Professional Bodies: Postnominals & PR Week?

What motivates people to join PR’s professional bodies, is it just about postnominals and PR Week? Or is it something more?

 

Mr Motivator - what motivates people to join PR's professional bodies?
Mr Motivator (image taken from Dave Tett on Flickr under CCL

A discussion I started on Linkedin, a recent post by Scott Guthrie and chatter in the PR industry have got me thinking about why PR people join professional bodies.

The discussion, initially focused on why relatively few CIPR members enroll in its CPD scheme and why the scheme isn’t being seen as demonstrating professionalism, provoked a response that admittedly didn’t come as a surprise, but did somewhat irk me:

“I’m probably one of those CIPR members who isn’t totally convinced about this scheme. Surely just belonging to the CIPR equates to a level of professionalism that is appreciated by employers/clients and having CIPR professional qualifications is the bonus. The CPD scheme just seems too complex & unnecessary to me.”

The opinion that the CPD scheme is ‘complex and unnecessary’ is somewhat ridiculous (as many, including Michael White and Stuart Bruce have noted, CPD really couldn’t be much easier). But what really annoyed me was the ‘surely just belonging to…’, the idea that there is a ‘that’s enough’ point to professionalism – in my eyes that is a fundamental misunderstanding of what professionalism and professional bodies are about.

PR’s professional bodies are there to drive positive change in the industry, to ensure PR practitioners have the knowledge and skills to practice, to communicate the benefits of good PR to the wider business world and much more. Yes, just being a member has its benefits, but as our current CIPR President said in a letter to members, the body should: ‘lead the transformation of today’s PR workforce into the professionals of tomorrow’.

CPD will play a key role in that transformation, as Alastair McCapra, CIPR CEO says: “Belonging to the CIPR on its own doesn’t equate to professionalism, though it does equate to a commitment to professionalism and to accountability through the code of conduct. Qualifications are great but knowledge degrades. If we are not [continuously] learning and developing ultimately we can’t be professional because we’ll end up trying to solve tomorrow’s problems with yesterday’s techniques.”

While there is still change to make – and there always is – there is no ‘that’s enough’.

For the big issues; gender pay inequality, a lack of diversity, a lack of digital skills and many others raised in recent research, professional bodies are the key agents of change. When the issues are this big and this widespread, only they, with their ability to collectively encourage individuals and organisations to up their games can make a real difference.

Postnominals

‘Surely just being a member…’ doesn’t sit well with me at all, nor does it with Jonathan Bean, who comments on Scott Guthrie’s post that we should worry about the value we deliver, not our ‘professional status’ or the letters after our names. Among the many benefits of membership are the ability to upskill and increase our value offering and indeed the ability to better communicate that added value. Being part of a professional body is about far more than just designatory letters.

PR Week

While up until this point I’ve talked almost exclusively about the CIPR, the UK has another professional body, the PRCA (I’m a member of both). The PRCA’s membership has grown rather rapidly of late as it assimilated the 3,000-strong Government Communications Service into its ranks and signed a deal with trade publication PR Week after the CIPR ended its relationship with the publisher.

This sudden influx of members is an interesting one, and one I’m keeping an eye on. I wonder how many new members they’ll retain when the free trial elapses, it certainly seems to me that the impetus for their joining was continuing to receive copies of PR Week. This may well have been a lucrative deal, but receiving a monthly magazine – for some, long past its best – should not be a major factor in joining a professional body.

So why should people join professional bodies?

We all have our own reasons for joining or indeed not joining professional bodies, and I wouldn’t presume to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do in business. I can however tell you that I would recommend joining a professional body and give you some of the reasons I’m a member of both the CIPR and PRCA.

  • As a member of these professional bodies I’m demonstrating my accountability to their codes of conduct, ethics and best practice.
  • As a member I have a say in who best represents my industry and who can deliver the change PR needs to remain relevant and competitive.
  • My membership gives me access to high quality training, resources, events and debate that cannot be found elsewhere.
  • By committing to Continuing Professional Development I am ensuring my knowledge and skills are up to date, allowing me to practice PR effectively in a rapidly evolving business environment.
  • By working towards a body’s professional qualifications I am demonstrating to clients, colleagues and employers that I understand my industry and its craft and am capable of delivering a service of high quality and value.
  • My memberships allow me to build my professional network and engage with PR thinkers and doers at all levels of the industry.

