What does the CIPR’s State of the Profession really tell us?

The CIPR State of the Profession 2022 report is out. As usual, it contains some interesting data on diversity, salaries, job satisfaction etc. But I’m not sure how much it helps us understand the direction the public relations profession is heading.

A lot of people are expressing the usual concern about the apparent conflict between being a ‘strategic’ discipline and ‘copywriting and editing being the most common activity.

If that was the whole story then I’d be concerned, but it isn’t. The problem is that the list of ‘activities’ isn’t a list of activities. It is actually a bizarre hotchpotch of specialist public relations disciplines and tactics or ‘stuff we do’. It’s impossible to relate it in any meaningful way to more structured approaches such as Global Alliance’s Global Capabilities Framework.

Community and stakeholder relations, internal/employee communication, crisis/issues management, public affairs, financial/investor relations are all specialist disciplines within public relations. Copywriting and editing, media relations, social media, events, project management, digital, influencer relations are all just things we do as part of the specialist disciplines listed. A public affairs specialist will spend time doing writing, editing, media relations, social media, organising events and more.

The copywriting and editing one is the one that makes the least sense to even include writing as an activity. Writing and editing is a task that is part of all the specialist disciplines listed, so it would be more surprising (or even alarming!) if it didn’t top the list. It’s like asking an accountant if one of their activities is calculating numbers, or a doctor diagnosing patients.

Just because a large amount of time is spent writing doesn’t mean much if that writing is about defining strategy or governance, or if it’s telling a story about data to make it intelligible to the people that matter.

Reputation of PR

The CIPR State of the Profession 2022 survey also asked respondents if the reputation of PR in the organisation had decreased or increased. For in-house respondents across all types of organisations 51% said the reputation of PR had increased (37% said somewhat and 14% significantly) Just 8% said it had decreased.

It was a similar picture for consultancies and PR agencies with 46% saying the reputation of PR had increased, with just 6% saying it had decreased.

Similar results have been seen in other industry studies and surveys. The pandemic meant that many companies and organisations realised the importance of public relations and communictions. They recognised that it wasn’t just about sales or marketing, but was fundamental to success and survival. This meant a greater emphasis on disciplines like crisis communications, issues management and internal communications or employee engagement.

Main challenges facing PR over the next 12 months

Most respondents identified the main short-term challenge facing PR as being ‘mental health problems facing practitioners’, which was the same as last year. It’s hard to judge the significance of this without benchmarking data from other professions.

Common sense tells us that the economic and social stress of the pandemic will have a negative impact on mental health, but that’s likely to be true of nurses, doctors, teachers, refuse collectors, social workers, bus drivers and just about any job you can think of.

What we really need to know is if and how PR is different and therefore do we need to do something different to tackle it?

Fake news and disinformation entered the top five last year and is now in second place. I think this really means it’s in first place if mental health is actually a generic national issue. Fake news and misinformation is very much in the domain of PR and communications professionals, and one where many are ill-equipped to deal effectively with.

PR skills shortage

Given that 27% of respondents see labour/skills shortage as being one of the main challenges it’s shocking that training ranks so low on the list of what organisations are doing to fill vacancies. Just 14% are either increasing training for their existing workforces or are prepared to offer training to less qualified results. The PR profession must be prepared to invest in the future and can’t simply expect to ‘steal’ skills from other employers by recruiting ‘oven ready chickens’.

The two most popular responses are ‘using new recruitment methods or channels’ and ‘increasing advertising/recruitment spend’. Both of these approaches are incredibly short-sighted as the employer is making the assumption that all they need to do is find the right people. The reality is that the right people might not exist as they don’t have the skills. People that do have the skills are clearly in demand, but only 21% of employers are willing to increase the salaries offered. Simply telling more people by increasing advertising or recruitment spend about your vacancy isn’t necessarily going to fill it.

Missing PR skills

The top three missing applicant skills are ‘general PR experience’, ‘written skills’ and digital/social media. All of these are core skills. If the PR profession is struggling to find the people to fulfil even the basic requirements of public relations, then it’s unlikely to be able to find enough people with vitally important expertise in measurement and analytics, multimedia creation and behavioural science.

CIPR State of the Profession 2022

You can download the full report on the CIPR website.

If you are amongst the 14% that are investing in training then get in touch as we can help. And if you’re not then you should be, so still get in touch to see if we can help you find a budget to invest in improving and retaining your people. At Purposeful Relations we can do a full team audit and create a professional development plan for your whole team and each individual.