Are you ready to #GetChartered?

Chartered Public Relations: Lessons from Expert PractitionersThe Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) has simplified the route to Chartered Practitioner status, widening eligibility for members in the drive to professionalism. The status recognizes the highest standard of knowledge, expertise and ethical practice within the PR industry and is a benchmark of professional excellence and integrity.

Previously the process involved a statement of experience, written paper and formal interview. To apply candidates had to have worked in a public relations or communications role for at least ten years (reduced slightly for those with a CIPR recognised qualification) and be signed up to CPD.

Public relations professionals within CIPR membership can now apply for an assessment day if:

-       They have completed three consecutive years of CIPR CPD.

-       They have completed two years of CIPR CPD and hold a Masters degree or the CIPR Diploma.

Lead examiner Paul Noble described the move this way: “Previously we awarded Chartered status to those who had reached the pinnacle. Now we want to recognize those future leaders who are very firmly on the journey to getting there.”

The very first assessment day under the new regulations took place earlier this week. I was one of the cohort of professionals to test the system. I’m pleased to report I passed and achieved the status of Chartered Practitioner.

How does it work?

If you meet the criteria and believe you’re ready for Chartered, the process to follow is quite simple.

The 2016 dates for assessment days will be published by the CIPR on the website. To apply you register online, pay the fee and submit a scan of your Masters degree certificate if you are using that as part of your application.

There are a number of competences you need to demonstrate in order to pass, focusing mainly on Ethics, Strategy and Leadership.

The Assessment Criteria states: “Candidates must show a broad knowledge of the context in which the public relations function operates and an ability to relate public relations activities to the wider organizational considerations of clients or employers.”

What it’s like to do

On the day, you are introduced to your assessors and placed into a group of people with whom you participate in three panel sessions. The vibe is kept fairly relaxed and there are regular breaks throughout the entire process. While some of the questions were fairly tough, I actually quite enjoyed it.

Your group is later changed for a peer review, during which you talk through and agree CPD plans for the next two years – a piece of work you are expected to have prepared in advance and which is part of the criteria to pass.

To complete the day there is a talk by a Chartered Practitioner and then successful parties stay on for drinks and a certificate presentation.

Think carefully before you apply

I’m pleased I applied and would encourage others to follow suit but it’s not something to do on a whim. While Chartered Practitioner status can be a lot swifter to achieve because the assessment hinges around one day of assessment rather than a three stage application, it is still a very rigorous process. Not everyone passes.

After each session and before the peer review, the assessors mark you as a clear pass, borderline or clear fail. If you fail the first two sessions, you are asked to leave there and then. If by the end of the day you have received two borderline assessments, your case goes to deliberation by the assessors and is decided by majority vote. It feels harsh but it works.

If at any point you feel you’re not presenting yourself to best effect, you are able to withdraw (you’re told what the deadline is to do this) and can register for a later assessment day without paying an additional fee.

Everyone applying has to have read the Chartered Public Relations: Lessons from Expert Practitioners book. I’m fortunate in that much of the thinking in the #FuturePRoof project I recently launched picks up many of the same themes. I’d have needed to do much more research and background reading had that not been the case.

My recommendation is that if you think you’re ready, go for it and in the meantime start your preparation now. It’ll stand you in good stead. You’ll also be a better practitioner for it.


Narrowing the PR gender pay gap - the CIPR's four point plan

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 12.33.45The CIPR away day last week saw the Board discuss the strategic priorities for 2015. Top of the agenda was the PR gender pay gap following the results of the State of the Profession Survey, which show a clear discrepancy of £8,483 in favour of men.

Startingly, this is a figure that cannot be explained by any other factor such as length of service, seniority, parenthood, or a higher prevalence of part-time work among women. 

The CIPR has committed to tackling the issue head on and has published this four point plan, which sets out what the Institute intends to do to help employers narrow the pay gap going forwards.

We are an industry in which over two-thirds of practitioners are women and as such can no longer ignore the gender pay gap issue. Engagement around the State of the Profession survey has clearly shown that both members and non-members will no longer accept the status quo and are looking to the Institute to provide strong leadership.

As the CIPR's lead for its gender and diversity work, the call to action has very firmly been accepted. Our ambition is a bold one - to make the CIPR an exemplar for other sectors. However equal opportunities will only come with organisational change.

The CIPR will provide the guidance - the gauntlet is then thrown down to members, and the wider profession, to make this much needed change happen.


