Should we renew a ‘license to operate’ to our professional public relations associations? If so, which should the conditions be?

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Is there any sense in attempting -in days such as these when one is supposed to be thinking of new issues to tackle in order to keep up with change, and where possible anticipate it- a critical analysis of professional association performances within the global public relations community? For most of us -those 90 percent of active professionals in the world today who do not even consider it worthwhile to pay an annual fee to belong to a professional association, let alone participate in its activities- the answer to the question is a flat NO!…it makes no sense and is a loss of time.

For me, instead -and there are at least some who agree: albeit not necessarily the full other 10%, but certainly more than half of them.. if one considers that there are some who don’t even bother to cancel their order to the bank to pay annual dues, or have them paid for by employer as a ‘bonus’ and therefore give it for granted- the answer is a clear YES!… it does make sense because it relates to maybe 100 thousand of us…if one accepts the Global Alliance count of more than 150 thousand professionals members of its 62 plus member associations in as many countries. But, most of all, it makes sense because I am convinced that the prime cause for the disarray (to say the least..) in which the status of our profession is perceived today in society-at-large lays in the overall abysmal shortcomings of these organizations.

Before immediately snorting at me, please consider that I have been a member of a professional association since 1972, I have been and am active in associations (many criticise and say I am hyperactive) and I was privileged enough to be the first Chair of the Global Alliance. I am all for associations, only I would like them to be more effective and more professional. What is even more important, I would like them to more self critical and recognize they have one hell of a lot of work to do in order to purport with reason that they actually represent our profession in any given country or area of practice.

The first question arises: why are there so few of us?

On one side it is clear that many public relations professionals do not think of themselves as such, and therefore are not attracted to belonging… and this is fair enough… although -as in any other market- the onus for any service provider who wishes to induce potential customers to consume, is to deliver an attractive (for them) offer…  On the other side it is also clear that those organizations which purport to be professional associations do not seem to be able to attract even those who are aware of being public relators but are yet not attracted to the idea of belonging, simply because the activities of those associations do not satisfy their professional needs and expectations.

The second question then is: why are professional associations so ineffective in attracting even those potential members who would belong, let alone induce awareness in those others who do not even think of being public relators? There are no simple answers to these questions and one wonders how often association leaders take the time to consider them, let alone do something about them. And this speaks loudly to the fact that many volunteers who have some sort of overall, management or program responsibility (maybe five thousand in the world in any given period?) and members of techno structures (maybe five hundred?) who are employed in association activities, do not seem to have sufficient competences and skills to be effective. In a couple of occasions at least -during the first two global festivals of public relations in Rome (2003) and Trieste (2004)- shy attempts were made by the Global Alliance to engage association representatives in sessions of professional training and case study exchanges, but with very limited consequences and certainly no real consistency.

I strongly believe this element should very much be on the agenda of any association and presidents elects and other incumbents, for example, should feel the need to engage in training. And this because managing, being responsible for specific programs, or chairing a professional association requires, besides time and good spirit, skills and competences which are not necessarily part of a normal professional’s carry on baggage. Also, many of the technocrats are ex professionals or come from other totally different types of professional experiences and will agree with me that managing and taking care of a professional association requires skills and competences which are quite unique.

Of course there are associations and associations, and each has its own culture, history and specific background…some are more successful than others, many come and go as a function of the quality of leadership and management, others are simply small exclusive ‘clubs’….. From my recent experience and exposure in these recent years I could certainly volunteer to suggest that Sweden, South Africa, Spain and the UK appear to be, although from diverse perspectives and each with its own weaknesses, farily well advanced in terms of professionalization… with the UK possibily taking the lead, while in many other countries the standards of performance appear to be dismally unprofessional, to say the least, and many of the volunteers seem to be there for many reasons, the least of which is to improve the behaviour and the perception of their peers. Very much, of course, depends on available resources, but not all.  If one takes the worlds largest and financially most powerful association (the PRSA which is now in a new beginning process changin the two top posts simultaneously) and compares its activities with any of the ones I mentioned in the first lot, the divide appears clear. Maybe the same can be said for other well known organizations who often appear to struggle along in controversy and/or benign neglect.

