A brief history of the CIPR: the route to professionalism

A brief history of the CIPR: the route to professionalism

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This is a speech that I gave at a dinner at the International History of PR conference in Bournemouth, UK tonight. This year marks its fifth anniversary. I’ve spent the last few months with Phil Morgan at the CIPR researching our history.

What emerges is an organisation that was founded with a very clear vision and purpose to promote professionalism in public relations, and the public interest.

It also becomes quickly apparent to any student of public relations that the issues that our profession faces today have been a constant for more than one hundred years. Even Robert Peston’s recent comments about “enemy PRs” have heritage.

That’s depressing but the fact is that our profession very much remains a work in progress.

I’m neither a historian nor an academic, so thanks to Professor Tom Watson at Bournemouth for forcing me to make a significant contribution to my personal development in preparing this speech.

In a wonderful turn of events Tim Traverse-Healy who is credited in the speech as a founder and ongoing influence on the CIPR attended the dinner. I ended the speech by proposing a toast to his work.

As with all my speeches this is what I intended to say rather than what I actually said.

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A brief history of the CIPR Speech to a dinner of the History of PR Conference 2014 Bournemouth, 2 July 2014

Thank you for wonderful company, and an excellent dinner. I was delighted to be invited to talk tonight on the fifth anniversary of the International History of PR conference.

I’m the President of the CIPR for 2014 and so I have taken this opportunity to explore the origins of the Institute of Public Relations (IPR), now the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), and the journey towards professionalism.

This is something I wouldn’t ever have considered had I not been invited here today. I owe my thanks to Professor Tom Watson and the team at the CIPR for their support and a significant contribution to my personal development.

Vision and purpose

My ambition this year has been to modernise the CIPR’s governance and shift to a clearer expression of professionalism in public relations for practitioners, and in the public interest.

It’s very much a work in progress. But what strikes me is how the vision and purpose of the CIPR has remained a constant through our history.

The emergence of a profession

My story begins when public relations in Britain really took off at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

The War Propaganda Bureau was founded one hundred years ago this year. Two years later the Home Office set up an information bureau, followed by the Department of Information.

The role of government as a provider of information was driven by war-time necessity. Government stepped back in peacetime.

Other organisations began to pick up the role – such as the Empire Marketing Board. This is where we first meet Sir Stephen Tallents, a civil servant and public relations expert.

Sir Stephen would later become the first President of the CIPR. He recruited artists, filmmakers and publicity experts to make the aims of the Board “come alive” in the minds of the public.

Practitioners also emerged in the private sector – for example Sir John Elliot was appointed Director of Public Relations for Southern Railways in 1925.

Around the same time Sir Basil Clarke, the subject of an excellent biography by CIPR Council member Richard Evans, established Editorial Services, an early public relations consultancy.

Between the wars

At the outbreak of World War Two we learn the names of people that would shape the IPR at birth: R. S. Forman who worked in the public relations department of London Press Exchange in the late 1930s; Alan Hess in the motor trade; Tom Fife-Clark at the Ministry of Health; Tim Traverse-Healy at Aims of Industry; and Alan Campbell-Johnson with Lord Mountbatten in India.

Also, and critically for the IPR, around this time a greater number of practitioners were employed in Local Government.

Although the Ministry of Information was disbanded after the war, enough had been done to grow the number of people in public relations for the conditions for a professional institute to be a serious consideration.

The formation of the IPR

The IPR was founded at St Bride’s, Fleet Street, in 1948. Its foundation was proposed by Kenneth Day who worked for Erith Borough Council.

He and others assembled Local Authority practitioners to discuss the idea. The group was later designated as the first members of the Council.

The early objectives of the IPR began to take shape at the meetings of this group.

It was recorded that “The formation of an association was desirable to assist in the establishment of satisfactory status, recruitment and training of future public relations officers, safeguarding service conditions, formulating scales of salaries, pooling of knowledge, disseminating information and generally developing techniques of public relations work.”

The group saw the benefit of an association with a wider membership than local government and approached Sir Stephen Tallents, by now a leading figure in the profession, to see if he would be willing to bring in a group of wider practitioners from industry and central government.

The group agreed that the principle of an association was desirable and as the group widened it defined public relations practice as, I quote:

“[…] the deliberate, planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain, by conveying information and by all other suitable means, mutual understanding and good relations between a […] statutory authority, government department, profession or other body or group and the community at large.”

Uneasy relationships with the media

Relationships between public relations and the media have a history of being uneasy.

The News Review, a leading print title of the day, was sceptical about the value of this development. In an article entitled “The Tentacles of the [Public Relations Officer]”, of the early definition it said:

“This turgid description represented the combined efforts of 16 [public relations officers] who for nine months have spent their spare time writing a constitution for an Institute of Public Relations.

The article records the suggestion of Arthur Christiansen, editor of The Daily Mail:

“[Public relations officers] are people who get between newspapers and experts and prevent the newspapers from gathering impartial information.”

And Bert Gunn, editor of The London Evening Standard went further:

“[They] are an obstacle to the journalistic profession. I hate them. If I had my way I would do away with the lot.”

The BBC’s Economics editor Robert Peston, who said much the same recently, but with a lot more wind than Bert Gunn, would be delighted to know his comments about “enemy PRs” have heritage.

A thriving organisation: the first 25-years

Nevertheless, in a relatively short period the group came together to establish a profession and offered the first idea of a definition to set out its scope.

Sam Black, writing of the IPR’s first 25 years, in which it grew from 125 to 3,000 members, said:

“In 1948 public relations was synonymous with the ‘gin and tonic man’ and with ‘whitewash’.

“To dispel this false image and to advance our young profession to maturity was the formidable task facing early Council members.”

