Celebrating seventy years of the CIPR with a view to the future

Today the great and the good of the world of public relations gathered at St Bride's Church, Fleet Street, London for a service to celebrate seventy years of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). Here is a transcript of the speeches I gave during the service and at the reception afterwards.

Church service: Celebrating the history and future of the CIPR

Today – on this very day – we mark the 70th anniversary of the Institute of Public Relations.

A record from that first meeting reads:

The formation of an association was desirable to assist in the establishment of satisfactory status, recruitment and training of future public relations officers, safeguarding service conditions, formulating scales of salaries, pooling of knowledge, disseminating information and generally developing techniques of public relations work.

The Institute had a strong public service connection from its outset, not least because in 1948 life was very different.

There was rationing, a need for around 700,000 new homes after the bombings, conscription still existed, and the NHS and the modern welfare state were born.

There was a distinct appetite for stronger communication between society, government and business.

Sir Stephen Tallents, the Institute’s founding member and first president, said:

Government department, Town Hall, factory and laboratory have all had to develop old and devise new ways of explaining their operations and their policy to those whose understanding and cooperation they need. The public, for their part, are anxious to understand better what is being done in their name and for their benefit.

Change was in the air. The growth of public relations was part of this shift.

Achieving Chartered Status; the hallmark of a profession

Since that time, the purpose and vision of the Institute of Public Relations has remained constant. The importance of its place in society was reinforced in 2005, when the Institute was awarded Chartered status by the Privy Council.

Today the Charter principles guide our work and it is critical to revisit and reflect on these as we move into a new era.

The stability we have known is coming to an end. At this time of political turbulence and as we move towards Brexit, one Charter principle in particular has resonance:

To promote public understanding of the contribution of effective public relations in encouraging ethical communication and in enhancing the efficiency and performance of all sectors of the economy.

It’s an issue that the CIPR is focusing hard on this coming year.

Societal challenges: call to action for public relations

Whatever the mood of the moment, this new age will bring more challenges. We are in unusual and uncertain times with political change, media upheaval, technological developments and societal unrest.

It is up to us to educate employers, the business community and the public of the valuable role we play in society and to address misperceptions about practice.

We must play a leadership role and show how organisational objectives can link to social purpose for the benefit of all.

As we’ve heard, one of the CIPR’s earliest members, Tim Traverse-Healy, said in his Credo.

In the overall scheme of things the objective of our contribution to society at large is the achievement of a balance between the intentions of the institutions we represent and the legitimate concerns of their community and constituency.

This, as a goal, is something we must never forget and constantly strive for.

Thank you.


Reception address. The CIPR’s purpose: supporting practice and public interest

Hi everyone, as the 2018 President of the CIPR, I have the privilege of saying a few words to mark this very special occasion of the Institute’s 70th anniversary.

Thank you all for being here to celebrate it with us. It is both humbling and inspiring to be in a room with so many of the people who have made both the CIPR and the public relations industry great.

The next 70 years in public relations

Having marked the passage of time and celebrated the present during the service at St Bride’s, I am now keen to look to the future.

We are in unusual and uncertain times with political turbulence, media upheaval, technological change and societal unrest.

It’s in these times that the role of the professional communicator as a strategic adviser comes to the fore.

Organisations need public relations practitioners to bring clarity and insight; members of the public need us to provide information that they can trust.

Brands need us to help them develop social purpose - especially now, after years of austerity, when investment into public services is down and the unprecedented use of food banks continues to rise.

To quote Professor Anne Gregory, the CIPR President who led us through the Charter process in 2004:

Organisations are being forced to re-think their purpose and how they gain and maintain their legitimacy not only with their immediate stakeholders, but to society more widely.

I couldn’t agree more.

The purpose of public relations

Organisations need to focus on their purpose and legacy and those playing a positive and active role within our communities create multiple benefits to all. It falls to us to use our influence to help make this happen.

My drive as President of the CIPR this year is to reassert public relations as a strategic management function and to demonstrate the value we bring to organisations.

It’s an exciting time – I truly believe is that there has never been a better time to work in this profession and we are on the cusp of recognising huge value and growth.

Dr Jon White characterised a very similar opportunity almost 20 years ago, in 1999, in a paper to the Swiss Public Relations Society.

Jon sounded a note of caution that success was dependent on practitioners recognising ‘the opportunities presented by the environment and management needs’ and taking ‘steps to educate and train themselves’, as well as making ‘full use of communication technology, to provide reliable, if not indispensable, services to managers as they seek to deal with complexity and manage successful businesses.’

Sage words indeed. Please consider this as a renewed call to action.

Chartered status at the heart of the public relations profession

There is more disruption coming to the world of public relations in the form of artificial intelligence and automation. With threats come opportunity.

It is imperative we look to the horizon and make sense of incoming change, both in a personal and professional capacity.

At the CIPR, our intention is to innovate and lead the way by promoting the elevated advisory role our members ought and deserve to occupy.

I’m going to close by talking about the CIPR’s ongoing drive to professionalism.

I look forward to the day when Chartered status is no longer something to aspire to, but is the norm. Where strategic, leadership and ethical skills are common place.

We must continue to develop skills that allow us operate at the top of our game, speak truth to power and give credible advice based on knowledge, experience and insight.

If we hold financial, business management and consultancy skills we can command the respect of management teams by speaking their language.

If we demonstrate what the true value of public relations is, the leaders of organisations will invest in it.

The business of public relations has a great opportunity to grow and succeed. We just need to step forward and take it.

Thank you for listening. Please join me in a toast to the CIPR’s role at the heart of public relations over the next 70 years.