15 questions for the future President of the CIPR
The interview and questions are based on my personal experience as President last year.
In a wide ranging discussion we talked about the relevance and reputation of public relations, ethics, professionalism, skills and their personal motivation.
The post of CIPR President is a three year term in office. The successful candidate will take up the post of President-Elect in 2016; President in 2017; and Past-President in 2018.
The two candidates will be taking part in a #CIPRchat Twitter discussion at 1pm on Thursday, 1 October.
Voting for CIPR members takes place from 28 September to 12 October with the result announced on 16 October.
The majority of UK public relations practitioners don’t see the CIPR as relevant. The CIPR has 10,000 of the estimated 60,000 practitioners in the UK in membership. How do you plan to tackle this?
The CIPR needs to be less of an ‘invoicing organization’ - where the only real contact is when it sends you an invoice - and show leadership and connect more to the real-world challenges PR professionals face.
We have to redefine or die - or at the very least we will face a lesser future with smaller budgets, less power and diminishing respect.
We need to create a ‘New School PR’ that makes PR fit for purpose for the 21st century. We don’t want new definitions of PR, we want better a better one.
We are like a boat facing a tidal wave: we can either be swamped or ride the wave of change to a better future.
I have three specific strategies to address this, which are outlined in my manifesto.
Firstly, we must keep professionalism at the heart of the agenda. We need strong continuity. Now is not a time for piecemeal, tactical solutions. That’s one reason why more than ten past-presidents and two thirds of the CIPR executive board and council are supporting me.
Secondly, we must become more relevant to our existing members, by being more engaging and providing greater value.
Finally, we must deliver the most successful membership campaign in our history.
Strong investment in growth, without diluting our commitment to professionalism, will deliver results.
#2 Reputation and ethics
CIPR CEO Alastair McCapra reckons that’s the reputation of public relations has been defined in the minds of the media by unscrupulous practitioners over promising and overstating their influence. How do we overcome this challenge?
By creating the world’s largest PR agency - the CIPR membership - to launch the biggest-ever PR for PR campaign by so we can achieve the reputation we deserve.
It’s an irony that those who work to build the reputations of others need to get their own house in order.
We have a phenomenal untapped resource among our membership. With the right leadership and support we can unleash this immense potential. My KPIs for this idea include crowdsource a ‘PR for PR’ Toolkit for members and creating a UK-wide series of ‘Festivals of Public Relations’.
Alastair is right. You were also right, Stephen, when you included this pledge in your own presidential manifesto:
“Voice: Displace Max Clifford as the mouthpiece of the public relations industry and promote the expertise of CIPR members to the media, through social media and speaking opportunities.”
As we all know, Max is no longer a factor – yet we’ve not filled the vacuum.
There’s a groundswell of desire amongst our members for the CIPR to be more vocal in calling out malpractice and championing good PR. We’ve made a start – and if elected, changing the perception of PR will be one of my priorities.
96% of practitioners say professionalism is important to them, yet 79% believe experience is their most valuable asset. How do you account for this apparent contradiction?
Unlike many other professions PR practitioners don’t need a formal licence to operate, hence the reliance on the University of Life.
Yet, the survey reveals the latent potential, a desire to acquire professional status, if we can get our PR product right.
By creating a ‘New School PR’ we can improve PR practice, and build a coherent and relevant professional framework around it. This will provide the bridge between the aspirations of practitioners coupled with a body of practice defined within a professional code.
Experience is incredibly important. So is professionalism. The difference? One relies on what you’ve done in the past as a guide to the future, the other places emphasis on lifelong learning – and on drawing on the experiences and theories developed by others.
We need both. But professionalism is the future of the PR industry. We are at risk of becoming irrelevant if we don’t commit to continuing professional development.
Today, I was with a senior editorial publisher. The future of his business lies in native content and in disintermediating tactical media relations. We must continually develop new skills to stay ahead.
Less than 1,500 practitioners invest in personal Continuous Professional Development (CPD) via the CIPR at a time when every piece of data suggests that practice is changing faster than ever. How do account for this?
This is a great opportunity. Firstly, we need to integrate the CPD product as a pathway for Chartered status.
Secondly, we need to sell it more, highlight its strengths with the top 50/100 PR employers. Encourage them to sign up, commit to supporting the scheme and look favourably upon job applicants who are part of it.
