Interview with Colin Farrington, director general of CIPR and incoming Chair of the Global Alliance: at the risk of seeming complacent…

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 At the risk of seeming complacent…says in the following interview to this blog, Colin Farrington, chair elect of the Global Alliance and since seven years director general of UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations…You will see why he says this if you read the interview: very slick, official and professional answers indeed! I will comment at the end and sincerely hope you will as well..Q. What is your general opinion on the global status of the profession’s reputation? And how does it compare with your specific opinion related to that status in the UK? And how have both changed in the last five years?

A. Whilst globally, the PR profession’s reputation can be patchy, the UK’s CIPR is now generally recognised as one of the profession’s leaders and we are proud of our reputation. Achieving Chartered status has been a significant step forward. The profession has gone through bad times but has not fundamentally been harmed. Membership of the CIPR and enrolment on its Diploma continue to grow both at home and overseas, which demonstrates that there is a strong interest in developing the profession in other countries. The Global Alliance of Public relations and Communication Management (a worldwide group of individual member associations and affiliated bodies) was set up in 2002 as a forum to share knowledge and best practice. Growth of the GA work is now critical and CIPR regards this as a priority.

Q.Which are the major influencing variables for the global reputation of public relations? Who are the major subjects whose activities contribute to shape this  reputation?

A. Freedom of speech and free access to free information channels underpin democracy and must thus underpin our profession. The public relations profession should be more pro-active in this area. Public relations must be seen as a force for openness and dialogue, not for secrecy and ‘spin’. The best public relations practitioners in the best organisations, whether In the private or public sectors, understand their responsibilities in this area and have remarkable achievements to demonstrate. The CIPR and our sister bodies such as Ferpi have a clear commitment to professionalism and a Code of Conduct enforces this. And both of us are among the driving force behind the Global Alliance.

Q. What specific role do you attribute to professional associations in the shaping of that reputation?

A. Development of a Code of Practice and demonstrating the values that are required to apply for Chartered Status or similar recognition, eg providing leadership, developing policy, raising standards through training and education, and making members accountable through the Code of Conduct.

Q. Which are the major challenges which face professional associations?

A. Continuing to keep membership relevant so that it becomes sought-after and valued and is not seen in the abstract as suitable for ‘someone else’. That involves for example understanding and exposing the challenges of new media, albeit not uncritically. I think professional associations should in general be more confident.: we have a great deal to offer already

Q. How has the attribution of chartered status modified the aims, the plans, the governance and the activities of your Association?

A. It required a new ‘constitution’ so that now for example all significant changes to our governance and membership structure need the approval of Government. This is part of the ‘bargain’ that we made in return for the kudos and status of being chartered. We have found that it works in our favour: never before have we been admitted to so many top tables nor have we ever found it easier to be listened to.

Q. Do you believe that recognition from the Government of a professional association is ‘nice to have’ and why? or ‘essential’ and, if the latter, why?

A. It is essential if a national association wishes to retain and build on its professionalism that it engages with Government and ideally it should secure some form of light external regulation. In the UK, Chartered status makes it easier for employers, clients and the general public to distinguish between PR practitioners who are prepared to commit to the industry code of conduct and to be accountable, and those who aren’t. Membership of CIPR is a clear demonstration of professionalism.

Q. Has the dynamics of membership count in the CIPR significantly varied since that recognition was granted? If so, why? And if not, why?

A. Membership continues to grow at an annual net average of 5%. We would like to see it grow faster. The impact of Chartered status has only just begun to be felt at that practical level. We are now working on targets of around 10% a year net growth.

Q. In your view should the associations strive to represent the profession as such, and why? or should they confine their activities to representing their members? And if the latter, do you believe as a matter of principle that associations should represent the interests of its members or with their stakeholders, when the two conflict?

A. We speak principally for CIPR members, but we strive to represent both members and the profession as a whole and see those interests as in common. To do otherwise would be to give us a schizophrenic identity. There may be those who want to practice public relations unprofessionally. We do not of course represent them nor do we wish to do so. I must stress that it is also part of our bargain with Government for the Charter that we self-regulate vigorously and that we operate in the public benefit. We have made it clear that we will be tough with members who operate unethically and we have recently taken new powers to do so.

Q. Personally I believe that a crisis management team composed by a small but global and respected group of professionals and scholars is needed to urgently tackle the widening gap between the increasing political, social and economic relevance of the profession in society and the sliding reputation of our profession worldwide. What is your opinion on this issue? and, should you at least in part agree, is there any existing organization (s) which, in your view, could or would have sufficient legitimacy in the professional community to avoid its recommendations ending up in just another Baker Hamilton Report?

A. No, at the risk of seeming complacent, I suggest -and have always told our members this – that we are in a long game and must play it as such. There is no new ‘crisis’. The CIPR has legitimacy ,as do many of our fellow professional associations. The work we do is challenging and is indeed frequently challenged and undermined by people who should know better. But that should only reinvigorate us.

Thanks Colin for this. No ghost writer could have done a better job to transfer an impression of ‘tout va bien madame la marquise…‘. I have no doubt you actually believe in what you say, your track record of performance at the helm of the CIPR give us hope, and this approach could be is good news for the next two years of your incoming chairmanship of the Global Alliance….as long as you ensure that skepticism and outright criticism of such approach is always accepted and openly discussed, and that operations of the GA accelerate and impact the professional community more than it has done sofar (my chairmanship included of course).  

 

1 COMMENT

  1. I would like to emphasize Colin´s comment that our professional associations should be more pro-active in the discussions about democracy and the freedom of speech.

    At our annual conference in March our topic is “The silent society vs The open society”. One of our most well reputated journalists in Sweden will be moderating this conference.

    Our aim is to raise this important issue and initiate a debate about how fundamental an open society is for democracy and professional communicators. Democracy can never been taken for granted. It must be cherished and nurtured as all relationships.

    Margaretha Sjöberg
    Managing Director
    Swedish Public Relations Association

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