But these are obviously personal opinions, and a reliable study on this subject needs yet to be done and it is high time that someone (the Institute for Pr? A reputed University?) tackled the issue and, through a comparative analysis of organizations around the world, came out with accepted guidelines on how to improve performances in a professional public relations association. And this, at least for the reason that other legitimate and influential publics (governments, other professional associations, media, educative institutions, employers…) have only the option to refer to existing associations in a given country if they wish to engage in a however meaningful relationship with the elected representatives of what they believe is a profession which undoubtedly- is dramatically growing in social, political and economic relevance. How does one become a member of an association? In most places it is fairly simple: you compile a request with a few questions which aim to certify that you have been professionally involved in public relations activities for a variable number of years (2 to 5, according to the different requirements), you vow to respect its code of ethical conduct, you pay an entry fee or even only an annual membership fee and that is it. In other cases the process is somewhat more complicated: you do all the above but also need to have two existing members to sponsor your request; in some you agree to undertake a person-to-person dialogue with representatives of the association and in others you are actually required to pass an oral examination and to submit to a periodic check up of the endurance of those initial conditions. Surprisingly the ratio of membership compared to the estimated potential does not really seem to change that much.. In other words, no matter how simple or complex the procedure, the ratio is always anywhere from 5 to 10% of the estimated potential.And what happens if a member of an association behaves in a way which goes against those ethic codes which she accepted to abide to while signing up for membership? A fairly recent analysis by the Global Alliance indicates that, by enlarge, the answer is to put it mildly- nothing, as highly structured and complex procedures are required to even open an inquiry and the risk of legal consequences normally discourage from pursuing the case. If one considers that a compelling reason which induces a professional in belonging is the aspiration of being perceived as ‘different’ from most other peers, in the sense that her behaviour is expected to be of a higher standard, then it is clear that other values are to be offered in exchange for membership, and this specific one needs to be fully readdressed.And what happens when governments, authorities, hard or soft regulatory bodies around the world intervene as they do- to norm specific practices which are part of public relations, such as health, consumer, financial, political, lobbying, security, internal relations? Nothing. In many cases, professional associations are not even aware that these increasing constraints are being put in place in their own country with the implication that professionals are not represented in the public policy process, not even to voice that such norms be consistent and interoperable around the world.And what happens when respected professional leaders from all countries call for a reconsideration of existing preconceived stereotypes, for example, related to the professional community’s traditional rejection of licensing procedures, and require that associations carefully analyse the scenario and prepare the ground for what many believe to be inevitable, where not auspicable? Nothing. After a few days of wonder and buzz, associations go back to their normal activities.And what happens when a small group of enlightened professionals unite to develop a universal computer language which, if adapted to existing and ever more widely used xbrl and newsml processes, reduce operative costs by 20%, unleashing significant time for professionals to think rather than cut and paste? Nothing. Associations do not even make an effort to try and understand what this could all be about.

And what happens when an unprecedented number of students graduate in public relations from colleges and universities in every country and challenge older professionals to make room or simply remove themselves from the scene, as they are considered the principal cause for the unfavourable reputation of the profession? Nothing. Associations pay lip service to the younger generations but are strongly resistant to change while protecting their members short term interests, rather than, as they themselves preach to their employers and clients, adapting to their stakeholder expectations.

I have voiced my gripes and am sure that any of you will have other reasons to criticize professional associations and their performance and I hope they will all be filed here, at least initially. This blog is read by leaders, executives and employees of professional associations from many countries and it might help for them to profit from these few days of relative absence of urgent matters to reconsider their role and realize that their ‘license to operate’ is only renewable if they prove capable of addressing the compelling issues which challenge our growing profession. Let’s give them a hand.

Personally may I suggest a comparative analysis of associations worldwide conducted by a credible organization (not a front group..) resulting in guidelines for effective association management which become mandatory training materials for all volunteer and professional individuals involved in associative responsibilities.

What do you suggest? Happy New Year!