Although the CIPR staff do a great job in supporting recalcitrant form-fillers (I speak from experience) we need to investigate making the CIPD process a useful, supportive tool for personal development and growth, rather than as seen by some as an annual pain-in-the-butt-form-filling exercise.
A friend who typifies many of our members said this to me:
“I read, I attend events, I watch webinars: I have to. We’re in the business of communications, reputation and relationships. I’ve got to do all this to stay at the top of my game. Why do I need to record it? No one cares.”
To a degree, she’s right, but that mentality won’t stand us in good stead going forward.
We must persuade people to engage with CPD, not as a tick-box exercise, but as part of our culture.
At that tipping point, we’ll start to be viewed alongside professions that have CPD at their heart, like accountancy.
#5 Digital niche
Digital remains a niche activity for public relations. The 2015 PRCA Digital Report suggested that digital accounts for 16% of budgets. How do we improve this position?
We need to strengthen our capabilities by enabling every PR practitioner to become a ‘Digital Competent’ or ‘Capable’ - seizing the gift of opportunity created by Google, the world’s largest media platform. We can now deliver communications that offers traceable bottom-line results.
This provides a tremendous opportunity to defend our corner and fight for increased resource.
We are however, held back by self-limiting beliefs among many practitioners, who typically have strengths in words and images rather than data. The lesson is that you don’t need to be an expert in data analytic, merely more Competent.
The rise in importance and significance of the digital arena is inexorable. Nothing we do or say will impact this trend or the wider landscape. However, we do have the opportunity to show measurable results and increasingly clear correlations between digital strategies and outcomes.
At Liquid, we do this for clients on a national level, but it also works with modest budgets. One specific example: a friend of mine has been measuring the impact of twitter during this election, for free.
We should think in terms of cost-effectiveness and value, as well as total spend/investment. Digital can and must work for organisations of all sizes.
Linking public relations and business strategy was cited as the most important issue facing the profession for the third year running by the 2015 European Communication Monitor. How do we move from traditional techniques to being organisational focused?
PR practitioners need to work to the brilliant question posed by Professor Anne Gregory, "What keeps your CEO awake at 3am?"
Public relations has a tremendous opportunity to drive business strategy from above by shaping and managing the corporate narrative agenda, while from below by SEO-led PR practice, that works to definable and measurable objectives.
We should develop a measurement dashboard based on Daniel Kahneman’s five key heuristics of how you are: (1) Known; (2) Liked; (3) Trusted; (4) Front-of-mind; and (5) Others are talking about you, coupled with a scale of engagement.
We also need to own the corporate listening agenda.
The fundamental question we should ask when embarking on a campaign or a rolling programme of activity is "how does this help achieve organisational and/or business goals?"
Until we’re clear about the reason for our role, we can’t add value.
Too much of our activity is tactical and reactive. Capable PR professionals thrive in an environment where they’re empowered to provide strategic counsel as well as hands-on implementation.
Part of our role is increasingly to help organisations establish what success looks like. This focuses our campaigns, helps identify the most effective and cost-effective tools and enables us to objectively measure and evaluate.
The CIPR’s 2015 State of the Profession survey cited integration and the blurring of disciplines as a critical challenge for public relations. Is marketing eating our lunch?
They’re not just eating our lunch, but our breakfast, dinner and afternoon tea!
It’s not just digital activity but also others using earned media. Traditionally, we were able to delineate ourselves by our practice in being experts in earned media. Now, most award-winning major advertising campaign are in the earned space.
We are at a crossroads. We can overcome if we create better definitions of PR and a framework of PR practice. The #PRredefined community, of which I have been a founder member, is working to address this task. I think we are close to creating a new synthesis.
I don’t believe that’s the right question. We shouldn’t be playing defence on this. If we’re confident in our abilities (and we ought to be) then we should be on offence.
When I spoke to the Mexican Association of Public Relations Professionals at its national conference in 2009, I said that digital and social platforms and channels provide PR with an opportunity for PR v marketing, rather than a threat. The same is true today.
Powerful communications and compelling content are our currency. Integration will continue. Rather than stay in our silos, we should up-skill. The T-shaped PR person is the practitioner of the future
#8 Dead end business
Public relations is dead according to books published this year by former Edelman-chief Robert Phillips and former BP-boss Lord John Browne. How would you persuade business leaders of the value of public relations?
First, we earn the right to be heard.
We avoid creating noise.
