Education and the future of the PR industry

Two (linked) reasons for this blog… or three if you count James prodding me into it (welcome to Kinetic!).

Two (linked) reasons for this blog… or three if you count James prodding me into it (welcome to Kinetic!).

  1. I’ve just had a week out of the office working on the final project for my CIPR Diploma – studying part-time and working full-time is hard work!
  2. My project centres round the value, in the PR employment market, of PR-specific education.

So, my 6,000 word project boiled down to a short(ish) blog entry (disclaimer: my project is not yet finished and I reserve the right to change anything and everything):

We make the assumption that PR already is, or is looking to become, a profession. Among other things (such as regulation and membership) a profession is defined as having mastery of a body of knowledge and ongoing professional development – training, education, CPD, etc.

So, if PR is to obtain, or maintain, the status of profession and PROs are to be seen as professionals – arguably essential if PR is to have a place in the board rooms and decision-making functions of organisations in the future – then we need to ensure that there is a place for ongoing training and professional development.

In the decade since the current CIPR Diploma and Advanced Certificate were introduced, more than 1,500 people have obtained the Diploma and 850 the Certificate. The courses are also taught in a number of centres worldwide. There are also now more than 40 CIPR-approved undergraduate and postgraduate courses with a public relations element in universities across the UK.

However, the membership of the CIPR stood at just 9,680 in 2008, out of an estimated 55,000+ people practicing in the field of PR in the UK. While more and more graduates are entering the PR profession – in 1998, over 98% of senior PR employers felt it essential that entrants should have a degree – PR degrees are still viewed with suspicion.

A number of recent studies and debates in the trade media have shown that good writing/communication skills are essential and interpersonal or soft skills are highly valued. Employers want their recruits to be of graduate-calibre, but traditional degrees such as history, politics and English are viewed much more positively than so-called ‘new’ degrees like media studies and public relations. One third of PRCA members would not hire a graduate with a PR degree.

However, more and more people are studying public relations. Applications for Masters degrees in the subject are up this year and applications to study the CIPR qualifications show a year-on-year rise. As more public sector and not-for-profit employers request PR-specific qualifications in their employees, the PR degree will become more accepted. And, as more PR graduates enter the field, employers will become more accepting.

While many practitioners still argue that personality and work experience is everything – degrees do not matter – the viewpoint from academics is very much that the future of the industry depends upon building up the body of knowledge for practitioners to master.

So, (in my opinion) for the sustainability of PR are a profession, we need to ensure that training, education and CPD are seen as vital by practitioners as well as academics. Employers need to recognise the wide variety of backgrounds and experience of entrants but also encourage those without formal PR qualifications to seek them out as their career progresses.

My project deadline is the end of July and, once it has been marked (October I believe), anyone who is interested is welcome to email me for a copy.


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