9 COMMENTS

  1. It’s been about half a year since the International Association of Business Communicators appointed Michael Zimet as chair of an advocacy committee, and there’s no visible sign of any accomplishments of this committee, and most members of this committee have done nothing of consequence, the principal exception being my colleague Jana Schilder.

    Mr. Zimet has some sort of idea of focus groups at some IABC meeting early next year, but says he was not “empowered” to actually do anything. Iniative is a foreign concept to him, apparently.

    Weeks ago I asked IABC chair Glenda Holmes what her accomplishments were in the first half year in power. So far, no accomplishments have been reported to me. Lots of travel, though.

    Similar question to Colleen Killingsworth, national president of the Canadian Public Relations Society, and she did talk to me, along with CPRS paid administrator KAren DAlton. Bottom line — nothing of consequence from Killingsworth either, and when I asked about “PR for PR” she told me this was done not by the national organization but at the chapter level. BElieving I was being scammed and she did not know what she was talking about, I pressed her for an example. She referred me to her home town chapter, Calgary.

    I asked its president, and he told me that there really wasn’t any PR for PR in Calgary either. I have lost confidence in Killingsworth’s ability to answer a question openly. I need to parse her responses, and see where she’s trying to slide one by me. A shame, really. If anyone chooses to interview her, record her response so you can look for the loopholes and bovine excrement.

    IABC’s paid staff communciator should probably have his performance reviewed by the board, and unless there’s a lot of good works that are hidden from view, terminated.

    Can any reader of Toni’s Blog give us any example, anywhere, where Joseph Uglade did anything good in the world of communciation, to the levels expected from a junior practioner / member of his association?

    His termination, in turn, should be followed by the termination of the paid president, Julie Freeman. Without seeing her contract, it’s impossible to know if she has just been following instructions, (she was hired to fix the finances). Regardless, the poor administration of the association (failure of PRforPR, bad magazine, no stands taken on anything, lousy job board — see what Ned Lundquist does for free in comparison — failure of accrediation to meet targets, lousy, unreadable web site, boring and poorly produced podcasts, failed multiple blogs, … all connot be in accordance with her contract.

    At the national and international assocaition leadership level, paid and volunteer, it seems to me that accepting the positions implies a committment to deliver high quality services to members, where for the money or for the prestige, the travel, the connections, the opportunity to build your own profile and benefit after a volunteer term is up.

    Or just for the satisfaction of helping your profession.

    But do the members care?

    That’s the chicken and egg — better leadership means members could be proud.

  2. Heather and Brian,
    thank you for your comments.
    Heather, I instead believe it is fair to hold professional associations, inasmuch as they purport to represent a profession as such, and not only its members, to be held responsible for attracting so few operators.
    As a member of CIPR, you will surely be aware that its brilliant success in receiving a formal recognition by the UK government was granted only because the Institute was able to convince authorities that it represented a substantial portion of professionals in that country.
    What the term substantial representation amounts to is always debatable of course, and this, in my opinion (in no way shared by my friends at Cipr), is one of the reasons which led to the construction of a research effort which came up with such a small number of actual public relators.
    Had they come up with the number of 100 thousand, which in my view is much closer to reality, the granting of the charter might have proven to be more difficult..
    On the other hand, Brian, I do not know that much about IABC or the CPRS and cannot comment, but I do believe that the issue I tried to raise goes well beyond specific situations and calls for a more general, albeit not generic, appraisal of the situation.
    Basically, even in those countries where mandatory licensing of other professions is not in place, it is difficult to imagine that a young lawyer or accountant or doctor would even imagine operating without belonging to her/his professional association.
    I understand of course the subtle differences, but I still believe we should do everything possible to equiparate the situation, and who else could do this if not our professional associations?
    Does this imply that other professional associations are necessarily doing a better job than ours?
    Not really: it is, in fact, highly possible that the ratio between active and passive members of other professional associations be even higher than in our cases, but at least operators in those fields make an effort to belong, because they know that the market (which is the ultimate judge) will not recognize them if they are not members.
    And the market recognize those associations even if it does not have the highest esteem for the way they operate.
    Actually it is even possible that a comparative study amongst members and employers of members could even show that public relations associations are considered to be better managed than those of other professions.
    So the issue changes.
    And where does this lead us to? This is what needs to be discussed? Or am I wrong?
    I just learned today that the next president/ceo (i.e. payed director) of the worlds largest public relations association, the prsa, has been announced and will be mr. William (Bill) Murray, former executive vice president and coo of the Motion Picture Association. A heavvyweight decision which leads me to believe that something is bound to change quickly.
    Maybe our debate can help mr. Murray in tackling his new daunting assignement?