Instead, we focus on getting our product right, a ‘New School PR’, a PR fit for purpose for the 21st century.
By listening and taking authentic action we will earn the trust. We can then demonstrate how we create better relationships and collaborations, brand reputation and earned social influence.
The business leaders will tell us if we have it right.
In a data-driven, evidence-based world, we should leverage facts to assert the role of public relations as a management discipline.
I want to return to an idea you had, Stephen, in 2013. I believe we should seek to quantify the benefit of PR to the UK economy through research, providing us with a confident and authoritative voice.
We should unpack the research and put in place an integrated marketing and public relations plan to ensure that incontrovertible facts are communicated persuasively to key stakeholders. This will instil confidence and give us a firm footing.
#9 Gender gap
The CIPR’s own data suggests that there is a salary gap of £8,500 to £10,000 between the sexes? How do you plan to make this parity?
In my university classes I see clearly how the future is female. Yet over 40 years after the Made in Dagenham equal pay fight disparity stubbornly remains.
Most employers don’t deliberately set out to discriminate, but many simply don’t realise they have a gender pay gap. So it’s crucial we continue to monitor to both record and keep the issue front-of-mind.
With so many women working in PR we need to be assertive in championing this issue.
I would extend the campaign to maternity rights. There are some major big names employers out there offering peanuts for maternity pay.
I’m horrified that there’s a gender pay gap. In my own consultancy, we are proud of being a meritocracy. People are not paid more or less, dependent on their gender or, for that matter, their age, skin colour or any other factor – other than ability. That should and must become the norm.
The PR industry must strive for equality of opportunity, over and beyond gender equality. The postcode in which you’re born should not determine the trajectory of your career (I think that belongs to Andy Burnham, but I believe it wholeheartedly).
#10 Inspiration and network
Leadership of a voluntary organisation is a lonely job. Who do you turn to for counsel and advice in your professional career?
Firstly, my role models - the best creativity tool going - using your imagination to connect with inspiring others. I use one of my first bosses, the late, great Robert Davey.
I also use the fictional character, the Captain played by Tom Hanks in the film Saving Private Ryan. Anytime faced with a difficult or complex question I ask, ‘What would the Captain in Saving Private Ryan do here?
I am privileged to enjoy networks of constructive, critical friends, in different spheres. I’m always there for them, and in they in return, are there for me.
In the months leading up to running for president, I sought wisdom from a range of people, both inside and outside the PR industry. I am fortunate to have four fellow shareholder-directors who are totally supportive – and a wider team who are enthusiastic about the CIPR and its mission.
More specifically, I have taken counsel from CIPR board and council members, past and present – and from more than a dozen past-presidents. No one knows better than they do the challenges and opportunities that this role brings.
I’ve been especially grateful for the wisdom of Adrian Wheeler, Liquid’s non-exec director and my friend.
#11 Your professional practice
Which public relations campaign that you’ve delivered in the last five years are you most proud of, and what was the benefit to the organisation?
I’m extra-ordinarily proud of my work as an unpaid director of the Bully-Banks campaign.
Along with an estimated 40,000 plus business across the UK my award-winning Media Centre business was mis-sold an Interest Rate Swap by our bank. No-one wanted to know about us, not even the regulators.
A Daily Telegraph article connected a disparate group of small businesses. With no budget, infrastructure, or hope we succeeded in securing partial justice: Mis-selling was officially recognised. The Financial Conduct Authority implemented a Review scheme.
It still remains a national scandal however, that full justice is still yet to be secured.
The campaign that stands out in my mind is the one we’re currently engaged in, for The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. The Federation produces 71% of the world’s maple syrup (I get quite geeky on this) – but us Brits simply don’t eat enough of the stuff.
We’re nine months into a three-year campaign to heighten awareness of their product in all of its forms - and change perceptions in households across the UK. It’s an integrated campaign, using video, social, media relations, direct marketing, events, etc.
It’s made even sweeter by the fact that they are lovely clients.
Jason your company shares an office in London with the PRCA. Andy you work as a trainer for both the CIPR and the PRCA. How will you manage these conflicts as CIPR President?
With honesty and common sense. Firstly, it’s crucial to be totally transparent.
Secondly, implicit in the question is that PRCA is not working to some common objectives. If I improve the skills of 100 PR people, albeit via the PRCA, is that not still advancing the CIPR’s Royal Charter of advancing professional standards in the sector?
