Rebuilding an international reputation – Ireland’s practitioners focus on the challenge of rebuilding in tough economic times
This month’s interview takes us to Ireland, for a conversation with newly elected President of PRII, Niall Quinn. He discusses how Ireland, hard hit by recent economic and financial crises is looking to the future and the part practitioners have to play.
Can you give us an overview on the Public Relations and Communication landscape in Ireland?
There are currently almost 800 members of the Public Relations Institute of Ireland comprising public relations and communication professionals drawn from consultancies, industry, government, semi-state, voluntary and business organisations. The depth and scope of our members' backgrounds and working briefs reflect a considerable broadening of the role and responsibilities of PR professionals from the traditional media relations base, and highlight its cross-functionality with a variety of disciplines including journalism, advertising, marketing, legal, financial, healthcare and commercial functions.
What is the impact of the recent economic crisis on the industry?
Crises have winners and losers and the PR and Communications in the Irish market has been no different. With private sector companies looking to reduce expenditure to become more competitive and cutbacks in the public sector, PR and communications spend has dropped significantly in recent years. Perhaps the most adversely impacted areas of the industry are those working with public sector organisations and those in consumer PR. Other areas, in particular issues and crisis management, have been affected less given the scale of the issues that Ireland has had to deal with in recent years. Another impact of the crisis is that types of work within sectors has changed. From a personal perspective my work in Corporate and Financial PR has changed from supporting corporate finance practitioners by advising on communication strategies in mergers and acquisitions pre-crisis to working with insolvency practitioners on receiverships and liquidations.
How involved have Irish PR and communications professionals been in assisting organisations in the public and private sector deal with both the fallout from the crisis and the steps being taken towards recovery?
The financial crisis will provide numerous case studies for PR students of the future. What’s clear is that in the run-up to the crisis and in the immediate aftermath communications professionals were not sufficiently involved in assisting public and private sector bodies. That may prompt questions as to how a PR professional could think that they could have changed what happened. However, in crises, communications is crucial to minimise reputation damage. I have a saying that I use with clients when I’m engaged on advising on an issue or crisis and it’s this – in a crisis if you hide or lie you’re reputation will die, it’s that simple. At the height of the crisis, leaders hid and governments and organisations were more than economic with the truth. The adverse reputational fallout has been immense. However, from Ireland’s perspective we’ve been turning the corner and our reputation internationally has improved. Government has successfully communicated the steps that have been taken to restore Ireland’s financial stability. The knock-on effect has meant that Ireland has started a phased return to the markets for long-term fundraising at more sustainable pricing levels. But as any experienced communications professional will tell you this will require a renewed focus to build on the successes to date.
Let’s focus on PRII, the Public Relations Institute of Ireland. What role does the Institute play in the Irish PR and communication industry?
Established almost 60 years ago, the PRII promotes the highest standards of public relations practice in Ireland and serves the best interests of those working in the profession. From an education perspective it accredits PR courses provided by third level institutions and also provides continuous professional development resources to its members together with other members services.
What are the main challenges for the future?
PR is a service that requires experienced professionals to provide advice and expertise to both public and private sector organisations. In order to ensure that the brightest and best people are drawn to the industry remuneration levels must be attractive and in line with other professions. There has been significant downward pressure on budgets for those responsible for in-house departments and for hourly rates paid to consultancies which is having an impact on pay. This is also having a knock-on effect on training and development needs also. It’s probably fair to draw parallels between PR and other professions in terms of training. For instance PR consultancies/large in-house PR departments are no different to, say, accountancy firms where young professionals serve their time and with those skills move to other organisations which benefit from that training. Given the pressure on PR spend, quoted rates have fallen to unsustainable levels which is impacting on consultancies being able to invest in trainees. If this cycle continues there won’t be a pipeline of talent which will lead to a shortage of properly trained PR professionals in the future.
Do you represent mainly the community of Irish PR professionals and senior communicators or do you have a student membership?
The PRII represents the full spectrum of those involved in the PR industry, from students to the most eminent professionals with decades of experience. The membership is also comprised of both in-house and consultancy practitioners.
What involvement do you have with tertiary education in PR and communication?
As an Institute we’re very responsive to training and development needs of our membership. Therefore, our focus is on providing a range of options which are relevant to members whether they are just starting out in a career as a PR professional or are more experienced practitioners who want to refresh their skillset in light of new industry developments. In addition to the one year part-time diploma that’s accredited by the PRII we also have professional certification programmes on areas such as social media and internal communications that run over weekends during the academic year as well as full day and half day intensive courses during the week focused on specific areas. More recently we have found that some organisations are approaching the Institute with specific training needs and the team has developed bespoke programmes in response to those requirements.
What services do you offer members?
As a membership body we are focused on providing value-added services to Irish PR professionals and are in ongoing dialogue with members to ensure that what we provide is timely, relevant and valuable to them. This involves ongoing training and professional development programmes, networking events with high profile speakers on topical events and our flagship events such as the Institute’s Annual Conference and industry awards scheme. There’s also hugely practical resources such as the Institute’s Media Sourcebook which is a valuable tool for every practitioner involved in media relations. Indeed we have just completed an online survey on member services which found a high level of satisfaction among respondents to what we currently offer. What was particularly satisfying for us as a membership organization was the speed of response to the survey where over a third of full members completed the questionnaire within a week.
In April PRII will hold its Annual Conference 2013 on the theme “PR at the Media Crossroads”. Can you tell us about the themes that will be explored at the event?
The media landscape is changing rapidly so it’s timely that we bring together leading academics, practitioners and representatives of both new and traditional media to discuss the key issues, share insights and inform best practice in light of new realities. Among the topics that will be discussed are, Media shake-up and the shake-out: How PR practitioners can stay relevant in the new reality, Brand building in the digital age, and a panel discussion with high profile print, broadcast and online journalists discussing their views on the future of journalism. While the conference will be of most relevance to Irish practitioners, many of the themes will be relevant to PR professionals in other markets so we would be delighted to welcome overseas delegates to the event.
Niall Quinn was recently elected President of the PRII for a two year term. He is an experienced corporate and financial PR practitioner and is Deputy Managing Director of Corporate Reputations, a leading Irish PR and strategic marketing consultancy.
Niall can be contacted via email – firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone (01) 661 8915 or 086 827 4829