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Public Relations

The Irritation Game

February saw reports from the CIPR and the PRCA that held a mirror to the current state of PR and those who practice it and declared that both were not in the best of health.

PRCA’s report looked into the issue of mental illness within the PR industry (a third of practitioners at some time have had a mental health issue) while the CIPR’s state of the profession 2015 report looked at the current wellbeing of PR in the UK. Both made for uncomfortable reading.

If you were to take this in tandem with some of the negative commentaries made last year by people such as Robert Preston, you would have thought that PR was on its last legs.

In fact, a book has just been published entitled “Trust Me, PR Is Dead” and you can’t get more final than that.

However, I don’t think that PR is a spent force.

If anything, it is going from strength to strength. It is now 63,000 strong and worth £9.6bn in the UK.  The problem is that if you put five people in a room and ask them to give a definition of PR you would get such different statements that you would be excused for thinking that they are describing different disciplines.

That is PR’s Achilles heel. It has no agreed identity.

What do I mean by that?

I would argue that if you were to ask Joe or Jane Public about those professions they would have a good idea of what they do and their value to society.

PR people are so focused on discussing what they are not or what they want to be, that they forget what they are and more importantly, what they have achieved.  Rather than flog themselves, if they could move w away from the self-criticism they can move forward on getting that final definition.

Of course, when you are in a negative groove, you are sensitive to any and all criticisms, which is why Mr Preston got such traction with his views last year.

Practitioners shouldn’t be intimidated by the Robert Prestons of this world who obviously has only met one facet of PR and denounces the entire industry with statements such as this one.

“I should point out that of course, PRs aren’t the only bullshitters; but if they are not paid to bullshit, to present their clients in the best possible light, what are they being paid to do?”

An outdated view of PR but one that would resonate with many senior management teams.  This is difficult for PR practitioners who want to be respected as counsellors but are viewed as service providers.

One of the key topics of the recent State of the Profession report, in fact one of the main planks of the CIPR’s 2020 report,  is  the need to promote professionalism so that PR will eventually have the recognition of lawyers, engineers or the medical profession.

When delivering the 2020 report the CIPR said,” By 2020, the successful practice of Public Relations will be clear on what public relations are and the benefits it can deliver, strongly led, respected and established as a senior management discipline.”

We are not the first profession to have a bad press. Lawyers are sharks and doctors sawbones but when needed people want the best.  We are spin doctors (and worse) but we should move beyond the irritation that such comments may cause and move on.

Although we have yet to agree what is professionalism in the UK PR industry the CIPR, PRCA and the Government Communication Service agree that professionalism is the only way to go.

PR isn’t dead. PR is evolving. So much, that  having a definitive description at this stage is like nailing down a cloud. PR is going through major growing pains, growth spurts if you will. Inter-departmental convergence, as highlighted by the CIPR, is growing and will change the practice of PR.

If we are to make ourselves relevant as outlined in the 2020 report we have a long way to go but the first thing we should do is not be irritated or beat ourselves up over how others view us.

Once we establish ourselves as a profession with clear benefits, when people need a PR practitioner the will want the best.  It is our job to make sure that at all times we promote professionalism and best practice. The rest will follow.

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