Getting chartered: A guide for young PR professionals

By Claire Simpson, Communications Consultant at Hard Numbers.

Back in April I became a Chartered PR professional.

It was a huge confidence boost and validation of my work. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a huge relief too.

I’d taken a leap of faith by going for chartership early in my career. So, while it felt good to finally take the plunge, I was more than a little nervous.

Overcoming imposter syndrome

As a young professional, I knew I’d be less experienced than my fellow chartership hopefuls.  I’m 25 and I’ve worked in PR for the last five years (yes, I’ve officially made the switch to Radio 2).

Sure enough, assessment day came. And I found myself chewing the fat on strategy, leadership and ethics with leading agency owners, respected in-house professionals and even my boss!

Imposter syndrome began to set in. Was I senior enough to be doing this? Did I have enough experience? Was it the right experience?

These were all too familiar questions. I’ve heard them countless times in conversations with other young professionals about the prospect of getting chartered. It’s clear to me there’s a myth that chartered status is a merit for only well-seasoned practitioners to aspire to.

An exclusive club

Sure, it’s an exclusive club.

There’s little over 400 chartered PR professionals in total. That’s out of more than 90,000 practitioners in the UK, according to pre-pandemic figures. But this says more about the pace of the industry’s movement to professionalise than it does the criteria for assessment.

It’s true some of the founding chartered practitioners are bonafide PR legends. But ask any one of them what chartership’s all about, and they’ll tell you it’s a demonstration of professionalism – not seniority.

Don’t get me wrong. Depth and breadth of experience is important for anyone embarking on the chartership process. But I’ve learned it’s the quality, not quantity, of that experience that counts.

Putting theory into practice

Likewise, as an English graduate, I’m a firm believer you don’t need a PR degree to be an expert in PR theory. Yes, it helps to know your Goldman from your Grunig. But getting chartered is about demonstrating you can apply that knowledge in your own practice.

Any PR pro worth their salt will draw on and deploy models from theoretical communication, crisis management and behavioural psychology. Sometimes, without even realising it.

For me, this was one of the most rewarding parts of preparing for the assessment. Taking pause to reflect on my own work and trust my experience.

No one is expecting you to have led a major crisis response, managed a team of ten or have a hat-trick of Lions awards under your belt within a few years of graduation.

But you should be able to cite examples from wider reading where you don’t have direct experience. Show an awareness of current thinking. And form opinions on the key challenges facing the modern PR industry.

There’s no right or wrong answers on assessment day. It’s not a formal test with predefined notions of what a good response looks like. It’s a conversation among peers. An opportunity to reflect and learn. It’s rigorous but relaxed.

The assessors aren’t faceless examiners either. They’re peers who’ve been through the process themselves and understand how you’re feeling. They’re not trying to trip you up. They’re trying to give you a platform to prove you’re chartered material.

Seeking guidance and advice

And there’s no shortage of good folk in PR land willing to support you through the process. If you’re thinking about chartership, I’d recommend talking to anyone who’s been there, done that and have the CPD points to continue showing it.

Before taking the exam, I spoke to maybe five or ten practitioners about how they found the process. They freely gave up their time to talk me through their experiences, on the phone or over a coffee.

I half anticipated warnings to wait until I’d got a few more years’ experience under my belt. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

If anything, the encouragement I received from fellow PRs was a big driver in wanting to just ‘go for it’… The chartered community may be small, but it’s also mighty.

Be part of the change

One final point. I’ve heard a lot of young practitioners question whether chartership will help them in their career. With no barriers to entry or mandatory code of conduct, the PR industry is just that. An industry, not a profession (don’t worry, this isn’t another *shudders* ‘value of PR’ article).

This means chartered status is rarely given priority in recruitment circles, or when it comes to salary. I’m fortunate to work for an agency making chartered status a point of difference for its senior team.

But for anyone out there sitting on the fence, I’d say this; if you want to see a change, be a part of it. Take a leap, and don’t let age be a barrier.

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