Communicating with conscience

Absolutely Fabulous? Absolutely not. Twenty Twelve’s Siobhan Sharpe. Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It. Samantha Jones from Sex and the City. Charles Prentiss in Absolute Power.

There are just a few of the communications characters we’ve seen on television in recent year. Typical PR people, right?

Forget it. Absolutely Fabulous, absolutely not.

PR professionals are guilty of reinforcing lousy stereotypes of the industry by placing corporate profile, power and profits at the heart of everything we do – rather than helping organisations find their social purpose.

It’s not enough for a practitioner to sign up to a Code of Conduct through a professional membership organisation such as the CIPR or trade association such as the PRCA.

It’s time for us to take collective responsibility and reframe how we practice PR.

Time for a change

There are plenty of forthright individuals in academia and industry that are doing just that.

Professor Robert L. Heath, a leading expert on society theory, believes that PR can either harm or help collective interests.

He believes that PR is best when it “challenges and helps organisations be effective not only by what they do for themselves but also within the communities where they operate and on whose resources they depend.”

Rather than concentrating purely on corporate goals, Heath suggests that organisations should work with their stakeholders to solve problems and make collective decisions for the common good.

Organisations playing their role within society and creating structures in which communities can work on an equal footing with business, are the ones that will achieve real engagement and ultimately commercial success.

It’s a powerful call to action.

Finding a higher purpose

Professor Anne Gregory, one of the UK’s leading academics and chair of the Global Alliance talks passionately about the four Ps of public relations leadership: purpose, principles, people and process.

Like Heath, Gregory also believes that real PR leadership has a much higher purpose and “our role is to help build societies that work…by ensuring our organisations are part of the solution to the challenges that face [people], not the cause of their problems.”

Anne believes that the real leaders in the PR profession are those not only transforming their organisations, but also the communities around them.

Fighting the good fight

But it’s not just academics saying this – there are heavy weights from the PR industry driving to make PR a force for good.

Ketchum’s European CEO and senior partner David Gallagher, puts it clearly and succinctly.

“Today PR exists to help change the way in which companies operate, not just communicate. We are the ones guiding the at times reluctant, awkward and ill-prepared into the sunlight of public opinion.

“We are the ones encouraging a positive dialogue between mighty, towering organisations and ordinary citizens, bloggers and journalists.

“Economic prosperity is driven by commerce, and commerce depends on the constant exchange of accurate information. Social progress depends on motivated and organised communities, connected and inspired to address problems, issues and injustices. We can help to deliver both.”

Evolution of PR

It’s time for PR to grow up. We have a responsibility to review how we work with those employing us and, to quote Professor Anne Gregory again, to “help our organisations clarify their purpose”.

David Gallagher believes that we should be proud of what we do, and doing things of which we can be proud. And for the majority of us, if we’re honest, we’re not quite there yet when it comes to helping our employers work within their communities to make the world a better place.

This post was first published by Hiscox in February 2015.

Andy Beckett: I hope I can visit the North East again some time, and write a more optimistic piece

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Following Andy Beckett's article in Saturday's Guardian, there has been (rightly in my opinion) a major outcry about how the North East is depicted in national press.

In terms of the piece itself, the two key interviewees, Chi Onwurah MP and Edward Twiddy from the North East LEP, have both said they were misrepresented. Several blogs rebutted the findings including one from Paul Smith that is strongly supported by an article on Buzzfeed.

The Guardian's Northern editor Helen Pidd weighed in with her take on the article.

The petition I set up has gathered over 500 signatures - thanks to all who came out in support of our glorious region. Although no revisit from Andy Beckett is forthcoming, he has written an explanatory piece for the Journal. Whether or not we agree with his response, it is good that the Guardian has been forced to look at its reporting in terms of how it describes the North East.

Here is what the Guardian's Melissa Denes had to say: "Andy's original draft was longer, as is the case with most articles we run - there is always an editing process, and we do not know exactly how much print space we will have at the time of commissioning. In this instance it was cut by around 1000 words (or a not unusual 20%), and care was taken that the balance between positives and negatives remained the same.

"As well as Helen's blog, we have given half the letters page to the subject today, and there will be more in this weekend's magazine. Andy has written a piece for the Newcastle Journal. We have absolutely no wish to alienate readers, and are happy to correct errors - but I do feel his piece reflected much that was positive about the region, as well as causes for concern." 

