What is the value of professional PR bodies?

 Toni Muzi Falconi raises some interesting questions about professional public relations associations, their practices and management and why so few practitioners choose to belong in any country. 

He also states “I am convinced that the prime cause for the disarray (to say the least..) in which the status of our profession is perceived today in society-at-large lays in the overall abysmal shortcomings of these organizations.”

It may seem unfair to blame bodies that represent fewer than 10% of global practitioners of PR for its poor reputation, but at the same time, it is reasonable to ask – particularly if you are a member – what is the value of such bodies?

Does public relations need national (or global) policing?  Does anyone every read codes of conduct when they join – or question their value to them as practitioners? Are membership fees and costs of attending training/events reasonable for those outside the corporate purse strings?  How is membership income spent?  Are the activities of those running the body directed at benefiting themselves or the members? 

I think there are many good reasons for such bodies and becoming a member (disclosure: I am an accredited practitioner of the UK Chartered Institute of Public Relations and general secretary of the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association, MIPAA).  However, there is something of a myth about the ability – and success – of such bodies in raising professional standards.   

A commitment to continuous professional development is not the preserve of PR association members.  Good quality education and training, and indeed, practical skills improvement, are available from many sources.  There are also many excellent texts and other methods of independent study, from which those interested in bettering themselves can learn.  Of course, endorsement from a professional body can be a useful indicator of quality – or simply demonstrate a financial or other relationship exists.

Gaining a professional qualification can certainly enhance the abilities of practitioners – whether studying as an under- or post-graduate.  The CIPR qualifications (disclosure: which I have taught for many years) are of a very high standard and feedback from students demonstrates their value in career development.  However, gaining these qualification, particularly  for those working in PR at the same time, is expensive in terms of time and money invested.  

It is my experience that few of those achieving the CIPR professional qualifications remain as members – and a minority of those (studying or teaching PR) at Universities belong to the professional body.  Why don’t these “educated” PRs recognise membership as important to their careers?

If educational competence isn’t exclusive to those belonging to PR associations, neither is a commitment to ethical practice.  Like many competent practitioners, I use personal values to guide my behaviour – and would do so regardless of membership of a body.

Although I can see an argument in saying I cannot do something because of a code of conduct, I am not convinced it is a strong one.  Having laws doesn’t stop people behaving badly (and of course, PR practice is governed by many legal constraints).

Acting in a “professional” manner or delivering “professional” services to clients or employers is not the preserve of members of associations.  Maybe having the recognition of membership should be a distinguishing factor – but can you really measure the quality of a PR practitioner in this way? 

If one aim of PR associations is to raise the professional reputation of those working in the discipline – is “an exclusive club” attitude the right one?  The 470 members of MIPAA, represent the majority of those working in automotive PR in the UK (at least 75% of the potential).  Over nearly 40 years, the association has been recognised as important in helping those at all stages of their careers through an inclusive approach.  This means that if you work in PR in the motor industry, it is accepted you should join MIPAA.

Journalists in the industry praise the standard of MIPAA members.  We have a lot of work to do in ensuring PR is recognised as a strategic function in the industry – and further encouraging knowledge and skills development (through education, links with Universities, mentoring and sharing best practice). 

This is a different type of organisation to the CIPR, and (like similar organisations) serves a more focused function – but I believe its success is in being relevant and human.  We have supported young members – from their University placements to management positions – as well as those needing or wanting to change jobs (we offer a free JobSearch service) or on retirement.

In the age of social networking, it is important that our professional associations make a strong connection with members rather than focusing too much on developing as large “corporate” bodies interested more in power, control and global connections than in genuinely helping members (and the wider profession) at all levels and career points

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

4 thoughts on “What is the value of professional PR bodies?”

  1. Can’t see the point of a professional body in this field, except to lend credibility and therefore to maximize your chance of being contracted. Seems to me that you stand or fall by what you’ve previously delivered – why does that need a professional body? I’d be interested to hear what Ellee has to say on this.

  2. If you fall over something you’ve delivered, you should be accountable for your behaviour to the unfortunate recipient of that bad practice. One word: integrity. Another word: CIPR – the way towards a truly professsional practice that deals those who let the side down.

  3. I agree that integrity is essential for anyone working in PR. But I believe integrity must be one of your personal values and therefore, is also an element of your professional ones. As such, you gain a reputation for integrity which you strive to maintain in everything you say and do.

    CIPR similarly needs to have a strong reputation both for its own actions and those of its members. If that is the case, then practitioners may choose to associate (co-orientate) themselves through membership – as this will, by association, help others who aren’t aware of someone’s personal reputation recognise their values.

    If you already have a reputation for integrity – then the industry body gains from the association. This may be seen as a win-win situation. Of course, you may then wish the body to police the integrity of members so it doesn’t gain a negative reputation that transfers to you.

    But is it really feasible for a body such as CIPR to police personal values such as integrity? Yes, it needs to protect its own reputation – but I feel responsible for my own reputation and decisions around value judgements. I would like to believe industry bodies are working in partnership with me, rather than being positioned as there to accredit and even judge my professionalism. That is a communal relationship rather than simply an exchange (commercial) one based on wanting my money in return for a “badge of honour”.

    Perhaps what bodies such as CIPR can do, is to set out the organisation’s values and invite those who share these to join – rather than presenting a code of conduct as a fixed set of “laws” to be followed, or else. Indeed, maybe as part of membership, we should be asked to document our own personal/professional values so that we demonstrate a real commitment and responsibility towards our own reputation.

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