  3. I can remember spending a very cold, wet winter in 1999 visiting groups of IPR members in the UK, asking them what they wanted from their professional association, so that as a region, we could communicate this to HQ in London and do what we could at regional level to meet their needs. Once the first twenty minutes of moans, groans, complaints and anger had subsided, we normally got down to a fairly sensible discussion as to what a professional association should do for its members – and generally, this came down to three things.
    – that the professional association should be undertaking ‘PR for PR’ and focus on improving the reputation of the industry externally and internally
    – explain the value and function of public relations to the world at large
    – set and maintain standards of public relations practice (and this encompassed everything from codes of practice to training and education).
    When members were asked why they belonged – particularly when so many of them were so fed up with the organisation – the majority said they wanted credibility. They wanted to demonstrate their level of professionalism and that belonging to the national organisation helped them achieve this.
    I don’t honestly think that if I undertook the same exercise today the responses would differ to any great extent. The UK’s IPR is now the CIPR and has made enormous progress in terms of its representation of the profession at both a national and international level (I should declare that I am a CIPR Fellow, an accredited practitioner and an approved trainer so I do tend to follow its activities fairly closely!), but I bet there are still some members out there who feel disenfranchised and disconnected – simply because there remains a great deal of ignorance as to the function of public relations – and its reputation out there in the field is tarnished by such ignorance.
    Likewise here, the Public Relations Institute of New Zealand (again, declaration of interest, associate member, PRiNZ), faced with a much smaller population than the UK, has made huge inroads into setting and maintaining standards – like the APR scheme for example – with a small, dedicated network of representatives working tirelessly for the industry across this country.
    The big difficulty that I can see is that everyone is singing a different song – you only have to take a peek at Toni’s dialogue with Jack O’Dwyer posted elsewhere on this blog to see an example of this in action.
    If there is no global definition of the purpose and context of public relations, then how can any association accurately represent its practice? Having spent the last couple of years looking at this and observing the wide variation in approaches to public relations practice around the world I would suggest that each association agrees to a SIMPLE global definition of public relations which is then applied within the cultural and social context of each country. Each culture will inevitably use different tools in this work (some will apply outdated Western-based Ivy Lee-style principles for example, which were created for other purposes in another age – but don’t get me started on that one!!!!) and those tools will be appropriate to the society they operate within – but the purpose, the end game, the outcome, will be the same. And an association can then start to properly undertake ‘public relations for public relations’ because it will have something specific to communicate to the people it needs to build relationships with.

    Standards can be set and maintained and members who are working in public relations as defined by their association’s affiliation to a global definition can be recruited and engaged – thus the association will know who makes up its primary internal community and the who, what, when, where, why of the people it represents and so it can get on with the job.
    You can’t get anywhere without understanding – it is the first pillar of good public relations practice. To be effective, an association must understand its members, its purpose, its limitations and abilities. Its members must also understand that they are the association – they cannot expect to sit back and leave it all to a couple of willing volunteers or paid officials at the top, because any community is only as effective as its participants. Every practitioner around the world has a responsibility to undertake ‘public relations for public relations’ alongside the activity undertaken on our behalf by the associations we belong to. For most of us, that means doing our job well, to high professional standards and for the benefit of the relationships we build between our customers/organisations and the people they interact with. For our professional associations, it means understanding public relations and the work that members undertake.
    So, that said, back to the mince pies methinks….Happy New Year (in advance).
    …oh, and if you are looking for a simple definition, after a really big long look at all the definitions in use and their context, my conclusion is this one fits them all and works whether you are in Kazakhstan or Katikati….