Let's hope this unhappy experience prompts all the nationals to consider their (lack of) presence in the region and to keep balance in mind at all times.


When it comes to the PR profession and equal pay, we are in a state

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 20.28.06 The CIPR’s latest State of the Profession benchmarking survey makes for uncomfortable reading. Well, at least for those of us concerned with equality.

Again there is disparity chasm in pay between male and female PR practitioners. What are we – it’s a collective issue – going to do about it?

In the last fortnight the Office for National Statistics reported that the gender pay gap nationally has widened for the first time in five years. Unacceptable as it is, for those in industries dominated by men such as science and technology, this may not come as much of a surprise.

The numbers don’t add up

But for those dominated by women, like the PR profession, the report should make us hang our head in shame. Here’s just one statistic from the CIPR’s survey: of those PR practitioners who earn £150,000 or greater, two-thirds are men. So why is it taking so long to do anything about this? If we all agree that PR campaigns are more effective when practised by socially diverse teams, what is stopping us from putting them in place?

I had to start my own business to personally address the gender pay gap. It shouldn’t be that way.

Academic studies tell us that there are traditionally two key roles in PR – that of the manager (strategist) and that of the technician (implementer or ‘doer’).

However women have in significant numbers moved out of the driver’s seat and onto the passenger side before reaching destination manager. Whether by choice or by default the majority have become stuck in the position of technician, which by its very nature receives a smaller salary. Even when the practitioner involved inhabits both roles, as is often the case.

Work life imbalance and other myths

There’s a pervasive myth that does the rounds that PR is a highly flexible career choice suited to women with families or family plans. As an owner-manager with two children under four and someone who has employed numerous working mums, I dispute this.

PR is stressful, requires long hours at work, often outside of nine to five and this trend is on the increase with the rise of social media requiring out-of-office hours management.

Part-time employment is not easy to manage but is perhaps the lesser of two evils when facing the return to work.  Higher numbers of part-time workers would certainly explain some of the discrepancy in pay but it is still not enough to make it acceptable.

A 20-year old solution

The Dozier and Broom study on the gender pay gap was published almost 20 years ago. This is depressing.

There are many complex factors that come into play and I certainly have no easy answers to the problem. But what is evident is that there needs to be much greater transparency in terms of what organisations pay their staff.

And there is no shortage of solutions.

The Equality Act 2010 gives women (and men) a right to equal pay for equal work. It’s there in black and white but individuals need help to secure what they are due. If you’re an employer, ACAS has produced guidance to help you achieve gender equality within the workplace and that’s one good place to start.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has a five-step equal pay audit model that you can also follow.

Those concerned with whether they are being discriminated against need to stand up and be counted by asking to see how their salary fares against those of their counterparts and by being a positive conduit for change.

Are we complicit?

The salary pay gap is the elephant in the room when careers in PR are discussed. The issue has not and is not going away. The CIPR has a duty of care to its membership. We know what the issue is; the solution has been set out by academics and legislation.

As a Board member, I shall be asking how the Institute can take a stronger leadership role going forward. I’d like you all to do the same for the status quo has to change.

Doing nothing makes us complicit.

Avoiding #PricelessSurprises on social media

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The Brit Awards 2014 enjoyed a bit more than the usual hype when Tim Walker, a journalist at the Telegraph, shared an email from MasterCard’s PR agency House PR with the Press Gazette.

The email detailed certain conditions attached to the journalist’s Brit’s press pass, including a request for pre, during and post-event tweets using the hashtag #PricelessSurprises, with one even helpfully drafted up as an example.

The furore that followed was no doubt the kind of priceless surprise that MasterCard would have preferred to avoid. Amplifying the situation was the promotion of the hashtag on Twitter, which would no doubt have trended anyway - albeit for all the wrong reasons.

Difficult client conversations

While many practitioners may have laughed or sneered at the idea of a PR being so bold with journalists about what they wanted from the agreement, publicity in return for hospitality is nothing new and many may secretly (or even openly) have wished it was that simple a transaction. I’ve certainly been privy to difficult client conversations about the lack of coverage following a journalist’s invite to an expensive freebie.

Turning to the CIPR, I spoke to director of policy and communications Phil Morgan, who acknowledged that while House PR’s actions might not have broken the Institute’s Code of Conduct, the approach taken boils down to a question of integrity.

