I always have, and always will be, a champion for PR.
Good PR mind you, PR that is well considered, properly planned, measured and that’s designed to integrate with the broader marketing mix.
But today, I have a problem. It’s that last bit, the bit about PR needing to play well with others that’s giving me grief.
Since the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) announced last month that it would start to offer individual memberships, there have been rumours of a potential merger with the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). I understand that talks happened, failed, and now it’s even more fraught between the two groups.
In fact, you can read some of the discussion on Staniforth managing director Rob Brown’s presidential campaign blog.
For the first time this move from the PRCA blurs the lines between the two organisations. Yes, there is still a defined offering from both; the consultancy management standard from the PRCA targeted at agencies and Chartered Practitioner status from the CIPR for those with them.
But let’s face it, it’s a clear move by the PRCA to eat some of the CIPR’s dinner. There’s nothing wrong with that, healthy competition often drives people to be better. But the suggestion from some that each party should remain in its own corner, focusing on its own demographic, is short-sighted to say the least. Staying true to those you serve is one thing, refusing to diversify in the face of a jaded industry is quite another.
Regarding the merger itself, there are both pros and cons. It could produce a stronger, more comprehensive voice that brings with it less duplication of effort, better training and harmony within the industry, or it could confuse each entity’s offering, making that singularity seem biased or lacking in focus.
For me, it’s the attitude with which this issue has been discussed that I take umbrage with. For years I’ve seen incredibly smart PR professionals stand up at conferences and hammer home the point about the need for integration, working with specialists to bolster skillsets, learning about how PR can interact with search, social, use data and analytics better. How on earth is the industry supposed to embrace this idea seriously if its own bodies can’t present a united front? What happened to practising what you preach?
PR increasingly has to fight other marketing disciplines when it comes to client retention and new business. Now more than ever. Many agencies outside of PR are more agile, have different skills that compliment digital and are prepared to invest in learning the ones they don’t have already. Sometimes it’s just perception, sometimes it’s a different approach, but the threat is very real.
I remain an avid supporter of both the PRCA and CIPR. I’ve promoted, spoken at and attended events, entered awards when I actually did PR back in the day and was even on the board for the CIPR’s Thames & Chiltern group for a time. I’m well aware of their respective strengths and weaknesses, but have always seen their value.
But while other trade bodies like the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), Marketing Society and others become more attractive in terms of events, education and sometimes new business, I’d like to see the PRCA and CIPR wake up to the fact that the PR industry needs more unified direction.
The very purpose of each organisation is to support its members, but while both refuse to stop bickering and work together to become more relevant to the industry, they fail in their task.