The Chartered PR Practitioner Q&A: Matt Appleby on the rebirth of public relations
One of my commitments as CIPR President was to promote the value of learning and development as a foundation for professionalism. Throughout the year I’m going to blog interviews with practitioners that have achieved Chartered PR Practitioner status to understand their motivation and perspective on the profession.
The Chartered Practitioner qualification is pitched by the CIPR as “a benchmark for those working at a senior level and a ‘gold standard’ to which all PR practitioners should strive to reach.” It consists of an initial questionnaire on your career, a paper and formal interview.
Matt Appleby explored the future of public relations and its rebirth as a management profession.
I’m the managing director of Golley Slater PR, one of Wales’ largest consultancies. I’ve worked in PR for 16 years, and I’m the past chair of the CIPR Wales Group, sit on the CIPR’s Social Media Panel and am a Fellow of the CIPR.
What’s the greatest opportunity for the public relations profession?
In a shifting, blurred communications environment we're already well placed as the discipline that understands relationship-building, two-way communication, influence, content and storytelling. Wrapping a more professional framework around what we do - embracing the need for continuous development, building better links with academia and delivering more sophisticated measurements of our effectiveness - we can become even more valuable to our clients. We've been through massive change in the last ten years - and there's a clear opportunity to emerge as the profession that leads marketing communications as continues to evolve.
Why did you apply for Chartered PR Practitioner status?
I’d been doing CPD since 2004 and when a new professional chartered status was announced, I wanted to be among the first to go for it. I was also chair of the Wales group at the time and thought if I was promoting the CIPR’s professionalization movement to others, I should first do it myself.
How did you find the assessment process?
It was a rigorous and challenging process – but I enjoyed the opportunity to reflect on my career to date and used the opportunity of the paper to deepen my understanding of the impact that our rapidly changing communications culture, and social media in particular, was having on the PR profession.
What was the topic of your paper and what did you learn?
When I wrote my paper four years ago amid much talk of the 'death of PR' - it looked like a good opportunity to consider whether we were witnessing its death or the rebirth of our profession as something different. The title of my paper was 'Death or Rebirth - a digital future for PR'.
At the time, there was much being written about 'the greatest evolution in the history of PR' (Brian Solis) and I took as my starting point, the principles on which social media communications practice was being built - what did the 'new PR' look like?
I went way back to 1999 to start with the Cluetrain Manifesto - one of the starting points of the idea that all markets are conversations and worked its principle through to many of the foundations for today's evolved PR practice - the humanisation of corporate communication, socialised community behaviours, corporate transparency and authenticity of communications, the shift in power to the audience and the move towards publishing alongside consuming content.
At the time of writing, there was still a widespread fear of using social media in many organisations and I looked at how the profession could build its case that the changes we were seeing were fundamental to future business practice - and that PR was the natural discipline to best guide our clients into this rapidly evolving world.
The fundamental changes to practice - moving from reputation management to 'relationship optimisation' as the CIPR's online PR handbook put it - were also having an impact on how we behaved as professionals. There's no difference online between your PR identity and your personal one. Where we engage more directly, participate transparently and conduct the conversation about our professionalisation in public, there is clearly no hiding place for bad PR practice.
Professional leadership, the highest ethical standards and rapidly evolving best practice are all vital to our future and I argued then that this should be central to the role of the CIPR. Also, the protection of our collective reputation is all the more important as trust is an even more important commodity when we participate more openly - another key role for the Chartered Institute.
Ultimately, those writing about the death of PR were often talking about a breed of outdated practice which was already on its way out. What we were seeing in its place, I argued, was the emergence of a discipline which had the opportunity to lead the way in adapting to the evolution in media structure, consumer behaviour and social networking - the rebirth of PR.
Since writing the paper, I've seen a huge shift in the leadership stance taken by the CIPR, largely through the work of its social media panel and, as the changes I looked at four years ago have only accelerated, it's great to see the ambition that the panel should make itself redundant in two years.
I'll take that as the best evidence of a profession, and professional body, reborn.