    “Public relations is about building and maintaining relationships”

    And a successful association must do just that!

  4. Very lucid arguments, Catherine. Thank you.
    How about something like ‘Public relations is about building and maintaining relationships through communication’?
    This would probably be more acceptable by the communication fans like my friends Brian Kilgore, Jack O’Dwyer and many others… and, after all, are we not professionally groomed and trained to effectively adopt and adapt communication methods and tools?
    If this is acceptable then we might engage in another issue you quite rightly raise.
    You write that in the tour of your ex-region sometime ago you detected three expectations which emerged from your colleagues:
    – that the professional association should be undertaking ‘PR for PR’ and focus on improving the reputation of the industry externally and internally
    – explain the value and function of public relations to the world at large
    – set and maintain standards of public relations practice (and this encompassed everything from codes of practice to training and education).

    The first requirement echoes more recent calls by senior representatives of our profession of the like of Harold Burson (see his Delhi speech in this blog) but confirms that the association is expected to focus on improving the reputation of the industry as such and not only of its members.
    And here (as reputation, if anything, is a combination of effective behaviour and communication) we fall into the catch 22 of how it may improve the reputation of an industry if it only represents less than 10% of operators and often does not even know who the others are, what they do, what they think etc…
    Can anyone think of a flexible way out of this stumbling block which coul, maybe, reconcile the growing call for mandatory government licensing with the resisting idea that it is best to leave the governments out and that licensing processes in those countries where they have been implemented have not really created visible improvements, at least from the perspective we are now considering?

  5. Leaving aside any question about 10 percent, the point is still whether or not an association that only covers part of a bigger group can or should represent the group as a whole.

    I used to be in the ham business, and in the detergent business.

    I don’t know how much market share my clients had in either; probably about half the supermarket ham sales in Canada and 80 percent of the detergent sales.

    In both cases, we primarily promoted the product — buy a ham, her’s how to cook it, here’s what ham nutriation is all about, here are some other times to eat ham beside Easter…

    Yes, we worked hard at getting our brand mentioned, too, but we also knew that if our promotion sold ten hams, about half would be ours, and that would be OK.

    I do know that when attempting to put someone on a platform owned by others, the platform owners want someone with public credentials. And usually, they want somebody form out of town, because, somehow, outside experts are better than locals.

    Glenda Holmes is elected chair of IABC, a 13,500 member society covering 60-some countries. That makes her more attractive to the men and women who organize events at which people speak, and to reporters who interview experts in order to convey the ideas of those experts to readers, viewers and listeners.

    So if a professional PR person working for an association actually tried to get “placements” the chances of getting Glenda interviewed, or behind a microphone, beat the chances of getting me — a one-man PR shop who psends a third of his time taking pictures and another third writing — behind that same mic, even if my speech would be better.

    As PR people, we know we need to get the highest ranking exec of our client onthe phone to the reporter, even if a mid-level manager in the innards of the oreganization actually knows the real answers to the real questions.

    I loved CAtherine’s informal survey — it seems pretty obvipious to me, but remains foreighn to CPRS and IABC and PRSA.

    Will Bill Murray makes a difference? Remember, he was hired by the people who lead PRSA last week, when it was doing a terrible jopb representing the profession. Maybe their hired one of themselves.

    Or maybe not.

    HAPPY NEW YEAR.

    BAK

  6. Hello from Jack O’Dwyer to everyone on this interesting discussion. Toni is performing a real service in hosting it.

    It would be nice to reform the PR associations but that could take many years.

    Better yet would be for the PR field to set some standards.

    The Board of Ethics and Professional Standards of PRSA has told me it does not set specific standards.

    One reason the press is so mad at PR people, resulting in negative articles in the N.Y. Times, Wash. Post, Der Spiegel
    and from TV host Tavis Smiley in 2006 alone, is that much of the time we can’t find you. You almost never answer your regular phones nor your cell phones if such numbers are given.

    The press works 24/7 (daily papers, TV, radio, etc.) and PR people, to be professional, should be available 24/7. As it is now, you’re like a football team that only shows up for the first half.

