According to brand new research out today, the UK’s public relations workforce has grown by almost a quarter (22%) over the past four years and one in six of us are living with a mental health condition.

So the numbers are up and the average salary is up (£50,447 in 2017 to £51,570 in 2018), but the desire to be seen as “a strategic discipline” is clearly a way off from being reality.

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ (CIPR) State of the Profession 2018 report is hot off the press and it makes sobering reading.

It was completed by 1,752 practitioners at the end of 2017. (Of that figure, 655 people selected internal communication as their main responsibility).

Under-representation of public relations practitioners at board level is cited at the biggest challenge facing the industry. It’s an age-old argument, I’ve blogged numerous times about the “seat at the table” discussion.

The report showed 43% of senior practitioners report directly to the board, but only 11% are executive board members. For me, you need to have eyes and ears at the boardroom table in whatever form makes sense.

It’s a frequent topic of discussion at my Strategic Internal Communication Masterclasses.

Yes, obviously, having your most senior Comms professional sat in your Boardroom is ideal. But communication, particularly internal communication, is too important to be left to one person or department.

I believe the measure of success is not if your bottom is on a seat in that room, but if you’ve done your job in educating your Board to understand their role when it comes to communication. Are they mindful of the impact of their decisions and discussions on reputation and trust – both internally and externally? 

Regarding the strategic discipline mentality, that’s never a bad thing, but I believe it’s up to us as practitioners to continually invest in our own learning to ensure we approach our own roles and careers in a disciplined way.

You can’t be taken seriously if you don’t take what you do seriously by investing in yourself.

State of the Profession 2018

I’ve dug out the highlights and am going to share what you need to be aware of. I find studies like this useful to help my clients benchmark and provide context and evidence when making decisions and recommendations.

According to the report, which has been matched with the Office of National Statistics (ONS) data, there are now more than 71,000 PR practitioners currently employed in the UK.

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ study reports that 84% of in-house teams and 96% of consultancies are either growing or stable in size.

Does that match with your experience?

Developing understanding

Ben Verinder Chart.PR, FCIPR, says: “For the first time we have used occupational data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to help develop our understanding of the population of PR practitioners across the UK. When we compare this data set against the outcome of State of the Profession survey we can see how the survey results are representative of the broader PR population.

“The ONS had recently proposed a change to the way that PR practitioners are classified in their data sets, which would have meant this ground-breaking research could never be repeated. The CIPR team lobbied successfully against the change, and we are able to gather more intelligence about the profession in the future.”

Despite robust growth, the report uncovers evidence of a skills gap at the industry’s senior level.

Almost two-thirds of recruiters (65%) said they looked for evidence of resource and people management in senior hires, but only a quarter (25%) of senior practitioners ranked those abilities amongst their strongest skills. Similarly, 66% of recruiters reported looking for senior professionals with business acumen, but only a third (33%) of those respondents ranked the skill amongst their strongest competencies.

I find phrases like business acumen unhelpful – what does that actually mean? It is talking about your ability to read a balance sheet or offering insights to help influence a board? It’s an ambitious phrase at best, but I think the essence is the need for practitioners to understand and talk the language of their business.

Challenges for the PR industry

Sarah Hall, Chart.PR, FCIPR, CIPR President, (pictured), says: “This year’s State of the Profession survey underlines the challenges for the public relations industry. Practitioners remain predominately tactical. The CIPR’s role must be to equip them with boardroom skills.

“There are two outcomes to achieve here. By focusing on financial, business management and consultancy competencies we can command the respect of management teams by speaking their language and by demonstrating the true value of public relations, increase investment in it.

Of concern within the research is the increasing number of senior female professionals leaving the industry. This coupled with the issue of the gender pay gap merits further research. The increase of practitioners reporting a mental health condition is a reminder for us all that PR is a very demanding business – employee wellbeing and people-first strategies must always be prioritised.”

Here’s a video summary:

Other key findings include:

1. Tactical dominance
Copywriting/editing (73%), PR programmes/campaigns (68%) and media relations (65%) comprise the top three most commonly undertaken activities, suggesting PR professionals spend the majority of their time on tactical delivery.

Further reading about being tactical on the All Things IC blog: Eight internal communication myths.

2. Gender inequality
The true gender pay gap – which strips out factors that influence salaries such as part-time work – rose from £5,784 to £6,725.

ONS data indicates women now comprise 56% of the industry – a proportion which has declined year-on-year since 2013 when women made up 63% of the industry.

Further reading about the gender pay gap on the All Things IC blog: How to communicate your gender pay gap.

3. Diversity gap
More PR professionals than ever (65%) believe PR campaigns are more effective when practiced by ethnically diverse teams but ONS data indicates the industry has remained more than 91% white since 2013

Further reading about diversity on the All Things IC blog: How to understand and improve diversity.

4. Mental health
Around one in six PR professionals (16%) report living with a mental health condition – an increase of 10% from last year’s research.

Further reading about mental health on the All Things IC blog: Why a university is offering mental health first aid.

In-house responsibilities

I found the section about responsibilities, and particularly communication strategy, interesting. If PR practitioners are influencing, but not responsible for the communication strategy (34%), who is?

We know a solid, robust communication strategy has to be aligned with the organisational strategy. It’s common sense.

So if practitioners are not responsible for the comms strategy, let alone the business strategy (60% influencing but not responsible for), how can you possibly plan your work?

When I audit companies to assess their internal communication, one of the first questions I ask is about the business strategy. I want to see a direct correlation between what the company is doing and therefore how it has organised itself through internal communication to help its workforce deliver against it.

The findings show 60% of practitioners are at least influencing the business strategy, which is higher than I expected, but there’s clearly more to be done.

The skills section made interesting reading:

Would your rate these areas as your strongest attributes?

Well done CIPR for pulling this together with Chalkstream, as ever, it’s food for thought and I know I’ll be referring back to it over the next 12 months.

You can read the whole report online and below:

What do you think of the report? Does it tally with your experience? You can join conversations online using #stateofPR.

Post author: Rachel Miller

First published on the All Things IC blog 28 March 2018.

Come and learn about internal communication with All Things IC. See my Masterclasses website to browse options from 1-2-1 phone consultations to my monthly Masterclasses.

CIPR and IoIC members can save 20% and earn CPD points/hours. Nonprofit organisations can also save 20% off. See my website for full information.

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