Industry, trade or profession? Some observations on PR associations, present and future

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I’ve been following, with great interest, the noteworthy discussion Toni Muzi Falconi provoked with his recent post on the research conducted between journalists and public relators. Fairly early on I concluded that Toni’s real intent was a call to action of “PR for PR,” which was borne out by his later comments. When Toni began talking about the need for professional associations to step up to the plate, I also realized it was time to write a complementary post I’ve been sitting on for awhile; namely, some of the differentiators between a professional and trade association, plus the challenges (and opportunities) to achieving “professional” status for public relations. Are we there, yet? I don’t think so. Here’s why.

This is actually an axe I’ve been grinding for awhile with colleagues and friends: public relations (and, by extension, strategic communication management) don’t qualify as “professions,” at least in the traditional sense. I say we practise in trades or industries, and that we are practitioners…not professionals.

This point of view doesn’t tend to make me too popular, as many see this as a slight to the quality of work performed on an individual basis. I don’t dispute that my peers are highly skilled practitioners. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t hang with anyone whom I didn’t think to be intelligent and ethical in all of their employment and personal dealings. Many I call upon often, to source information and get advice or feedback. But that’s because these are practitioner friends who have carved out on an individual basis a career hallmarked by excellence. Sometimes this has included an educational component or accreditation, other times acumen was simply acquired through years of hands-on work experience.

I don’t believe any of these colleagues are stellar practitioners solely because they belong to an association and all that it entails (particularly as many of them have never had an affiliations or, alternatively, they let their trade association membership lapse, with no apparent consequence).

And here’s another thing: in North America at least, the terms “public relations” and “PR” are unregulated. For most there is no recognition by government of being a profession; no requirements for completion of a program of professional study; and no requirement to belong to a regulatory, standard-setting association, in order to obtain things such as intermediate- to high-level positions in the field. Perhaps that’s why (or at least it seems to me) that every second internal communicator or marketer, technology or social media evangelist, seems to have hijacked the title, function and realm of “public relations.” It isn’t defined. It isn’t regulated. It’s kind of a free-for-all.

It’s not that I think that public relations will never achieve “professional” status, individually or through our associations. It’s just that I think we have a long road ahead to achieve this.

Several months ago I asked a valued colleague and friend, Chitra Reddin, PhD, to detail to me what constituted a profession. (Like me, Chitra worked for a period in a Canadian professional, regulatory association; ergo, I thought she was well-placed and informed to answer my query.) Her “four pillars of professionalism” are reproduced here with permission.

Chitra Reddin’s Four Pillars of Professionalism:

1. [Acceptance in an association dependent upon] the mastery of a recognized body of knowledge, (i.e., research, best practices and training/education).
2. A focus on the public interest (e.g., similar to law, accounting, medicine or education). In our “profession” I would see it as a principled balance of organizational and public interests, as in corporate social responsibility. (A very critical current and future focus.)
3. A globally harmonized and enforceable code of conduct and ethics.
4. Global standards-setting body and regulator. I’m not sure a license to practise is absolutely necessary—trying to work it through a gazillion global government jurisdictions would be a bureaucratic nightmare and take several centuries to achieve—but perhaps a meaningful professional designation, granted by the standard-setting body and its partner associations, might be useful, practical and achieveable.

* * *

It’s probably helpful to know (in terms of credibility) that prior to being employed in the not-for-profit and corporate sectors, Chitra served for many years as an assistant professor, public relations, in Mount Saint Vincent University’s bachelor of public relations (honours) program in Halifax, Nova Scotia. And later associate professor, management communications, in the Richard Ivey School of Business’ MBA, HBA and executive programs at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario.

I would add to Chitra’s four pillars that the public relations role needs to be defined, that the program of study should be competency-based and that a practical work component (i.e., experience in the field) should be part of the curriculum. After achieving this professional qualification, there should be ongoing, mandatory continuing education requirement for “maintenance” of certification or accreditation in public relations (or strategic communications management). Only then can the educational component of an association be taken seriously for the long term, by the people making business and hiring decisions, as well as the media and general public. Plus, of course I heartily endorse Chitra’s emphasis on “enforceable” (and enforced) codes of conduct and ethics.

The Elephant in the Room

Close to two years ago Warren Bickford, ABC (a Canadian), then chair of the International Association of Business Communicator, addressed the question of “professionalism” in a post in the IABC Café, I say, is that an elephant in the room? For the purposes of my argument, I found it worth revisiting. Not surprisingly, Warren’s controversial post received only two comments (both quite good). More interesting was that fact that neither commenter was a member (at least at the time) of IABC. So, you had non-members taking an interest in the focus and future direction of an industry association to which they didn’t belong. In particular, I point you to an excerpt of Sean Williams’ comment, where he stated:

“My first boss in communication, Rob Gill, told me early on: No one knows what we do or how we do it. They think it’s easy. They don’t appreciate it. Until they need the help, and then the gratitude lasts only as long as the specific assignment. We always have to figure out how to do things better, faster and cheaper and never forget that we are serving customers.