    Releases, VNRs, etc., should have regular and cell phone numbers, night-time and weekend phone numbers and e-mails of about six people including three from the agency and three from the client. Websites should have the same on the opening page of each corporate or agency website (corp. websites are awful in this regard).

    On the other hand, the press should never quote anyone without first clearing the quote with the subject via e-mail. New technology should be taken advantage of. Also, people have the right to revise their quotes. I don’t believe in hit and run journalism.

    Toni, you remark that Bill Murray, a copyright “cop” of decades’ standing, might be good for PRSA. There is supreme irony in his appointment because PRSA, for 19 years, copied and sold the works of dozens of authors up to 1994 without their permission. It was a highly lucrative business until some of the authors discovered it and 12 hired a lawyer.

    PRSA argued it was only “lending” information packets and charging a “loan fee” of up to $55 per packet. The 12 authors, including four PR professors, had a good case but couldn’t afford the minimum of $100,000 it would cost to pursue it. Copyright law is very “murky” they were told and filings could go on endlessly until one side or the other said “ouch” because of the financial drain. PRSA had deeper pockets than us.

    PRSA offered an apology but no cash, saying it had merely neglected the “professional courtesey” of asking the authors for permission to copy and sell their works (including entire chapters of books).

    I hope your readers will visit odwyerpr.com where my opinions are far from the only ones expressed. Free sample user name and password for January are happy & newyear.

    Which is what I wish to you all!

    Cordially,

    Jack

  7. Toni, I’m a little late joining this interesting discussion (having gone “off the grid” for the most part over the last few weeks), but I want to add some insight into the topic as to what constitutes a “professional” association. By virtue of my current place of employment I was pleased to see you list “accountants” in your list of recognized professionals (in your first comment following the post), but I would like to point out that “accountant” is an unregulated term, meaning that anyone can use that word to describe what he or she offers, no matter how little (or how much) formal training the person has mastered. Usually the ones who call themselves accountants are doing the basic bookkeeping (the “bean counters” as they are often dismissed by people who don’t really understand the concept of a modern strategic accounting and financial skill set and knowledge base.) What someone can’t claim to be is a designated professional accountant, unless he or she has enrolled in and completed a prescribed program of professional studies, as well as having met all of the other requirements of that particular accounting designation (which may vary from organization to organization, as well as country to country).

    My own association of professional accountants is a self-governing body, recognized by a provincial government statute. As an organization it has the ability to grant the exclusive right to the certified general accountant (CGA) designation, and controls the professional standards, conduct and discipline of its members and students in the province of Ontario. Our mission statement indicates that, as a body, we will ensure members merit the confidence and trust of all who rely upon their [CGAs’] professional knowledge, skills, judgment and integrity, by regulating qualification, performance and discipline standards of the membership, while advocating the use of their professional expertise in the public interest. Another requirement of membership is a detailed and comprehensive continuing professional development program, with a mandated number of continuing education hours needing to be reported each year (with a large percentage needing to be “verified”) The intent of the program is to ensure the currency of our professional accounting designation by each member who is actively employed.

    I have long been of the opinion (expressed to many a practitioner colleague) that public relations and communications-oriented associations are not professional associations, because (for the most part) they do not play a direct role in the training or standard-setting of members, nor is there a comprehensive code of ethics or punitive discipline process and procedures in place to regulate practitioners and protect the public. (How could there be when the trade associations aren’t dictating the required body of knowledge that must be attained before membership is “granted?”) Instead (to the best of my knowledge) they are all trade associations, with the primary requirement being the desire to be affiliated and the need to pay annual membership dues in order to be recognized as a member. (Note: in a professional accounting association failure to pay dues and maintain all requirements results in the automatic loss of the designation and, hence, loss of the ability to call oneself a “professional accountant.”)

    In my PR role, often I am the staff member who a member of the public contacts in order to ascertain whether or not an accountant against whom they wish to file a complaint is a member in good standing with my association. More times than not, that same individual has no affiliation with our designation-granting body (and never has). Unless the person is a current member in good standing of another professional accounting designation (there are three in Canada), an unhappy client or employer must pursue a complaint through the courts, because there is not a professional body to which an alleged infraction can be filed.