Phil said: “It is important for PR professionals to respect the codes of conduct of other professions, which didn’t happen in this case – the transaction falls foul of NUJ rules. Equally, as Telegraph writer Tim Walker noted himself, a lot of today’s journalists may not realise that inducements are unethical so there is work to do on both sides.”

The move could have backfired in a different way

The CIPR’s independent regulatory consultant Martin Horrox also points out that arguably the agency did nothing wrong - and that in fact agreeing to the accreditation criteria could still have seen House PR’s move backfire, but in a different way.

Martin said: “This was a clearly stated commercial transaction, like free holidays for travel writers. Journalists can always refuse to accept the condition and can make public the conditions of their accreditation (i.e. state a potential conflict of interest, just as travel writers acknowledge who provided the flights and hotels). They can also do exactly what Tim Walker has done - complain in public about the practice.

“If forcing the hashtag on journalists results in no publicity or bad publicity for the event, who is the loser?  Journalists who have been critical of an event or a company in the past have been refused accreditation to future events: that might be stupid on the part of the organisation, but I'm not convinced it is unethical.”

Whatever your view, it’s clear that this has not been a good week for House PR or MasterCard, but some sympathy has to go to the agency. The email was professionally written and Tim Walker was the only journalist to come forward to complain.

However, what’s done is done and if this opens the debate about expectation versus reward and helps others decide how to tread the social media tight rope, maybe that’s a good thing.

Why not have your say - please feel free to leave a comment.


Celebrity challenges - are we asking too much?

Earlier today, popular TV presenter Davina McCall was pulled from Lake Windermere at the end of a mile and a half long swim, as part of an ongoing fundraising challenge for Sport Relief. You can see the Daily Telegraph's video here but be warned - watching this I was distressed; firstly by concern for Davina who was limp from the cold and exhaustion, and then by the intrusion as people around took pictures and media followed while she was carried up to the nearby hotel to be cared for.

Although, purely out of respect for Davina, I then donated to the Sport Relief cause, I have to say that I am now wondering whether I should have done so.

I am full of questions. Firstly I hope Davina is fine. But what I am thinking is this - Davina may be in the middle of an incredibly selfless and brave challenge but is it a good example to set? Are we asking too much from celebrities today? Are charities so strapped that they feel forced to push people past their limits in order to reach their fundraising targets? Who thinks this is a good idea? When do we stop - when someone nearly dies, or does?  Also who makes the most money here - Sport Relief or the media who will secure higher viewing and readership figures with this type of story? I think it's time this debate is opened up.

Let's face it, most of us donate to a particular charity because we have a personal connection with the cause (perhaps through a family or friend, if not our own experience), because we have a chance to do so spontaneously or because the charity communicates well about how the funds are used and we empathise. Generally giving money in all of those contexts results in a feel good factor.

And here is the rub, I don't feel good right now. I actually feel pretty awful. Davina's reassuring tweet actually makes me feel more anxious for her - she's still going to get on a bike?


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Yes Davina may have signed up for this but seeing her close-to-lifeless body being dragged from a lake - is it really what the public wants (echoes of Princess Diana's final taxi ride, anyone)? Shouldn't charities have a stronger duty of care, and be stronger by saying no? Shouldn't the Telegraph and others have stepped away sooner? It's time for a change and that change can't come soon enough, if you ask me.

Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Feel better soon, Davina!

[Post blog note: Sport Relief tweets show Davina on her bike and pushing on so she's hopefully feeling a lot better.]

CPD - separating the wheat from the chaff and protecting UK business

This week's Council meeting at the CIPR involved a debate about continuing professional development (CPD) and the role this should play in a PR practitioner's life. CPD is currently something that the Institute expects of its members through a designated scheme and although it is not yet mandatory, I am one of many lobbying to change this. As the CIPR's new President Stephen Waddington has said clearly on a number of occasions, the PR industry is on a slow march to professionalism. If we are to achieve this, making ongoing training and self reflection on ethics and competence something all members have to do is a critical part of the process.

Part of the reading material for the meeting was a paper by Andy Friedman called 'Strengthening Professionalism: Ethical competence as a path towards the public good.' Short and to the point, the paper strongly indicates that ethical competence can help differentiate PRs by separating the wheat from the chaff, but is also important in helping to protect vulnerable businesses, who may not know what to expect from their chosen practitioner.

