Public relations strategy and communications measurement are what senior PR practitioners need most

Public relations strategy, planning, measurement, evaluation and crisis communications emerge as key skills and knowledge areas in the 2018 State of the Profession survey from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).

This year’s report is important because for the first time it combines the unique CIPR State of the Profession survey research with data from a separate Office of National Statistics (ONS) study into the public relations population.

These are some of the findings that I think are most interesting:

  • Chartered public relations practitioners have the highest average income
  • Skills most valued by recruiters for senior PR practitioners:
    • Management of people resources 65%
    • Strategic planning 61%
    • Crisis, issues management 57%
  • Specialist knowledge most valued by recruiters for senior public relations practitioners:
    • Research, planning, implementation and evaluation 66%
    • Business acumen 62%
    • Crisis communications management 57%

PR to be on board, or not to be on board

It’s interesting that while just 16% of senior in-house public relations practitioners are on the board (11% executive, 5% non-executive),  yet 60% influence an organisation’s business strategy. I actually find this quite a welcome figure as it’s very easy to say that PR should have a seat at the boardroom table, which is what I always used to believe.

However, after discussions with many senior public relations practitioners around the world I’m no longer convinced it’s essential for PR to be on the board. It can even be beneficial that it isn’t as it can be good to maintain a degree of independence. Public relations must have direct access to the board and critically the CEO and chairperson (or equivalents). PR’s access must never be through a ‘third party’ such as a chief marketing officer (because PR isn’t just part of marketing and is never subservient to it).

It’s impossible for public relations to be effective unless it does have an influence on business strategy, as reputation is far more about what you do than just how you communicate it. The CEO and board should be responsible for making the decisions on business strategy, but they can only do so intelligently after consulting their most senior public relations counsel on the reputational implications of different decisions.

Professional public relations

As in previous years the answer to the question about “how do you judge the professional standards of public relations practitioners?” is alarming. Very alarming. A truly terrifying 63% think it’s “satisfying clients/employers”. I’d be hard pressed to think of many professions, jobs or trades where that’s a criteria for professionalism.

I’m hiring a electrician and plumber at the moment and I’d be delighted with a cheap one that could do the job tomorrow in half the time that others were quoting. That wouldn’t make him or her professional if they weren’t completing the work according to the appropriate building and safety standards. I’m not really sure what those standards are, but I’m certain I want my tradespeople to be qualified and provide evidence they comply with them. Likewise with my lawyer and accountant. My doctor would definitely satisfy me if he or she said I should drink more wine and eat more red meat. But it wouldn’t make my doctor very professional. It’s essential to satisfy clients and employers, but it’s a ridiculous notion to equate that with professionalism.

More reassuringly 60% think it’s membership of a professional body. However membership on its own isn’t enough so it’s intriguing to see just 56% think commitment to industry codes of practice is a way to judge professionalism. Only 50% think it’s training and qualifications, while just 36% think it’s active participation in a continuous professional development (CPD) scheme. Personally, I’d say it’s all of these things as they are all interconnected and one without the other isn’t sustainable professionalism. Qualifications and training are brilliant, but need to be kept up to date and supplemented by other forms of professional development which is why CPD is so important.

What’s next?

You can view the full State of the Profession 2018 report on the CIPR website and in the embedded SlideShare document at the end of this article.

Most of my consultancy work and training programmes revolve around PR strategy, communications measurement and evaluation, digital and social media, and crisis communications training so if you’re interested in a no obligations chat about how I can help you then please get in touch.

Disclaimer: I am an elected member of the CIPR national council, sit on the board and chair the Policy and Campaigns Committee which has oversight of the State of the Profession research project. My business also provides training courses to the CIPR and I teach the CIPR Professional Diploma on behalf of PR Academy.