Top 10 takeaways from the CIPR State of the Profession survey 2019

The UK’s CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) has published its latest State of the Profession Survey. The top 10 takeaways for PR professionals are:

1 Senior skills gap between what’s wanted and what’s on offer

There is a big gap between the skills that senior PR professionals can offer and what employers are looking for. ‘Research, evaluation and measurement’, ‘PR and corporate governance’ and ‘people management’ are all skills ranked highly by recruiters, but not by senior practitioners.

‘Research, evaluation, measurement ‘ is one of the top five skills most valued by recruiters, but doesn’t even feature in the top five perceived strongest skills of respondents. It is ranked fifth by recruiters, but fourteenth by practitioners – a gap of nine. Similarly ‘defining mission/values, corporate governance’ is ranked ninth by recruiters, but fifteenth by practitioners – a gap of six.

Even when skills appear on both lists there is often a big gap between what respondents think are their strongest skills, attributes, knowledge and the ones most valued by recruiters.

Strategic planning skills are valued by 70% of recruiters, yet just 51% of respondents perceive strategic planning as one of their strongest skills. For strategic thinking it is similar with it being an attribute sought by 91% of recruiters, yet just 61% of respondents think it is a strongest attribute.

The gap is similar on knowledge where ‘research, planning, implementation, evaluation’ is valued by 70% of recruiters, but just 57% of senior PR practitioners perceive it as one of their strongest areas. It is the same with crisis communications management where 57% of recruiters value the specialist knowledge, but just 48% of practitioners perceive it as a strength.

2 Professionalism matters as you earn more.

There is strong evidence that PR practitioners with a commitment to professionalism earn more. Chartered practitioners earn an average of £18,000 more per year, while those with a professional qualification earn an average £3,800 more. CIPR members earn £2,963 more than non-members.

3 Many senior practitioners don’t influence strategy

Just 59% of senior in-house PR practitioners say they influence their organisations’ business strategy, while a shocking 37% say they don’t influence it at all. A surprising 4% say they are responsible for their organisations’ business strategy.

I’ve often written about how important it is for PR professionals to understand that reputation is about what an organisation does, not just what it says. That’s why it’s essential to influence business strategy as it’s impossible to be an outstanding, effective public relations professional if you just communicate other peoples’ decisions.

4 Changing social and digital landscape is the biggest challenge

The changing social and digital landscape is seen as the biggest challenge facing the PR industry, up from second place last year. Some of the reasons for this could be the continuing decline of traditional print media, the Facebook related privacy scandals and the increasing turmoil in society because traditional politics is breaking down, as seen in the election of Donald Trump in the USA and the Brexit vote in the UK.

It is also likely to be related to some of the other top 11 challenges which include: convergence with other disciplines (largely driven by digital changes), the emergence of fake news, lack of analytical skills and automation/artificial intelligence. All of these are also part of the changing social and digital landscape.

5 Ethics are still a key challenge

Unethical public relations practice ranks sixth in the key challenges facing the PR industry. On a positive note it was ranked third last year. It’s more than the legacy of the Bell Pottinger affair as that was at the grand end of the scale. What I find more worrying is a lack of understanding and awareness about ethics at a more mundane level.

Where are the boundaries between helping a client to manage a social media account and faking it to pretend to be them? Or what is the acceptable level of disclosure in a case study. What is the line between not revealing information and lying to conceal it?

A key challenge is that too often clients and employers think it as acceptable to ask public relations professionals to do unethical things and practitioners don’t always have the skills, experience and knowledge to push back.

6 Writing and media relations most common activities

For all of our grand talk about public relations being a management discipline (for the avoidance of doubt, it is) most PR practitioners still most commonly do ‘copywriting and editing’ (57%) and ‘media relations’ (50%). On a more positive note ‘strategic planning’ does rank at five with 38% of practitioners citing it.

7 Too posh by a quarter

The stereotype of PR people being posh Annabelle, Camilla, Rupert and Hugo unfortunately appears to be true.

Public relations has a gargantuan social mobility problem. More than a quarter (28%) of respondents said they attended a fee-paying school. This is four times higher than the national UK average of 7%. The survey doesn’t go into detail about why there is this huge disparity.

I speculate that there are three potential reasons for this. If you are a ‘kid without connections’ then public relations can be a hard profession to break into. It’s far easier if mummy or daddy can arrange a work placement with an old school friend or work colleague.