We need to do our best—and commit most, if not all of, our effort—to serving our customers. Otherwise, we’re just another media-hungry interest group.”

Now I don’t claim to know the “professional” status of all (many or most) national PR associations. One member-based association that seems to be making progress is the UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations. Yet despite achieving charter status with the UK government (a very significant achievement) and introducing challenging diploma programs, its About website page still makes a clear distinction of serving the public relations “industry,” not profession.

Getting Further Down the Road with the Global Alliance of Public Relations and Communication Management

Helping us to get closer to professional status is the work being done by the umbrella organization, the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, which includes codifying the public relations industry through its international PR Landscapes series. As per the GA website: “PR Landscapes are a series of practical guides profiling the public relations industry and business, cultural, political and media landscapes in countries throughout the world.”

I also draw attention to the comment made in an earlier post by Jean Valin, APR, CPRS Fellow (second elected chair of the Global Alliance) on the work being done:

…most of these objectives were at the cores for the rationale for the creation of the Global Alliance. That is why I pursued so vigorously the establishment of world standards, in particular to solidify our grasp on what the profession stands for. Ethics was number 1 on our list and we have achieved that by analysing and subsequently prescribing a global code of minimum standards of ethics. We are in the process of doing the same for accreditation and have also begun work on curriculum standards.

The latter is a long-term piece of work as it requires consideration of a lot of things, such as the role of culture and the effect of globalization on the profession. Nevertheless, we need global standards in these three areas to call ourselves a true profession. It is simply not good enough to each have our own set of rules and say that we all practice public relations.

Agreed. And it’s interesting how much Chitra’s four pillars of professionalism line-up with Jean’s wise words.

Challenges to Achieving Professional Status

1. Our role as public relations practitioners is not codified and defined consistency, although several efforts have been attempted (real and aspirational) here on PR Conversations, including posts by Heather Yaxley and Benita Steyn.

2. Education standards vary, nationally and internationally. Minimum standards need to be set and accepted by the majority of PR-related trade associations.

3. From available evidence accreditation programs test existing knowledge. By contrast, certification or diplomas or programs of study teach a body of knowledge. I think it behooves public relations associations to move towards being curriculum-based education providers, or else work towards building formalized relationships with established educational bodies (i.e., universities and colleges) that can offer the same.

4. More commitment by individuals and associations is needed regarding the importance of belonging to a targeted public relations association. If, as estimated, only 10 per cent choose to belong to an association that is not going to cut it for us to be defined as professionals. Can one be a “professional” alone? I don’t think so. I doubt the business world or media or general public think so. If 90 per cent of public relations practitioners choose to go it alone, why are we surprised that our role is not appreciated or understood by the majority? Like Toni and Jean, I think we need our associations/organizational bodies to be spending significant time on growing targeted membership, plus defining and promoting our roles and work.

5. The dilution of effort and resources, resulting from the existence of competing associations is a big challenge. I’ve chosen to be a member of my national PR association, but others opt for more generalists ones related to communications, marketing-oriented groups, and so on. This challenge could be overcome if the various national and international bodies worked more closely together (i.e., in harmony), focusing on differentiating and marketing their (authentic) strengths, rather than competing for membership numbers, willy nilly.

6. The current online environment allows competition from social networking groups and other loose affiliations, which was covered off so capably by Catherine Arrow in her post, Where next for professional associations? How can associations overcome these no- or low-cost competitors?

* * *

What Say You?

This list is not exhaustive. There are other challenges (and opportunities) that I hope others will provide to help us move forward. Or maybe you disagree with my assessments on what constitutes a public relations “professional” and “professional” association. If so, I’m very interested in hearing your reasons why. I would appreciate it if gaps were filled in by knowledgeable readers on the progress being made by individual associations on the areas detailed above, as well more information on what I see as the exemplary work being done by the Global Alliance to codify and set standards.

* * *

Note: I’ve deliberately stayed away from the regulatory or licensing aspect of professional associations. I do point you to a recent report by the the Competition Bureau of Canada on Self-Regulated Professions: Balancing Competition and Regulation (full report as a PDF file). Alternatively, check out the Executive Summary or Table of Contents. (Not surprisingly, the section that interested me the most was the one specifically related to professional accountants). As you can see, regulation brings its own set of challenges, not only within, but from third-party bodies.

