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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. 

Vikki Chowney

Published 3 November, 2011 by Vikki Chowney

Vikki is head of community at TMW. You can follow her on Twitter or Google+

249 more posts from this author

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Richard Ellis, PRCA communications director

To suggest the PRCA is failing in its task is absurd. It has, alongside Meltwater, fought the NLA in the Courts and the Copyright Tribunal, with PRWeek it has launched the PRCensus – a comprehensive analysis of the industry, with the CIPR and APPC it continues to work on UKPAC etc. That’s before submissions to the Hargreaves & Defamation consultations. Then there’s the 40+ free events we run each year etc, etc… We are doing more each month and that’s why over the past four years we have trebled in size.

almost 5 years ago

Michelle Goodall

Michelle Goodall, Online PR/Social Media Consultant at EconsultancySmall Business Multi-user

Completely agree with you Vikki.

As a CIPR member now and a former PRCA member when agency-side and having worked with them both, I'm convinced of the value of a strong, representative voice for all professionals in all areas of PR. It's needed now more than ever.

Like you I'm surprised and saddened by the public bickering and posturing from both organisations. It's time to thrash this out. A merger seems the most positive and logical thing to do.

almost 5 years ago

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Danny Whatmough, Associate social media and digital director at Ketchum

Totally agree. It's time that we stopped all the squabbling and started promoting PR and raising standards. If the CIPR and PRCA can exist side by side then great. If they have to merge, fine. But much of this just leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

[Disclosure: EML Wildfire is a member of the PRCA and I sit on the PRCA digital steering group]

almost 5 years ago

Vikki Chowney

Vikki Chowney, Head of Social at TMW

Richard, you know I'm not attacking either the PRCA or CIPR. I state that very clearly in my piece, alongside my defence of your work.

Separately, yes, both sides do good things, but in terms of 'working together' - I think we all know things aren't quite as unified as they could be.

almost 5 years ago

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Peter Sigrist

Hi Vikki. I think you've raised two really interesting points. The first relates to the changing face of the communications industry. As all the marcoms disciplines get closer to one another, there will be less clear water between the representative trade bodies. So they either need to find and own a niche, or merge. You've pointed out that the CIPR and PRCA appear to be doing neither. But I think you've inadvertently raised a second question around the value of the traditional trade body. I mean, do I feel I'm losing out by the current impasse between CIPR and PRCA? Not really. And do I feel I need such organisations to make arguments on my behalf about best practice, evaluation standards and suchlike? Certainly not. I find that in this socially networked age, everything I need is already at my disposal. Lobbying on behalf of the industry, I support. But as for the rest, they can squabble all they like. Perhaps I'm an overly simple soul, but it doesn't cause me to lose any sleep.

almost 5 years ago

Vikki Chowney

Vikki Chowney, Head of Social at TMW

Thanks for your thoughts Peter. Very strong point about the disconnect, you're not the first to mention it to me today.

It's a shame though, to hear that so many are just completely beyond caring about what the groups are up to, since they find no value in membership.

I still have hope though, there are an awful lot of smart people milling about behind the scenes just waiting for a chance to make a change.

almost 5 years ago

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Peter Sigrist

That sounds like a challenge :)

almost 5 years ago

Dirk Singer

Dirk Singer, Head Rabbit at Rabbit

Hi Vikki,

Like you I've been involved with both and think they have some capable people running them, doing good work.

Fact is though, there is a lot of duplication between the two. Both stage awards. Both run broadly similar training programmes. Both have an events schedule. Both lobby on industry issues.

So, on the face of it I'd agree - one unified industry body would be more effective in representing our interests

almost 5 years ago

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Stephen Slavin

I think you present some very valid points here Vikki. As a University student I can't say I fully understand the main concepts of either organisation and therefore I am in no position to critisize either organisation or the industry as a whole. But I fully agree that a unified body would be best for our industry to be competetive against external threats who have more tangible benefits, like advertising and marketing.

Competetition is nearly always good. But when it starts "eating the others' dinner", is it more likely to cause internal conflict?

Enjoyed reading your article; first time I've clicked any econsultancy link on twitter.

almost 5 years ago

Vikki Chowney

Vikki Chowney, Head of Social at TMW

A challenge, Peter? Of course!

Thanks also to Dirk, Michelle and Danny for your input.

Lovely to have you on board Stephen, and to hear your take on this.

almost 5 years ago

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