CIPR research shows enduring problems for Public Relations

By Ben Verinder, MD, Chalksteam.

For the past three years my agency Chalkstream has worked with the CIPR to produce the annual #StateofPR study. As we brace ourselves for the broader impacts of Covid-19, this seems like the right moment to consider what this research tells us about PR present and past, and what clues it holds for our future.

PR’s diversity problems persist. This year, nine per cent of #StateofPR respondents said they belong to a non-white ethnic group, compared to around 13% of the UK residents in work. This proportion is the same as it was in 2010. According to our analysis of Government data, most occupations are more diverse than public relations.

28% of PR practitioners studied at a fee-paying school, twice the proportion of those working in HR and on a par with Members of Parliament. Younger recruits are more likely to have attended fee-paying school than those in older age brackets; the proportion of privately educated practitioners appears to be growing.

On a more meritocratic note, #StateofPR results suggest practitioners are more socially mobile than certain other professionals; we come from a wider spectrum of economic backgrounds than lawyers or doctors, for example.

While the majority of those working in PR in the UK are female, males continue to disproportionately occupy senior roles and a gender pay gap endures. That gap is shrinking – by over 40% in the past three years (when other factors such as seniority are considered). However, it remains much wider in some types of organisations – in particular, agencies – than others.

The average wage in PR is £52,000. Wages fell slightly, overall, last year. It will be fascinating and perhaps sobering to compare recent pay trends with those of future studies.

Two thirds of practitioners have a degree, most commonly in a subject other than PR or communications. We are no more likely to hold a professional qualification than we were ten years ago.

Independent practitioners are most likely to invest in continuing professional development. Where we don’t engage in qualifications or a broader programme of CPD, we most commonly say this is because we don’t have the time, the money or both. The explosion of online learning may radically alter this CPD landscape.

Full-time work remains the norm across the profession – 88% of practitioners are employed full-time. Females are more likely to work part-time than males, but that gap is also shrinking. It remains to be seen how far employment trends, including the proportion of us working from home and the profession’s traditional bias towards the Southeast, change because of the pandemic.

#StateofPR studies have been tracking what we do during our working day since the series’ inception. The most common activities undertaken by respondents have not changed substantially over the last decade. However, activities do differ according to role. Senior practitioners are far more likely to be engaged in strategic planning, governance, HR and financial management and, to a lesser extent, account or project management, public affairs and campaigns, than those in more junior roles.

#StateofPR results demonstrate that PR practitioners are multi-taskers. This flexibility may well prove valuable as in-house and client requirements shift with economic fortunes.

This is a networked industry – nine out of ten practitioners take part in some form of networking and two thirds feel that they are part of a professional community. We do so primarily to develop our professional contacts, improve or share our knowledge or to boost our influence with an employer or client. Zoom events may well be an industrial fixture.

The hack turned flack cliché is well-founded. Over half of practitioners worked in another industry – most commonly media and publishing – before entering PR. Most of us want to continue in PR until we retire.

Future studies will no doubt investigate whether we had that opportunity.

Ben is MD of reputation research and management agency Chalkstream. A former in-house Communications Director, Ben is a Founding Chartered Practitioner and a lead assessor for chartered status. He is a trainer, lecturer and regular speaker on reputation research and management.

Photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash

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