Update (1/10/08): The debate continues in Brazil

Afinal, temos uma profissão?
It was a pleasant surprise to discover that Pedro Souza of the Brazilian blog Horizonte RP (“Buscando mais para a profissão”) took the time to translate much of this post into Portuguese. And if my Babel Fish translation was at all accurate, he supplemented the translation with commentary and a critique on the state of the public relations association/profession in Brazil. Thank you, Pedro, for the tremendous compliment. Best of luck in continuing the discussion in Portuguese to set benchmarks and raise the bar. JG

13 COMMENTS

  1. My response:

    Wow! Well done, Judy. Comprehensive and well written. I’ve often thought that many PR-types, communicators, communications advisors, etc. justifiably yearn to be treated with greater respect and given more appreciation. Maybe some of us feel that “professionals” deserve more appreciation and respect than “practitioners.” Perhaps this is where the desire to perceive ourselves, and to be perceived as professionals by others, stems from.

    As for me, having never worked in a regulatory organization, I’m quite content with peaceful coexistence between those who self-identify as practitioners and professionals…maybe I’m just caught up in the spirit of the season—peace on earth, goodwill towards all PR-types…

    Merry Christmas.

  2. Thanks, Dean. Of course you’ve been “privileged” to hear versions of this post in person on a few occasions.

    If your daily craft or trade was more defined and recognized (i.e., appreciated and respected), with PR-related associations taking the lead, would that be reason enough for you to consider association membership a valuable commodity? That’s the million-dollar question.

  3. Fascinating read. I think we need to continue this type of dialogue. We do suffer from a bit of an inferiority complex and we need to get to the root of what’s causing it. I care deeply about our profession and would like to retire feeling that I’ve helped to raise the bar for those who follow me.

  4. Hi, Judy. In answer to your question, I’ve always thought that it’s a great irony that the PR “profession” hasn’t been able to do better PR for itself. So, yes, if there were an association that seemed to be making a credible effort to improve the perception of its members, I’d be inclined to support it.

  5. Here are observations on matters of varying importance to PR in 2007 including the definition of PR. Many powerful forces are exerting themselves on PR.–Jack O’Dwyer

    Review of 2007___________________________

    “If you can’t justify it to your mother, then don’t do it,” D.C. crisis expert Richard Levick told a crisis wrap-up in the Wall Street Journal.

    Truth is “15% facts and 85% perception,” PR Society crisis expert James Lukaszewski told the Canadian Broadcast Corp. Radio series called “A Century of Spin.” PR lays out the “facts of the matter from the perspective” of the client, he said.

    PR people “make flower arrangements of the facts, placing them so that the wilted and less attractive petals are hidden by sturdy blooms,” novelist Alan Harrington told the New Yorker in a 12-page article on Howard Rubenstein. The article described Rubenstein as “a gentle fixer.”

    The job of the press is to ask “tough questions” and the job of PR is to provide “hard answers,” Tim Russert told the PR Society in Philadelphia.

    Here’s a definition PR: it is the exercise of power by controlling the flow of information. If a given audience doesn’t know about something, it’s powerless to do anything about it.

    Opinion: America runs on clean information and PR and the press must work together to keep the stream flowing and pure. No one wants to drink contaminated water or take “info pills” that have Mickies in them.

    Mark Weiner, head of research at Ketchum, said research shows PR returns about $6 for every dollar invested while ads return about $1.20.

    One problem with today’s PR is that the press is moving at blinding speed while PR waits for numerous approvals (client, marketing, finance, CEO, legal, etc.). The story hits the web where it’s picked up by Google and other “crawlers” and remains there forever.

    Media operate 24/7 but almost no PR does. Editors’ names, e-mails, phones, likes, dislikes, etc., are available on numerous electronic databases but all national and local PR groups bar press access to their online member databases.

    Some orgs work hard to maintain military silence no matter what is said about them. They’re like the guard at Buckingham Palace who wouldn’t flinch even if a bee stung his nose.

    Still others seek to overwhelm and intimidate audiences with unlimited, overbearing hype. Anyone not on their “bandwagon” is savaged.

    The answer to these types is Abe Lincoln, who said in 1837 that the only acceptable form of public discourse is “reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason.”

    What PR students are learning from PR profs: that they must “first serve society” and that PR is a good major even if they don’t go into PR (Prof. Karen Russell of Univ. of Georgia) and PR people are “public servants” (Prof. Betty Jones of UGA).

    We were disappointed that Philadelphia Inquirer publisher Brian Tierney, a longtime PRS member, did not do the history of PRS on its 60th anniversary when PRS met there Oct. 20-24. In fact, his reporters did not even cover him when he spoke at the conference or anything about the conference. One columnist named speakers at the upcoming meeting and left him out. Philadelphia Bulletin sent a reporter who wrote 400 words.

