Scotland’s PR industry: ‘as distinct as Irn-Bru’

By Ruth MacLeod, chair of the CIPR Scotland group,

Scotland has its own distinct way of handling things. We stand apart from the rest of the UK in our politics, education, NHS, legal system and love of Irn-Bru. Our PR sector is no different.

More than 3,100 people work in PR in Scotland and around a third are CIPR members. Earlier this year, the CIPR released its annual State of the Profession report to explore the issues, trends and challenges impacting public relations practice in the UK. Scotland’s survey results were not revealed – until now.

Let’s look first at growth in the Scottish PR industry. 41% of people working for agencies in Scotland reported growing recruitment, which is considerably less than the UK average of 59%. This may be in part because of a smaller pool of available business but also a cautiousness caused by reliance on short-term public sector contracts.

In Scotland, many agencies generate a large proportion of their income through contracts with the Scottish Government and its funded agencies. While this creates massive opportunities for those lucky enough to be awarded work, it also produces fragility and unpredictability in the industry as contracts only last a few short years.

We’re also performing less well than other parts of the UK in terms of recruitment for in-house PR roles. While 31% of UK in-house PR departments are recruiting more staff, only a quarter (24%) of Scottish in-house teams report growth and almost a fifth (17%) have declining numbers. This may be due to a lack of investment in public sector communications teams, including the impact of recent public sector reform programmes, as well as streamlining of comms teams across the private sector too.

Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom north of the border. On salary we compete comparatively with most of the UK including Wales, Northern Ireland and the North of England. The average Scottish salary of £41,883 is a whopping £20K less than the average in London but at least we don’t have to catch the Tube in the morning.

Nonetheless, this highlights that we risk a PR talent ‘brain drain’ in Scotland. Almost a third of Scottish practitioners are under 35 years old and without rewarding talent we risk losing them to London. Nurturing our PR talent in Scotland was one of the motivations for the CIPR Scotland launching its Future Leaders Programme, which aims to support and inspire young people working in the communications industry here.

Recruiters in Scotland said they’re looking for junior staff to have professional qualifications, copywriting skills and the ever essential ‘attention to detail’. The most sought-after knowledge valued in junior hires is social media and use of technology – highlighting the industry shift towards digital platforms.

One of the biggest challenges (or opportunities if you’re an optimist) that the survey highlighted is the changing social and digital landscape. Currently, two thirds of PR practitioners are responsible for a communications strategy but only a third are responsible for a marketing budget. It will be interesting to see how those figures change as PR teams increasingly compete for budget in a more integrated, digital world.

For PR practitioners of all levels, it’s essential to keep pace with changing environments and continuously develop skills. How many people set growing their digital skills as a CPD goal for this year? I would imagine most of us – it’s an important way to engage with the public and target key audiences.

Among senior practitioners, the most valuable specialist knowledge is crisis communications management closely followed by business acumen, which highlights the critical role PR plays within organisations across Scotland. 70% of practitioners influence an organisation’s business strategy, yet year after year the State of the Profession survey highlights ‘under-representation of PR practitioners at board level’ as one of the biggest challenges facing the industry. It does it again this year!

People said they felt the PR industry is still ‘not being seen as a professional discipline’. As the CIPR celebrates its 70th anniversary, it’s time for us to trumpet the value of CIPR membership as well as the knowledge, passion and expertise of our members. Here in Scotland, that’s certainly what I’ll be doing.

Ruth MacLeod, is chair of the CIPR Scotland group and head of communications at the Church of Scotland.

Featured image courtesy of flickr user Stuart Mudie

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