At present I don’t deliver training for the CIPR, only seminars via its Groups (check out the forthcoming ‘Essential Brand Story for PR’ tour of the NorthWest, Yorkshire & NorthEast Groups).
Should I deliver CIPR training during my President year I will donate any fees to iprovision.
The PRCA and the CIPR both have incredibly valuable roles to play. I personally view them as serving different functions and constituencies. The PRCA champions the industry as a trade body, whilst the CIPR has a Royal Charter mandating it as a professional body for individual practitioners.
I see no inherent conflict. In fact, I think the stronger our dialogue and the more we can collaborate where appropriate, the better it is for the industry and for our members. I want both the PRCA and the CIPR to go from strength to strength.
ICCO and Ketchum EMEA boss David Gallagher, my colleague at Ketchum, has repeatedly called for greater cooperation between national and international professional and trade associations. Your view?
Co-operation. Collaboration. Co-Creation. It’s the future.
Things are more complex. We have limited budgets. And greater connectivity.
I abide by my sayings that "You can’t create a Mexican Wave by yourself" and "Every John Lennon needs a Paul, George and Ringo."
I also believe in unity in critical things, diversity on important things and generosity in all things. Inevitably, we need to work together more where the CIPR needs a Collaboration Strategy (Check out my blog for my discussion paper.)
The recent non CIPR-supported AMEC launch of the Barcelona Principles 2.0 and Evaluation Month strikes me as a missed opportunity.
Absolutely. Especially when called for by the likes of David – a professional who commands widespread respect. There are a great many things that we can (and should) do together, with one unified resolve and voice.
Whilst not ruling it out forever, I can’t see any clear path to merger. The CIPR has a distinct mandate and mission. Our Royal Charter is respected internationally – and this alone would make it difficult to merge. Similarly, I think healthy competition keeps both bodies alert, dynamic and growing.
CIPR work took 50 to 60 hours per month over my 12-months as President. How will you ensure you have sufficient time, and what do you hope to get out of it?
I have a regime where my workload contains a significant slug of unpaid time, whether in my earlier work for the Bully-Banks campaign or launching my social enterprise for tackling the crisis in declining Social Capital in our communities.
My values are focussed on creating collaborative projects for social change. I’m passionate about helping people and communities fulfil their potential and make the most of their situations. So, if elected, the CIPR can help me do even more of what I love doing.
I hope to reconnect with old friends, and make many more new ones.
First and foremost, I want the opportunity to serve. Both the PR industry as a whole and the CIPR as an Institute have been good to me. I’ve learnt, I’ve developed as a practitioner - and I’ve met some amazing people, making good friendships along the way.
I am realistic about the time it takes to do the job properly. My hugely supportive business partners have agreed to release me from the day-to-day business for whatever time it takes.
People who do a great job as CIPR president also command respect. Anyone who wants to be president primarily for personal or corporate gain shouldn’t stand.
What question should I have asked you but haven’t? And what would your answer have been?
What do you see the difference between the two candidates?
My campaign has been likened to Jeremy Corbyn’s - a late decision to stand by someone on the Establishment fringe, determined to connect with the 90% that don’t usually vote.
Sure, we need to have professionalism at the heart of what the CIPR does. Yet this battle has already been won by the work of recent Presidents. By 2017, when I become President, we have bigger priorities of making PR ‘Fit for Purpose for the 21st century - a ‘New School PR’.
Jason is a good guy, and am sure would do a good job. I feel he offers a nuanced version of the status quo. If you want a consolidator, he’s the guy.
I however, offer a more powerful vision for change, a ‘New School PR’, a PR fit for purpose for the 21st century which aims to fully realize the profound legacy created by Stephen Waddington and his successors.
A question along the lines of ‘can you make your entire pitch in 100 words?’ would have helped me be more concise. I would have said:
Our industry remains at a critical juncture. Many people still don’t understand or appreciate the value we create for organisations.
The CIPR’s mandate to unite practitioners in the drive to professionalism is vital. I have the energy, passion and ability to lead the CIPR in this mission.
If you elect me, I will:
- Keep professionalism at the heart of the agenda.
- Make membership more valuable – CIPR members should be hired first, paid more and promoted faster.
- Generate stronger engagement with all stakeholders.
- Strive to deliver the most successful membership campaign in our history.
I'd value your vote.