What do I mean by this? Well, as Friedman points out, "Clients are vulnerable because they do not know which professionals available for hire are competent and ethical...and they lack the information to judge whether the professional they have hired is doing a good job."

So how can a company be confident that they are hiring someone who knows the job, can apply their knowledge practically (but also knows when not to pursue a course of action) and who acts ethically in accordance with a code of conduct? Well by choosing a CIPR member who can demonstrate they are using the CPD scheme and accessing all the best practice guides, skills guides, tool kits and much more at their fingertips through the Institute.

As chair of the CIPR's Professional Practices Committee, one of the goals for this year is making ethics a compulsory part of the CPD scheme. To quote Friedman again: "Ethical competence does not come automatically with the achievement of credentials...This path also requires vigilance, resources and institutional support, particularly from professional associations."

Suffice to say, we're on it. How about you?



Power to the People - live blog from the CIPR Northern Conference

Today is the CIPR Northern Conference and I'll be live blogging throughout the event. The day has already kicked off with opening addresses from CIPR North East chair Chris Taylor, the CIPR's CEO Jane Wilson and President Elect Stephen Waddington. Among their brief speeches were calls for practitioners to increase their CPD efforts, to engage further with the Institute and for people to play their part in improving its reputation.

First up in terms of sessions is a talk from Brian Cathcart, founder of the Hacked Off campaign.

Here's what I'm taking from his presentation:

- the change in the newspaper industry is a clear example of power to the people (change instigated in the wake of cases brought by the McCanns & many others in response to mining of personal data) - there was a collective failure of responsibility across national press and this abuse of press power has created a big problem for democracy - exposing the large corporations behind the mass press intrusion has not been easy due to the sheer power held by these bodies - press scandals happened repeatedly over the years with heartfelt promises for change. The change never came and the pattern had to be broken. People power achieved this - the campaign has never been about gagging the press as its freedom is wholeheartedly supported - the Milly Dowler exposé was the straw that broke the camel's back for the public. Hacked Off launched a petition that week and support was unprecedented. Those who signed up are still involved & even provide ongoing funding - the voice of the victims has played an important part in Hacked Off's success. Previous campaigns had very little public engagement. Having people to repeatedly tell their story remains invaluable - where before the press was like a megaphone with people unable to respond, the digital world has changed this. People can engage & make their views known online and continue to do so - the public forum for the Leveson enquiry allowed the sheer extent of the press abuse to be unveiled - the Royal Charter approved by Parliament embodies the findings of the public enquiry at the behest of government and is backed by the public - it is therefore a solution that meets the requirements - the Charter has not been approved by Privy Council because Pressed Off have put forward a separate Charter which is currently being considered. A decision on this is expected soon. Hacked Off sees the new version as something that restricts press justice on a breathtaking scale and hopes the alternative Charter will be rejected - at Hacked Off the fight goes on.

Are business ethics on your management agenda?

Panelbase minipoll resultsThe relationship between lobbyists and politicians has led to numerous high profile media exposés, with the recent allegations against 3 Peers and an MP no surprise to many. Despite this, little has (as yet) been done to tighten regulations. Coming in the wake of scrutiny into the financial sector and all sorts of sporting scandals that have dominated headlines in the past year, ethics and trust appear to be the words on everyone’s lips.

As co-chair of the CIPR’s Professional Practices Committee (PPC) and the managing director of a PR and marketing consultancy that adheres closely the CIPR’s Code of Conduct, I was interested to see whether the ongoing debate into standards and regulations was having any impact on daily business life.

In conjunction with Panelbase, one of the UK’s fastest growing online research communities with over 200,000 UK adult members, I conducted a minipoll asking what type of training business managers should be required to take.

The chart provided showcases the results, which actually make surprising reading. Of the respondents, 51% selected Ethics, placing it fourth on the list – even above Financial training. Whilst the link between this and recent media was not explicitly explored, it does suggest that ethics is an important concern.

As someone who believes that CPD with the CIPR should be mandatory and include a module related to ethics, this is pleasing and something I’ll be presenting back to the PPC and wider CIPR team. It also makes the launch of the North East’s first Institute of Business Ethics very timely indeed.

Data was collected from a self-selecting sample between 3rd and 4th June 2013. The sample was drawn from the Panelbase UK consumer panel. Panelbase consistently delivers against its mantra of ‘Quality sample. Quality service’ to a broad range of clients both nationally and internationally.