Today sees the launch of the latest State of the Profession Survey from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).

It covers a broad range of issues in the PR industry, providing insight into demographics, salaries, skills, challenges and more . For the purposes of this blog, I’ll be focusing on two areas; diversity and senior skills.

A representative industry?

Those working in PR talk a good game when it comes to diversity. Companies promote inclusion policies, show a diverse mix of people in collateral, and support relevant charities and networking groups.

The pitch goes that PR is more effective when it reflects the target community.

The survey shows the reality. The industry is mainly white (92%) and disproportionately represented by people who went to a fee-paying school (27% versus a UK average of 7%).

The results suggest we neither represent diverse communities, nor follow through on commitments to diversity.

Avril Lee, Chair of the CIPR Diversity and Inclusion Forum, sums it up perfectly:

“The PR industry agrees that diversity is important for attracting the best talent to bring fresh thinking, creativity and insights into new audiences, but our actions speak louder than our words. And our actions are building a profession of white ex-public school alumni; we are less diverse than ever before.”

What can be done about this?

Diversity is a broad issue, with gender, race, disability, age and class just a few of the areas the PR sector needs to address. A number of organisations and initiatives are working to tackle these problems, including the Taylor Bennett Foundation, Women in PR and Socially Mobile.

While it is great that these organisations are in place to drive change, this is a problem that companies should tackle themselves. There is not a one-size fits all solution.  However, a review of company behaviours and processes is a good place to start. It’s a topic I plan to revisit in the future, particularly as it also affects the sector I work in (construction).

What about PR skills?

PR practitioners identify their strengths as copywriting, strategic thinking and research, planning and implementation. Yet, when it comes to doing the day job, both senior and junior practitioners say that copywriting and editing and media relations are the two things they do the most.

The report compared the skills practitioners said they had with what recruiters want at a senior level. Strategic thinking, problem solving, emotional intelligence and business acumen are all skills essential to leading a business. The graphic below shows how senior PRs rate themselves in those areas: 

The skills that recruiters look for in senior PR professionals - and proportion who feel they have them
The skills that recruiters look for in senior PR professionals – and proportion who feel they have them

This shows a gap between what companies are looking for in their senior PR professionals and what they are capable of delivering. This leads neatly onto challenges.

What challenges do senior PR practitioners face?

The top three challenges identified were:

  1. Changing social and digital landscape
  2. Under-representation of PR practitioners at board level
  3. PR not considered a professional discipline

There is a strong sense in PR that people want more recognition for the work they do. Points two and three reflect the common complaint that PR is not seen as a strategic function. Only 9% of respondents in senior roles are executive members of a Board (compared to 11% in 2018). And it’s not just that they aren’t on the board. Only 40% of senior respondents are directly answerable to one or more Board of Directors.

When you look at the responsibilities senior practitioners have there’s further evidence that they are not involved at the top of the business:

The responsibilities of senior PR practitioners

Lack of influence over business strategy is a big problem. It would be easy to blame existing, traditional board structures as one of the reasons for this, with PR still working to be considered a profession. However, the survey demonstrates part of the reason too. Those at a senior level are more focused on tactics rather than strategy. 

In addition, many senior respondents answered that they saw less value in Continuing Professional Development (CPD), formal training and qualifications. Experience is very valuable, but I would argue that a dedication to CPD demonstrates a commitment to your career. It also recognises that we are in a changing, fast-paced industry. If you want to stay at the forefront of practice, and demonstrate your worth to an organisation, CPD should be the minimum.

Other areas of note

I’ve focused on diversity and professionalism. However, there were  other results that I wanted to highlight:

  • The mental health of the profession is poor: around a quarter of practitioners (23%) have taken time off sick in the last year due to stress, anxiety or depression. Unrealistic deadlines and unsociable hours were cited as the main reasons
  • There has been some small progress on the gender pay gap: the average pay gap of £10,000 between men and women is consistent with last year. However, further calculations which consider influencing factors such as length of service and part-time versus full-time work reveal the pay inequality gap between men and women has fallen by £1,523 to £5,202
  • Professionalism pays: those who hold CIPR membership, professional qualifications or Chartered Practitioner status earn higher salaries on average (+£2,963, +£3,800 and +£18,000 respectively).

Future blogs will look at the topics of mental health and gender balance in more detail. If you are interested in becoming Chartered and want to know about the benefits, you can read my thoughts here.


Image by Jason Coudriet, via Unsplash


Icons via Noun Project: Issues, created by carlos sarmento; Emotional intelligence, created by Darius Lau; Briefcase, created by crywill; Social media, created by Template; Meeting, created by Oksana Latysheva; Business card, created by priyanka; Strategy, created by Gregor Cresnar (via Flaticon)

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