Not quite dispelling that myth, he went on to describe the early IPR as a sociable place, with regular lunches at which luminaries from politics and industry would speak.

Nonetheless, looking at the minutes of the first annual conference of the IPR, in September 1948, the concerns of the early profession are very evident:

Under any other business, E. A. Young of Wimbledon Corporation and E. Watson-Keighley of Woolwich Corporation called on the Council to consider a long term policy for training and urged the setting up of an examination in public relations for student members.

Tim Traverse-Healy suggested the Council should commission a text book on the definition of public relations and broaden its outlook by linking with the International Institute of Public Relations.

 Learning and development

In the early days, education took the form of weekend conferences and technical schools. The first Local Government Group technical weekend school was held at Pendley Manor, Tring, in April 1949, at which the programme noted ration books were not required.

Sir Stephen wrote in the introduction to the Technical School’s programme. I quote:

“Every member of our Institute, however experienced, realises that there is always something yet to be learned in pursuit of our many sided calling.”

Today we call that Continuing Professional Development. It’s an area where the CIPR is increasingly assertive.

Sessions included: the press; printing and layout; exhibitions and displays; information and advice; and filmstrips as an aide to public relations.

This was a group within an emerging profession deeply involved in the reconstruction of the country post-war and the emergence of the modern welfare state.

It must have been an incredible time.

The agenda outlines how our profession would have explained the rapid redevelopment of the 700,000 properties destroyed in the war, in a world of rationing, conscription, nationalisation and retreat from the British Empire.

The IPR led the way in providing education and training to develop the practice – this stream of work was a constant factor in the Institute’s growth and its development over the years remains one of our strongest features.

At that first conference in 1948, we find a forward looking group concerned with enforceable professional standards as well as education.

Alan Hess presented the Annual Report which noted the desirability of formulating a code of professional standards and conduct as a future project, along with giving a “united voice to the practice of public relations and to enhance its influence.”

 

Ethics: developing a robust code of conduct

Under Any Other Business, Stephen Duncan of Lancashire County Council drew attention to the lack of constitutional machinery for terminating the membership of a person admitted to the IPR and later found inadequate.

The structures of accountability were less forthcoming, but a dedicated group piloted a draft Code of Conduct through from the early 1950s until a version was finally accepted in 1963.

The CIPR Code of Conduct today is subject to constant testing by a steady stream of complaints. Council recently completely overhauled the disciplinary structure to bring it into line with current best practice. Members can rest assured that it is effective and we do enforce it.

Tales from the CIPR archives

There are so many moments in IPR history that we turned up from our archives that I could have mentioned tonight.

In 1966 the presentation of the inaugural President’s medal was made at Buckingham Palace to the Duke of Edinburgh.

He had met the institute’s Council in 1960 and later agreed to be President of the 8th Public Relations world congress in London in 1979. I don’t doubt that he should have been awarded the medal – he is a clear and direct communicator if ever there was one.

As you may know we currently lease, at great expense, splendid offices in Russell Square, London. However you view location and other factors, it is helpful to have a central London teaching centre but it is also an overhead we would breathe far easier without.

In 1962 the Council was offered the chance to purchase the Freehold on a building in the square and turned it down. I’m sure you can imagine the fore-head-slapping moment when I discovered that.

The CIPR is a worthwhile organisation, but at times a frustrating. It’s a work in progress.

Henry L. James, who was President in 1979, and was invited by Margaret Thatcher to serve as her press secretary upon winning the General Election.

Throughout that year IPR Board meetings were held at 10 Downing Street. I may write to David Cameron with the idea that since the fall of Andy Coulson, he could do worse than inviting a Chartered professional body back into Downing Street.

The service of our institute extends beyond the UK. Led, often, by Tim Traverse-Healy, the early IPR played a formative role in international bodies representing and educating the profession in Europe and beyond.

At the early weekend conferences, overseas visitors would be made welcome and in London in 1955, Sir Tom Fife-Clarke, IPR President in 1958, was elected inaugural President of the International Public Relations Association (IPRA).

No fewer than four Presidents of the IPR served on its founding council – the largest representation from any single country.

Today, we can reflect on a long association with the IPRA, the Global Alliance and on strong links with our sibling bodies around the world, many represented here tonigh.

As I’ve discovered in preparing this speech we owe my predecessors a huge debt of gratitude for their endeavours.

The route to professionalism

So, where does this leave us today? I’d like to submit to you that the IPR provided a foundation, a structure and guiding path to professionalism that the CIPR maintains.

We state clearly that to be a public relations professional you must be: accountable; qualified to do your job; engaged in continuous professional development; and validated in a way that the public can understand.

This is the route map to making us a truly Chartered profession and I believe it is entirely consistent with the vision of the generation that founded the IPR

 

stephen-and-tim

An individual that keeps cropping up in any study of the CIPR or international public relations is Tim Traverse-Healy.

He is a professor among practitioners, and prince among Past Presidents who was there at there at the outset of the CIPR and continues to make a significant contribution through his thinking and writing.

I’m grateful for his mentoring and guidance this year through an exchange of emails, letters and telephone calls. He remains focussed on the issues impacting our profession.

I want to close this speech with a quote from his Credo, published in January this year and celebrated by myself and Professor Tom Watson, among others.

Tim says:

“I believe there exists extra dimensions to the practice of professional public relations which must be present in almost equal measure before an initiative can be so termed and which grant it societal meaning and community worth.”

These dimensions are: “truth, paramount concern for the public good and genuine dialogue.”

If the history, and the future, of the IPR, CIPR and our profession has a golden thread, Tim wove it in those two sentences.

Thank you very much for your attention, and for a wonderful evening.

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