Defining competence in public relations

Defining competence in public relations


An ambitious project is seeking to define a global standard for the skills required of a public relations practitioner. There are very few standards in public relations. It's surprising for a business that is tasked with the critical role of managing the reputation of an organisation.

What does good look like in public relations?

Time served is the typical measure of competence. 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 programmes.

It's an issue that I've been exploring this year as the recent Past President of the CIPR.

A CIPR roundtable discussion in January in London between academics, practitioners and agencies, employers and recruiters established that a competence framework would help address benchmarking, recruitment, career development, professional development and the definition of the role of public relations.

Global Alliance project to create a Competency Framework

A project by the Global Alliance, the international umbrella organisation for public relations professional bodies, aims to make amends.

It has analysed more than 30 competency, education and accreditation frameworks, or credentialing schemes, from public relations associations from around the world.

The Global Alliance's Jean Valin and Anne Gregory should be applauded for tackling the issue head-on.

The result is the Global Body of Knowledge Project.


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

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

“We now live in a global world where we need to share good practice, recognise basic standards of competence and demonstrate that like other professions we have a body of knowledge that stakes out our territory," said Jean Valin and Anne Gregory writing on the PR Conversations.

“Recruiters have told us that the cost of a bad hiring decision is 2.5 times salary cost so getting the standard right has very practical and bottom line benefits.”

The Global Alliance identified a high degree of correlation between different credentialing schemes to create a first draft.

The project has reached a new milestone following review in June by Global Alliance leaders.

A second version of the Global Body of Knowledge Project has been published as a Google Document for consultation among Global Alliance members including the CIPR, IABC and PRSA.

Future proofing via consultation

The Global Alliance is seeking input between now and the end of September to ensure that the credentialing scheme is future proof and fit for purpose in different markets.

I asked Jean Valin how the process was going.

“We will likely add a new [section up front] to describe the practice and try to extract principles and values as a new section in order to focus even more on areas of competence,” he said.

The next version of the Global Body of Knowledge Project will be shared with employers ahead of publication at the Global Alliance’s World Public Relations Forum in Toronto in June 2016.

The project describes two levels of practitioner, namely entry-level and mid-career or senior level. A series of activities have been attributed to each role as set out below.


  • Account or client management
  • Strategic planning
  • Public relations programme planning
  • Project management
  • Media relations
  • Social media relations
  • Issue management
  • Crisis management
  • Internal or employee communication
  • Special event, conferences and meetings
  • Community relations
  • Stakeholder relations

The knowledge areas for mid-level and senior practitioners are broadly similar. The key different is depth of understanding and management capability.

Mid-career or senior level

  • Reputation management
  • Government relations and public affairs
  • Evaluation and measurement
  • Definition of values and guiding principles
  • Building and managing trust
  • Advanced environmental scanning and trend identification
  • Evaluative research
  • Building and managing trust
  • Issue identification

Competencies for each role are described across four areas: knowledge, skills, abilities and behaviours.

The result is a robust competency framework for public relations that is an excellent platform for consultation.

A challenge the Global Alliance faces in delivering against such a bold ambition is that inevitably consultation will lead to tasks being added rather than subtracted. It’s an issue that project-lead Jean Valin has acknowledged in the comments on the post on the PR Conversations.

The three areas of public relations practice that I think aren't fully represented in the framework are creativity, content and integration with other organisational functions. I plan to make a contribution to the consultation in these areas.

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