On Thursday 11th June, the CIPR South-West Group welcomed a panel of local PR experts to Hotel du Vin in Cheltenham to discuss the 10 Areas of Pain currently facing PR professionals, as highlighted in the CIPR’s 2015 State of the Profession report – organised by our very own Nina!
To kick-start the discussion and draw on some of the positive aspects of working in the industry, panel members were asked to reveal what elements of their roles they found most enjoyable. Making complex and tedious information simple and exciting for target audiences and solving problems on a daily basis were some of the responsibilities they liked the most. Felicity Read, Managing Director at Leapfrog Public Relations, felt that “variety is the spice of life” and if PR gives its professionals anything, it gives them a new challenge every day.
Then it was time for the debate, led by Pam Lloyd, Chair of the CIPR South West Committee. First on the agenda was a discussion of the importance of CPD and Qualifications. All panel members agreed that professionals can gain skills and insight from qualifications but also emphasised that relevant work experience is highly important. Katherine Sinclair, Media & PR Manager at Gloucestershire County Council, said qualifications provide a great opportunity for people to understand professional issues, such as how the media works, whilst Hilary Allison, Head of Public Affairs at Gloucestershire Constabulary and Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, felt that “enthusiasm, commitment, willingness to go the extra mile and good writing skills” need to be considered equally alongside professional qualifications.
In the survey, 96% of those questioned said that professionalism was important to them. Responding to this, Sarah Bryars, Chief Executive at Target PR, encouraged the panel to question the definition of professionalism. Bob Fenton, Head of Communications at EDF Energy Generation, explained that all of his team are enrolled on CIPR qualifications because he believes that professionalism is a state of mind and a state of behaviour, meaning that relevant training can give staff the skills to be confident in their roles.
Happiness, stress and flexibility were also considered in detail by the panel. Katherine felt that managers need to lead the way in instilling a good work/life balance, whilst Mike Conway, Director at Camargue, believed that both saying no to clients when necessary and encouraging staff not to fear failure are also key to improved staff wellbeing.
Next up was a discussion about whether media relations is still the mainstay for PR professionals. Sarah agreed that, for her clients, this area is still key, whilst Hilary outlined her belief that, in the public sector, there is a danger of trying to serve traditional media at the expense of other channels. Mike discussed the fact that media relations continues to be about “storytelling”, as this is the backbone of all communications. Stories are increasingly distributed through digital and social channels and Bob emphasised that social media provides an opportunity for businesses to be on the front foot and ready to head off issues and problems as and when they arise, whilst Felicity stressed that clients need to embrace social and digital media now or they could encounter problems in the future.
Finally, the panel moved on to the evening’s Hot Topic – the gender pay gap. They were astounded that the survey had identified gender as the third biggest influence on salary and questioned whether this trend exists only in the PR profession or across other industries as well. They also wanted more information to understand where this gap was allowed to occur.
The survey may have discovered that there are a number of areas of Pain in PR but what was abundantly clear on the evening was that the profession is filled with passionate experts, all of whom demonstrated a wealth of ideas and thoughts about how to improve the industry, its processes and policies.