A second is the negative perception of PR and its lack of of earning potential. If you’re a bright, ambitious working class kid then a ‘tainted’ profession where the average salary is just £51,804 isn’t the most exciting opportunity.

The third is that 26% (or 37% if you include the South East) of respondents are based in London. If you’re not already living in London then the cost of getting a job there, especially a not particularly well paying job, is prohibitive.

8 Does PR have a mental health crisis?

More than a fifth (21%) of respondents said they had a ‘diagnosed mental health condition’. The key word here is ‘diagnosed’ as this is not just people saying they feel stressed, but people who have seen a medical practitioner and been professionally diagnosed. That’s an alarming figure.

If employers are looking for a direct financial reason why they should take this seriously it is that 23% of respondents say they’ve had ‘absence from work on the grounds of stress, anxiety and depression.’

For this data to really mean anything there really needs to be some comparative data to show how public relations compares with other jobs and professions.

As an independent practitioner one figure I find fascinating is that 21% of independent practitioners say they’ve had absence because of this. I find it interesting as to be absolutely open the most stressful thing about being independent is you can’t be absent.

The top two factors making jobs stressful are a heavy/unmanageable workload and unrealistic deadlines or expectations from colleagues.

9 BAME representation at a five year low

Despite all the talk about the importance of diversity BAME representation is at a five year low with 92% of respondents describing themselves as white. There will be a multitude of reasons for this, but I personally believe that some of them are going to be similar to the ones I explored in why PR is too dominated by people from fee-paying schools. My anecdotal experience is that a big part of the problem is there are too many ‘kids without connections’ and not enough accessible role models.

10 PR is still a predominantly female profession

I’ve led on this rather than the more predictable gender pay gap data because it’s the one that makes the pay gap even more troublesome. If an industry where 67% of people are female can’t sort out the gender pay gap then it shows how much work there is to be done.

More positively it does appear that the gender pay gap is continuing to shrink. This year’s gap is £5,202 compared to £6,725 last year. It varies dramatically by level with the smallest gaps being at ‘officer’ level where it is a negligible £781, compared to £8,043 for ‘head of communication/associate director’ level.

What does this mean for you?

If you’re a senior public relations practitioner you should be doing several things:

  1. Improving your own skills and knowledge in areas such as public relations and communications strategy, measurement and evaluation, digital transformation and crisis communications.
  2. Proving your professionalism by ensuring you are a member of the CIPR and doing continuous professional development (CPD) to record how you are improving your skills and knowledge, with a view to becoming a chartered public relations practitioner.
  3. If you don’t already report to the board then putting in place a plan to help you do so. Public relations can not just be about communications and if you’re not influencing business strategy then you’re not fulfilling your full potential.

The State of the Profession data on skills mirrors the demand I’m seeing in Stuart Bruce Associates. The biggest growth area is measurement and evaluation for communications, reputation and relationships. There is a big demand both to train teams, but also to help clients develop robust methodologies and frameworks.

If you want help or advice with any of the three areas above then please get in touch as I can help with either strategic PR consultancy or professional development training and mentoring.

You can read the full report here or on the CIPR website.

Disclaimer – I am a non-executive director of the CIPR and also deliver some of its PR training courses.

Update – other blog posts on State of the Profession

I’ve now had a chance to look at some of the other great articles about the State of the Profession survey so am adding links to them here. Let me know if I’ve accidentally missed yours out:

Public schooled and posh: PR’s big problem by Sarah Hall

Has the PR industry lost interest in SEO? #StateOfPR by Andrew Bruce Smith

PR has a diversity and inclusion problem claims report by Scott Guthrie

Key takeouts from CIPR’s State of the Profession 2019 survey by Marcel Klebba

Talking about the State of PR by Ella Minty

STRESSED: What the CIPR survey says about public sector comms by Dan Slee

Learn to write and you’ll have job for life by Stephen Waddington

The mental health epidemic facing the PR profession by Rachel Miller

Opinion: Public relations is becoming less diverse – we cannot afford to maintain the status quo by Koray Camgoz (the CIPR’s PR manager, but writing on the Cision blog)

My thoughts on CIPR State of the Profession report… by Advita Patel

From working class to PR and working in an elite profession by Deb Sharratt

The state of PR – the wrong skills and little diversity by Dan Garella

We need diversity instead of hypocrisy by Nicola Rossi

Please note they aren’t listed in any particular order.