Today the CIPR’s State of the Profession Report (2020) has been launched and I’d like to say I’m shocked and surprised about the findings, but whilst the dials may have marginally shifted, it’s not enough. It’s not enough because right now, as cultural movements across the world are high on the agenda and people are ready to make changes, this report just clarifies once again that the industry is happy just to trundle on.

(I understand the survey was pre-COVID.)

Quick summary of the respondents, for some perspective:

1,298 respondents

35-44 year olds represent 37% of the data, followed by 25-34 years old 26% of respondents (63%)

66% female and 34% male respondents

30% of respondents are from public sector (largest number of respondents by type)

92% of respondents identify classify themselves as white

70% of respondents are CIPR members

20% belong to no professional body at all

45% of respondents came from a media/journalism background, before working in PR

51% have worked in the industry for 13+ years. (22% for 21+ years)

32% manager level and 45% are senior – Head of Comms, Director, MD, Partner

>> There is a high proportion of senior practitioners here and less representation from lower level practitioners. This has implications for the survey findings. Is it representative?

Is PR stuck?

I’m normally a positive person and can see the opportunities when faced with challenges. I suppose right now, I’m just frustrated that we’re stuck. Are the old ‘roots’ of PR holding us back?

I also feel that the data requires further interrogation. Without having the data it’s really difficult to see how the responses from each individual fit with the story of the report. There must be links that we can make judging by the profiles of the respondents, not only this year, but from previous years. Has there been a shift in mindset in a specific category, for example? We don’t really ever measure how we’re feeling or shifts in our behaviours and thinking.

Here’s what I’ve picked up on from the report.

>> Without knowing the backgrounds/CVs of the respondents, I can’t comment on their thinking about being “part of a professional community”. If you find that it’s people like me who are responding to the survey, of course I’m likely to say that, but what about those not in the CIPR bubble? 70% of respondents were CIPR members so that counts for the majority of responses here.

>> One of the biggest gripes I have is that we’re still finding it amazing and a ‘wow discovery’ that there is a method for measurement and evaluation, from AMEC, which was launched in 2010 by way of Barcelona Principles then Barcelona Principles 2.0 in 2015. Most recently, the integrated framework and 3.0 launched last week!

In the report, research, evaluation and measurement is coming in at number 8 on the “activities most commonly undertaken” category, up four places from last year, but still… It should be up there at the top with Strategy!

It was 10 years ago we had a solution to measurement, evaluation and many of us have been proving our worth through meaningful results aligned to business objectives. Why are we STILL having this conversation?! If we’re demonstrating our value, this should help the top two challenges cited as: 1. Under representation of public relations practitioners at board level and 2. Not being seen as a professional discipline. It’s because people aren’t doing strategy, they aren’t doing proper measurement and evaluation and clients/boards are left wondering what they are paying for. 

Top Challenges

Measurement and evaluation starts at the beginning of any work, with objective setting. I’ve heard too many times, “clients won’t pay for the research and evaluation”. It shouldn’t be an option!! What do stakeholders need? That should be the first question.

>> Activities most commonly undertaken – 82% said copywriting and editing, 78% said PR programme, campaigns and 75% say strategic planning. Although media relations is down also at 75%, that’s 75% of people who say this is one of the main parts of their jobs – that’s possibly reflective of the high percentage of public sector practitioners who have responded to the survey. The data then goes on to say only 43% of respondents have skills and experience in media relations and only 38% said they have skills and experience in strategic planning, but then 55% said their strongest attributes were strategic thinking. What?!

I know that public relations needs a variety of skills and experiences at different levels, so not everyone will be leading on strategy, but given the majority of the respondents are senior, I’d have hoped that strategic planning was more than 1% ahead of copywriting and editing (83% vs 82%).

What is meant by strategic planning? What are the perceptions of the respondents?

Also if you check out the full report, you’ll notice the similarities on time being spent on each activity is similar for both junior and senior practitioners. What does this tell us?

>> We’ve been talking and warning of the changes to PR for some time, circa 10 years from the conversations I have been having. This blog I wrote in July 2013 reads like I could have written it today. It was seven years ago and I’m still saying the same thing!

Our industry needs a kick up the backside. It needs to re-think, re-engage and re-ignite. 

>> Looking at social mobility, “practitioners (37%) are significantly more likely than the general public (20%) in their view, to think that their family background gave them career advantages.” I’d like to understand how this differs from other professions? What if the figure was reduced, how would that change the landscape, or if more junior people or more ethnic minorities were to have completed the survey, how would that have changed?

We definitely need to be a more open and inclusive industry and attract a more diverse practitioner, that can be within or out-with the industry. Review your recruitment process. Make a conscious decision to hire someone aligned to your values and purpose, not based on culture.

If we relate this to conversations we are having around diversity and inclusion, then I can see how the figures come about, as there are less opportunities and more bias towards minority communities. My podcast interview with Elma Glasgow delves more into this. It’ll be published soon.

When I asked the CIPR what effort it had gone to, to get a more diverse audience to complete the survey, they said “the live survey was shared with international PR associations for the first time. Otherwise it was shared via CIPR’s social channels, member and non-member emails and through paid for social media posts”.

Again, I don’t know the countries or cities respondents came from or how we can follow the vein of background relating to skills, social mobility or diversity.

Diversity

More than nine in ten (91%) classify themselves as white. That’s a 1% difference (92%) since last year. 86% classify themselves as heterosexual with fewer than one in ten identifying as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or asexual.

We are all in agreement that our industry is too white-centric and it needs greater diversity, to be less exclusive and more equal and inclusive. We need collaborative ways to create opportunities, support minority practitioners and help each other.

In the last month alone I’ve seen a shift towards the Black community lifting each other up and there have been allies supporting them from across the PR community. We need more of this!

I know this issue won’t change overnight and will take time. It’s mind set and societal issue. Not one for a person or an organisation to solve alone.

Representation

1,300 responses representing the industry of (according to PRCA Census 2019), 95,000 practitioners in the UK alone, plus we need to be mindful that some of these responses may be international, which brings a whole other set of questions.

I think if we’re going to include international then there needs to be different reports for different countries. If there is going to be a global survey, then the survey has to include a certain % from each country to be representative.

Needs more scrutiny although the conclusion will be the same

I can see what the stats are saying for each section but I’m not getting the sense of the full picture. I’d like to also understand why more people don’t complete the survey.

After all of that, I still think the industry needs to re-think, re-engage and re-ignite. I think we need a reboot. There will be generational changes which I think will be a good thing, with fresh talent, new perspectives and current movements to help the industry. 

Experience and tradition have a part to play (safe hands and all that), but if we’re really going to survive and thrive in the post-Brexit and with-COVID era, we need to diversify our skills, thinking and our people.