Are Professional Bodies That Important?

While they’re never going to carry the same weight or influence as the boards/associations of true professions like law and medicine, I believe we should all endeavour to make PR’s professional bodies more influential, credible and bring more benefits to their respective memberships.

In his aforementioned comment, Jonathan talks about a lack of knowledge and skills among communications professionals, he’s right, but professional bodies play a key role in changing that. I firmly believe that the collective encouragement for individuals to up their own games is the key benefit provided by professional bodies, not postnominals. In that respect professional bodies are a bit like Mr Motivator – we know what the problems are in PR and what changes we need to make, but we need them to give us the advice and friendly encouragement to actually make those changes (in this case however, we can probably forego the garish spandex).

In my view, we need to understand why more PR people aren’t joining our professional bodies. We need to communicate the benefits of joining them much more effectively and make sure they are delivering key benefits to the industry.

From what I see, these bodies are doing valuable work, but their ability to change and influence is being limited by low membership levels (as a proportion of the industry) and low levels of engagement among the existing membership. If we want real change – and most of us do – we mustn’t be complacent and leave it to vocal and disruptive influencers, we all need to do our bit, JFDI, and make those changes happen.

Opinions From Elsewhere

Don’t just take my word for it, many others believe in the benefits and value added by joining professional bodies (note not one mentions postnominals or PR Week):

Andy Barr on why his agency joined the CIPR

Past President Stephen Waddington on why you should consider joining the CIPR

Paul Allen on taking a stand for the PR industry

PR Moment – Is it worth joining a PR industry body?

What about You?

I’d love to hear your views on the membership of professional bodies, whether you are a member of one or not, and if you are, what your motivations for membership are? Pop your thoughts in the comments or fire me a tweet at @MattSilverPR

 

Matt Silver

Corporate & Technology PR bod at Ketchum with an interest in emerging technologies, online behaviours, sustainability & social business. Fond of fine food and drink. Member of CIPR & PRCA.

  • “Surely just belonging to the CIPR equates to a level of professionalism that is appreciated by employers/clients and having CIPR professional qualifications is the bonus.” — My mother is an Advanced Motorist. I know this to be true because I remember she took a rigorous course whilst I was taking driving lessons. She passed. However, that was 23 years ago. Mum still uses the badge to prove she’s an Advanced Motorist.

    As Alistair says ‘knowledge degrades’. He furthers the point with the line about solving tomorrow’s problems with yesterday’s techniques. It’s at this point that I usually trot out the quote often attributed to Eric Hoffer (and I shan’t disappoint here): “In times of change the learner shall inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists”.

    Accountability through codes of ethics, life-long learning through CPD and best practice through competency frameworks should be what industry bodies can boast. These bodies become the NutraSweet of PR practice. The ingredient-branding which elevates the PR practitioner in the mind of the firm buying the PR service.

  • mikesoft98

    Interesting article Matt and thanks for linking to my blog. Your thoughts in this post reflect the conversations I’ve had in real life with PR practitioners. I’m a member of the CIPR and have just accepted free 3-month membership to the PRCA as well. Although for the PRCA, anyone could claim this membership. There were no checks or barriers, I just signed up. So the PRCA’s recent membership increase thanks to their partnership with PR Week is extremely misleading.

    What I would say about membership to the CIPR or PRCA is that whilst I consider myself ethically obligated to be a member, agreeing to codes of conduct and pushing professionalism – they are still entirely optional. In some industries you have to be a member of a chartered body to even work. This isn’t the case yet for PR.

    • Your point about obligation Michael is one I make in my post (also generously linked to from Matt’s post) http://sabg.co/1Fhh9dH .

      As PR practitioners aren’t mandated to join a body, and therefore adhere to codes of ethics and CPD, you get good PRs and bad ones. Those who strive to innovate. To push the discipline forward. But equally those who get stuck in a moment in time. Fossilised.

      I then make the, perhaps, facetious comparison: By this reasoning PR practitioners have more in common with barbers than they do barristers.

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