canada and the UK participate in a professional credentialing scheme.

Fraser Likely analysed the public relations market in Canada for a chapter in The Global Public Relations Handbook published in 2009.

Likely determined that 36,800 people worked in public relations in Canada in 2004.

Approximately 10% are members of a professional association such as the CPRS or IABC, and of these 30% meet a recognised standard for accreditation.

In the UK the PRCA calculated that 62,000 people worked in public relations in 2013.

1,600 people met the requirement for the CIPR’s accredited practitioners and participated in its CPD scheme in 2015. The PRCA is in the process of developing a CPD system.

Shift from a shared body of knowledge to a global capabilities framework

To date the GBOK project has been undertaken thanks to volunteer effort. Indeed the team deserves congratulations and significant recognition for what it has achieved in the past two years.

Professor Anne Gregory and Johanna Fawkes have secured funding at the University of Huddersfield in the UK to develop the GBOK project.

Their goal is to build a global capabilities framework based on the body of knowledge that has been collated through this project.

The team has set out a timeline to present the framework at the next World Public Relations Forum in Olso in 2018.

It’s an issue that needs urgent attention.

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Stephen Waddington

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


  1. Throughout my 16 year career in PR I have often been frustrated by the development model for staff which tends to swing between “sink or swim” or “you struck it lucky and got a good AM/director/founder”.

    I’ve looked at CIPR membership both for myself and my staff many times over the years, but the cost barrier of membership is prohibitive to start-up and small agencies – exactly the kinds of agency that the CIPR needs on board. As a tech specialist I have always found the CIPR to be skewed to large agencies with blue chip clients, as a lot of the idealistic frameworks and methodologies simply don’t translate to a low budget client. Whether this is really the situation, it certainly is the perception both myself and my peer group in PR continue to have.

    I do wonder if the CIPR and PRCA are self-reflective enough to comprehend that they must bear some responsibility for this 3% statistic. I have yet to come across a PR professional that isn’t looking to improve and learn – but as a profession our approach to development and accreditation continues to border on shameful.

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