    I am not familiar enough with the CIPR’s recent government approval, but I would agree with you that this is a distinct step towards moving qualified practitioners on the step to true professionalism, in the traditional sense of the word.

    In summary, for the fields of PR and communications, I think associations are “nice to have,” rather than “need to have.” Personally, once the “value add” no longer exists, I don’t see a need to belong to a trade association. In 2006 I let one trade association membership lapse because I really wasn’t getting anything for my membership dollars. That was more than eight months ago and I don’t feel I am missing anything significant, nor has it affected my ability to perform my role. Perhaps even more intriguing is the fact that someone who was a member for 16 consecutive years hasn’t been contacted by said association to determine why I allowed my membership to lapse and what it would take to get me to renew. Ergo, it would seem that my long-time affiliation wasn’t particularly valued by the administrative staff or elected governing body of that association.

    I did renew two other trade association memberships because I was active as a volunteer and/or participated at relevant and useful PD and networking functions. For 2007 I’ve budgeted to take out a premium membership in a third association, where I’ve become more active and engaged over the past year. So, yes, I’m not against membership in trade associations. They just have to be useful to justify the expense!

    One other comment regarding professional associations: generally I find that most (e.g., medicine and law, engineering and architecture) are affiliated with post-secondary institutions (i.e., universities and colleges), often partnering with them to offer the front-end or related (and required) education and training. Or they partner to sponsor original research in the field. I think the fields of PR and communications, as well as their relevant associations, would gain a lot more credibility and respect when reciprocity status is earned from academia about the value and relevancy of their professional development programs and other offerings. Maybe I’d respect them more, too, and perceive these associations to be better equipped to perform an advocacy role to society at large.

    Best,
    Judy

    P.S. I’m so glad you’re sticking with this blog, continuing to pose the tough questions and examining the things that really matter in a balanced, responsible and comprehensive fashion—and inviting your visitors to do the same in this welcoming and congenial online forum. I think this blog should be required reading for students in post-secondary PR programs.

  8. Jack,
    I do not agree with you that the professional community should define its activities by negotiating that definition with the press, solely. I do believe that the press is one of the fundamental stakeholders of our community and that, for that very reason, we should be dialoguing with journalists on all aspects of our activities as well as with a number of other constituencies, each of which has its own specificities. The specificity of journalists is that they are entitled to represent public opinion: one more reason why our professional associations whould be very attentive to involve journalists in all of their dealings under two capacities: a) their role of interpreters of public opinion; b) their role as stakeholders.

    Judy,
    I am very grateful for your contribution to the debate which, in my view, greatly helps defining at least some boundaries. For example, it seems to me very sound for associations to lobby governments (or provinces as in canada…depending on the specific applications…)in order to receive the mandate, only under certain conditions to be required by the state and implemented by the associations, to grant to those members who have proven to be professionals according to determined indicators, the possibiity of stating that they are registered public relations professionals.
    Switzerland as far as I know is in this direction and presumably the UK is going the same way. Other EU associations (27 since the beginning of this year) should also be going in that direction and Cerp’s mandate should be to implement this as quickly as possible.
    Certainly, if an association is able to do this for its members, then the number of members should increase (at least in principle). So this would be an important step forward…although of course it will not (and should not and could not) impede any individual from stating to be doing public relations.
    This is fine, and it will discharge on the associations the responsibility of communicating this change directly to member stakeholders (not pr for pr, but pr for pr association members).
    But is this enough? What are we doing for the public interest? By acting as sofar said, we would be mostly working for our members.
    How can we delay the progressive eroding of the reputation of our profession?
    One thing we could do is investigate the reasons for this erosion, identify how much of this is due to activities of our members and do something about it.
    A second thing we could do is make sure that all new entries in the profession (not in the association)are updated on practices and standards (education).
    A third thing we could do is observe and praise positive activities and criticise explicitly and publicly all negative activities, whoever is responsible for them.
    Other ideas?

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