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Philip Morgan
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Any debate on the future of the representative bodies in public relations is welcome, although let’s be clear that you are reporting on anecdotal evidence from a limited sample. The headlines reflect a negative discussion that doesn’t do justice to the achievements of the CIPR. There is no mention of the development of respected professional qualifications, the delivery of a CPD system specific to public relations where none had previously existed or of how we secured a Royal Charter for public relations and chartered status for professionals. The latter also being the answer to the point you raise about there being no consensus around the objectives for the CIPR. The Royal Charter sets them out pretty clearly. First and foremost they include the promotion of professional development through training and qualifications, professional standards through accountability to a code of conduct, representation of the interests of members and the provision of services.
You have a point about the nature of ‘professionalism’ in an area in which there is no qualification or licence barrier to entry and I think this is a debate the CIPR needs to hold. My personal view, informed by the CIPR, is that professionalism should be viewed in an individual context and is the validation of qualifications and experience in manner meaningful to employers, clients and the general public, combined with accountability to an external moral code and a commitment to continuous professional development.
CPD is a key area and the CIPR will be continuing to develop the online system in a number of ways – it needs to be accessible and straightforward but not easy. Any development will be closely aligned to a refresh of the ‘Accredited Status’ we offer which is aimed at guiding recruiters and employers to professionals who have made a long term and on-going commitment to their personal development.
You are completely wrong that we take a soft stance on ethics and if you are reporting her correctly, Ms Fawkes is wrong about the nature of the CIPR code. The fact that it is broad is a strength. An overly detailed code can be weakened easily by being too specific to apply to individual cases that fall outside the circumstances envisaged by the people who drafted it. Our approach means that complaints can be bought and tested by a panel of professionals and lay people on the ethics of the situation put before them. We take complaints very seriously, investing a great deal of time and money in our process for managing them and we can and do act when there has been a breach of our standards.
The “undefined feeling that a CIPR-type body should exist” is obviously a comfort but the fact is the CIPR is growing – our professional membership (excluding student admissions) increased by 4% in 2012. More to the point, the number of people taking professional development opportunities increased in 2012 with enrolments on qualifications up by 30% on the previous year and the number of people taking our workshops increasing by 26%. This is also reflected in the number of Higher Education Institutions seeking CIPR recognition for their courses as a differentiator at a time when competition is increasingly intense.
The same is true of us that is true of any representative body in any industry - we could always do more to campaign in the interests of the profession, but there is surely some credit to be given to the work we do – recent examples include diversity and our on-going efforts make careers in public relations a visible option for school leavers from all backgrounds and lobbying, where we have been working with colleagues from the APPC and PRCA to highlight the pitfalls in the Government’s flawed approach to a transparency register. That said, the future status of the profession depends on the ability and credibility of the people who work in it and the CIPR has done more than any other organisation, professional or academic, to promote standards in public relations.

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