A CIPR Professionalism milestone: obtaining Chartered Status
Achieving Chartered Status was a significant milestone for the then Institute of Public Relations and the wider public relations profession.
At the Annual General Meeting in 2005, the Deputy Clerk to the Privy Council handed over to the Institute a framed, vellum declaration embossed with the Queen’s own Seal. This was the Royal Charter and represented two years of intense work which it had been my honour to lead as the President who submitted the formal application.
The former Institute of Public Relations had made previous submissions in the 1950’s and 1970’s, but 2004 was exactly the right time to make a further attempt. In the previous year an important report jointly funded by the then Department of Trade & Industry and IPR had showed the importance of the industry as a mature contributor to the UK economy and society. The Department also become the main sponsor for a formal final application for the Charter.
Gaining Chartered status is a testing business overseen by the Privy Council. For IPR the process involved making a public declaration that the Institute was applying for a Charter and asking if there were objections, asking other potentially interested bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Marketing if they recognised public relations as a separate and unique professional field and consulting Government Departments and related organisations.
In the application the Institute had to demonstrate it was committed to working in the public interest, that it was stable and the pre-eminent body in the field. It also had to prove that over 75% of its members were qualified up to at least first degree level.
However, the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), as it was then, raised a number of issues that seem surprisingly contemporary, for example, it wanted to see a stronger commitment to diversity and equal opportunities, particularly for ethnic minorities.
It questioned the membership classes the Institute had and particularly, wanted to see high value put on the designation Chartered Practitioner as a signifier that those individuals had the highest standards of service quality, integrity and professional competence. The public should be in no doubt that Chartered Practitioners were seen to be in a class of their own, separate from all other types of membership.
The DfES also wanted due recognition of high standards in the Institute’s own education and training and that of other providers which it would accredit. Interestingly, the Department also wanted the Institute’s CPD offering to include significant elements of management and leadership.
An important issue the Department saw was a potential conflict of interest between the Institute being both an accreditor of programmes, for example at Universities, and a provider of them and new governance structures had to be put in place to ensure a proper separation of these powers.
After a number of discussions between the Department and the national qualifications Regulator, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and action being taken by the Institute, all parties agreed that there was sufficient rigour in place. The results were then presented to the Privy Council and following approval of both the Charter Petition and the By Laws by them, the Charter was awarded.
Consequences of being a Chartered Institute
Obtaining Chartered status brought a number of benefits and responsibilities to the Institute which are still in place.
It has a clear obligation in law to work for the public good. Government regulates its qualifications and takes an interest in changes to membership criteria.
The Institute has a statutory right to be consulted by Government on matters that pertain to the profession and it is expected to be active in the public affairs arena. An example of where this has taken place is in the registration of lobbyists. As with other professional bodies, the Institute is expected to be active internationally and here its membership of the Global Alliance is important.
For CIPR members, the professional code of ethics becomes doubly important and is linked to the obligation to work for the public good, building trust and transparency being key elements. The Chartered mark is also a public indicator of the highest standards of professionalism and competence.
Back to the future
Looking back at the original documents, there is a profound sense of déjà vu. Some of the topics that were current in 2004 seems amazingly pertinent today.
We are still trying to actively address issues of diversity. There are still too few ethnic minorities in our profession, but there are other concerns too. Although the profession is now predominantly female, it remains dominated by men (note senior positions and conference speaker lists) and the pay gap persists. The number of disabled people in our field is derisory and the social class make-up is of deep concern. Added to this is a distinct London-centricity which is stubbornly difficult to shift.
Education and training is still an issue. Amazingly there are still vestiges of anti-intellectualism in the profession and a reluctance to engage in systematic and challenging training. This is reflected in relatively low numbers for training courses and post-graduate qualifications given the numbers of practitioners in the field. Even now CPD in management and leadership is all too often side-lined for skills training and this unfortunately has the effect of confirming the practice in the technical role rather than that of the Trusted Adviser.
Despite the Charter, there are constant battles to be fought over professional jurisdiction, that is, the boundaries of the professional territory we own. Marketing continues to encroach as the communicative functions integrate and the management consultants, IT and HR specialisms take larger bites of our business. As the value of the intangible asset base of organisations increases and the fight for legitimacy and ‘voice’ intensifies, the importance of public relations is being increasingly recognised and others are wanting to move in. And there are new arrivals to the party – behavioural economists and organisational psychologists to name but two.
In strange contradiction to this last point, there are still issues with the legitimacy of the profession. ‘Working for the public good’ is not a natural descriptor of our profession for most people and there is so much still be to be done. There is a constant stream of scandals, such as the Bell Pottinger case in South Africa, that indicate that the profession’s moral compass is not always set to True North. Money and supposed client interest trumps the public interest too often in the public mind.
A view to the future
So what does this view of the Chartered journey lead to? Obtaining chartered status was always a point in a journey not a destination. There may not have been as rapid progress as desired, but progress there is. There are more communication and public relations professionals in Board rooms than ever before. There are more energetic, qualified and purposeful people entering the profession than ever. Salaries are rising and demand for competent practitioners is buoyant. The Trusted Adviser role is highly valued and those at the top of their game can expect to be well rewarded. There are more women in senior positions and at long last, positive indicators towards increasing diversity in the profession.
My key conclusion from this reflection on the journey is this: we still have to crack the serving society nut. Working for the public good is not pie in the sky. Ultimately organisations which thrive are those which contribute to solving society’s problems and gain public support by being good in all the rich dimensions of that word. Understanding what is required to gain that support is the essence of public relations.
This paper is republished, with minor edits, from Gregory, A. (2018). A CIPR Professionalism milestone: Chartered Status. In Platinum: Celebrating the CIPR at 70 (ed. S. Waddington), London, Chartered Institute of Public Relations
Emeritus Professor Anne Gregory Hon FCIPR
Anne is Emeritus Professor of Corporate Communication at the University of Huddersfield, former President of the CIPR and a past Chair of the Global Alliance of Public Relations and Communication Management. She is a former practitioner and currently works with the UK Government, the European Commission, Echo Research and is Adjunct and Visiting Professor at a number of Universities around the world. Anne is a Member of the CIPR International Committee.