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Dare we call ourselves a profession?

February 25, 2014

 

Anne Gregory, Global Alliance Chair

Sometimes I’m forced to conclude that the public relations profession does more damage to itself than any cynical journalist. I have just picked up the latest edition of the most widely read public relations trade magazine in the UK to look at the annual survey of the profession conducted by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.

 

The results show that when asked to rank the most important assets for public relations professionals to have, only 10% believe it is an academic qualification, 12% believe it is a professional qualification, 68% think experience in a PR role most important, and 6% experience in another sector, not necessarily in PR.

 

What this tells us that the benchmark for credibility in our profession in the UK is not a basic and systematic level of ‘literacy’ as exemplified in a qualification, but experience. 

Apparently it appears not to matter what the quality of that experience is or how broad or deep it is. And yet we call ourselves a profession. Try telling an accountant, an engineer, a company secretary or even a chiropractor that and you would be laughed out of the room. Having a relevant and contemporary qualification is the first step in any profession having self-respect and a ‘licence to operate’ in the world of work. Yet why do public relations practitioners continue to think they are the exception? Why do they not understand the link between the fact that they often struggle for credibility with senior management and the fact that they lack the basic understanding of the language of business, how organisations operate and what the contribution of public relations can be. That is not gained through experience alone, but through structured learning equivalent to the MBAs that most of the people they are interacting with see as absolutely standard.

 

An objective of the Global Alliance is to raise standards in the profession. One of the ways that can be done is through a common agreement on what practitioners should know and do and what professional behaviours they should exhibit. We have made some strides here with our research on what should constitute a core curriculum. More needs to be done. Education, professional credentials and professional development is a common concern for most of GA members and in the next few days I will be sending an invitation to Association leaders to attend a Summit on this topic in June 2014. The time is right if we are going to begin to make progress on this issue. A profession is not a profession unless it values qualifications and sees them as the core of its credibility and respectability.

 

Anne Gregory

Global Alliance Chair