CIPR Report Another Wake Up Call For ‘Profession’

CIPR State of the Profession Report #StateOfPR

Earlier today the CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) published its annual State of the Profession report, and it’s not an easy read.

It highlights the same issues we have seen in these reports for the last few years and despite lots of talk about becoming more professional, tackling a lack of diversity and gender imbalance, it seems little has changed.

 

Professionalism

While 96% of the 2000+ respondents said being considered a professional was important to them, only 19% thought that being committed to an industry code of practice was the clearest demonstration of professionalism, and only 5% thought enrollment in Continuing Professional Development (CPD) was the best demonstration of professionalism in PR. Perhaps most surprising though was that 55% of respondents felt that ‘satisfying clients and/or employers’ was the clearest demonstration of professionalism – to be perfectly clear, this isn’t ‘professionalism’, it is just doing your job!

 

Stress & Dissatisfaction

I can’t say I’m particularly surprised by the CIPR’s findings with regard to stress – PR is frequently cited as one of the most stressful industries to work in – the report found that 40% of the practitioners surveyed were experiencing high levels of stress in the workplace (34% very stressed, 6% extremely stressed). While this isn’t unexpected, it is unacceptable. Stress is the single biggest cause of sickness in the UK with over 105 million days lost to stress each year – costing UK employers £1.24 billion (Stress Management Society).

The findings on job satisfaction were however a bit shocking with 10% saying they actively disliked their job and 27% undecided as to their level of satisfaction. While I’ve found working in PR to be both difficult and stressful at times I’ve always found it rewarding and am of the opinion that for the most part the ends justify the means. But that being said, as an industry we desperately need to work to address stress, flexible working, employee well-being and retention (as well as everything else) – we cannot hope to progress further towards ‘becoming a profession’ if over a third of the industry are disengaged with it, it just won’t happen.

 

Old Habits, Old Dogs & New Tricks

Media relations – that tired old chestnut – for 76% of practitioners surveyed, media relations was cited as what they spent ‘some’ or ‘most’ of their time working on – coming in as ‘the top area of PR practice’ above Research, Planning and Measurement, and Social or Digital Media Management (both at 65%). The less said about, and more done to change this, the better.

Digital skills featured in the report, and as is perhaps expected, practitioners fared fairly poorly. Among senior practitioners (those with 21 or more years of PR experience) only 12% felt confident in their digital and social media management skills. For those in the first five years of their PR careers, 26% ranked these skills in their top competencies. This clearly points to inadequate training and staff development in this area. It is simply not good enough to cite digital skills a prerequisite when hiring entry level talent when senior practitioners, who understand their weaknesses in this field do nothing about them.

The issue here is that, as CIPR Fellow and Social Media Panel member, Stuart Bruce notes:

“…as social and digital becomes more important, senior practitioners lack the expertise or experience to actually do their jobs and integrate it properly into public relations strategy. As a result they delegate it to the digitally and socially confident junior members of their team, who do get it, but unfortunately don’t have the broader PR experience to be able to do so most effectively.”

It has been said by many that “there is no such thing as digital PR anymore, ALL PR is digital”, why then ALL PR practitioners are not proficient in digital is a mystery.

 

Gender Gap

The gender pay gap in PR is a major issue that appears as difficult to tackle as it is nonsensical. This year’s report showed a 12% rise in the gap between mean salaries for men and women in PR, now at £13,887 – although I would take the rise with a pinch of salt and hazard a guess that it’s due to variations in the sample from year to year and not in fact a 12% step in the wrong direction. However, when the data was investigated further, the pure pay inequality gap (the mean gap between males and females in the same situation) was found to be £8,483. Obviously this is still ridiculous but less so than it first appears.

Interestingly another report in the marketing sector, the EMR Salary & Market Trend Report found last year that more males than females received a pay rise (4% difference) and more males than females received a bonus in the past financial year too (7% difference), with men 10% more likely to receive a bonus equivalent to 10-29% of their annual salary. However this report also showed males were more likely to work longer hours (8% more likely to work 46-50 hours, and 6% more likely to work 51-60 hours per week) and 5% more likely than females to have seen an increase in working hours in the past year. It is possible then, that this relatively small sample (1,281 respondents) isn’t entirely representative.

The CIPR is making a serious effort to reduce the gender pay gap with a number of measures already taken, but there is much still to be done. I for one am looking forward to seeing how the work being done by CIPR President, Sarah Pinch and board member, Sarah Hall (as well as many others) is reflected in next year’s report.

 

Diversity

The report also reminded us of the PR industry’s lack of diversity – not just in terms of ethnicity, but of disability, education and background too.

The number of practitioners identifying as being from an ethnic minority was just 9%, a deficit of 5% on the average for England and Wales.

6% of respondents identified themselves as having a disability or long-term health condition, a marked difference from the national average of 16% identifying as such among the working population.

With respect to background and education, the skew towards independent, fee-paying schools is 9% above the national average of 7%, with 16% of respondents attending independent schools. This rises to 24% among senior management level practitioners. The vast majority of respondents were university graduates (85%), rising to 90% among practitioners with fewer than five years PR experience. There is also a noticeably higher proportion of Russell Group university graduates among respondents than the national average.

With organisations like the Taylor Bennett Foundation working to combat these issues as well as campaigns like PR Internships For All, I hope we will see these skews begin to normalise.

 

Things Have To Change

CIPR Past President, Stephen Waddington has said he’s “a bit fed up with how little progress we [as an industry] actually made last year on [the] #10pledges [he made during his tenure as President] but change is slow.” His post on the #StateOfPR findings: ‘10 areas of pain in public relations‘ is brutally honest and well worth reading.

I completely agree with Stephen, the PR industry has had so many wake up calls in recent times and yet we still face the same issues. Perhaps this report, and even Robert Philips controversial book will give UK PR the kick up the arse it so desperately needs.

As Stephen rightly says, change is slow, but I think now practitioners have been made acutely aware of the issues they face and are beginning to change their attitudes towards them – hopefully it’s not too late.

It will take a concerted effort from all involved; practitioners, academics, students, the CIPR and PRCA and many more, but I firmly believe that we can reform our way out of this current predicament, and others do too – Weber Shandwick’s Danny Whatmough (also chair of the digital group at the PRCA) has already come up with ‘five quick fixes for the PR industry‘, they’re by no means a panacea but they’re certainly a start.

 

As Richard Bailey stated as part of a wider debate about PR’s future:

“…not all PR practitioners are fit for purpose. There’s an individual challenge (as well as a collective challenge) for us to future-proof our services”.

Richard’s right, the onus is on us as individuals to recognise the need for change in the industry and to do something about it, or we will become obsolete.

 

I’ll end this post with the thought’s of our current CIPR President:

“This year’s results point to a promising future for our practice, but also deliver some findings that make tough reading. Fulfilling our own professional ambitions will be no easy task, so we must consider these findings as a call to action. I have confidence that we will use this insight to deliver a better, stronger, fairer and more confident profession.”

 

Check out the full report findings and the responsive infographic below for more information about this year’s survey.

Matt Silver

CIPR accredited corporate reputation consultant at Ketchum with an interest in emerging technologies, social business, politics and policy. Fond of fine food and drink. Member of PRCA & CIPR #AIinPR panel.