    Counselor Bill Huey, who has taught ad/PR at three universities, blasted the report on PR education by PRS (“The Professional Bond”) for saying more Ph.D.s in PR are needed. Ph.D.s help schools get grants but students need teachers who have hands-on experience, he said.

    PRS chair Rhoda Weiss, attending a meeting of PR people at the State Dept. in Washington, D.C., Jan. 10, slipped and fell on wet stairs outside the Eisenhower Office Bldg. and apparently broke her leg. She was seen in a wheelchair with her leg in a cast the next day. Weiss refused to talk about this (or anything else) with us the entire year.

    Companies that scored poorly on Fortune’s “America’s Most Admired Cos.” list did better on Wall St. than those with good reputations, said a study by Prof. Meir Statman of Univ. of Santa Clara Univ. and Deniz Anginer, Univ. of Mich. Investors in admired companies are penalized by an aura of positive feelings, they said.

    Dilbert, the syndicated comic strip about office life with an audience of 150 million, poked fun at PR. An attack with fangs came from Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten who likened PR pros to the Gaboon viper, a six-foot poisonous African snake with two-inch fangs.

    Independent PR firms flourished in 2006 with 20 of 50 largest having gains of 20% +. Participating in the O’Dwyer rankings based on top pages of tax returns and W-3s were 140 independents. Tech, health, financial were hot.

    Dec. 17 marked the eighth anniversary of Omincom’s high of $53.50 in 1999 (adjusted for 2-1 split this year). But OMC is only $48 now in spite of $50M+ paid to CEO John Wren; the removal of 60M of 386M shares from the market, and “buy” or “hold” advice from practically all the analysts on the stock for eight years. This is one story that doesn’t “fit” the NYT. Ad Age named Wren its “Man of the Year” for 2007

    A clue to OMC’s “beleaguered” (Barron’s) stock: it owes $3.07B long-term. WPP owes $4.14B; IPG, $2.32B, and Publicis, $2.84B (total is $12B). Their leaders put much of the ad/PR industry in hock for decades by overpaying for acquisitions and overpaying themselves.

    Fortune marked the 25th anniversary of the seven “Tylenol murders” by declaring Johnson & Johnson’s handling of it “the gold standard of crisis control.” Forgotten were the seven 1982 victims and Diane Elsroth, 23-year-old victim in 1986 of the same easily-doctored capsules that should never have been marketed again (or even in the first place). You never saw her picture nor the pictures of any of the seven.

    Bacon’s, long the standard source of editor info, became Cision after its purchase by the Observer Group, which adopted the name Cision. Cision North America lists 400,000 editors at 130,000 outlets. Cision, listed on the Nordic Exchange, had sales of $270M in 2006

    Vocus, PR software and services company, which went public at $9 in 2005, made additional offerings and saw its stock rise to $35 and sales to upwards of $60M for 2007.

    Firing of Don Imus stunned the PR world but he was back in the fall. He tried to apologize to the Rutgers team but they wouldn’t accept it until after he was canned.

    The tragedy of 32 murders and a suicide at Virginia Tech put the spotlight on the fatal link of PR and marketing. “PR” people doubling as marketers/fundraisers for VT were at the pow-wow that suppressed news of the initial two murders for two-and-a-half tragic hours.

    Weingarten of the Washington Post wrote: “The marketing-PR axis makes the team of Hitler and Mussolini seem benevolent.”

    Congratulations to PR Week editor Julia Hood and her husband on the birth of their baby boy, Leo, in November.

    A record 171 journalists and other news media staff were killed in the first 11 months of 2007, topping the high of 168 killed in all of 2006. No PR group ever shows any interest in this carnage.

    Financial Times quoted a Hill & Knowlton exec as saying that cash payments to Chinese news crews “for transporting equipment” can top $700. Reporters often get a $25 “transport” fee just to attend an event.

    WPP Group said ad agencies that win the most awards are the most profitable. Agencies now publicize themselves by promoting their awards instead of advertising in Ad Age and AdWeek, said Al Reis. The weakened mags, suicidally, give lots of awards. AA lost longtime editor Scott Donaton and AdWeek cut to 33 issues for 2008 (new title needed?). OgilvyOne boasted winning 595 awards but wouldn’t provide a list of them.

    Princeton Review (no relation to the University but influential) advises the college-bound that liberal arts is the best preparation for PR. Half of incoming freshmen consult it. The Review’s take on PR is that “ads lie about the product and PR lies about the company.” PR profs replied that PR majors only take one year of PR courses and study liberal arts/sciences the other three years.

    Several PR newswire services were acquired. CCNMatthews, Canadian PR newswire, which owned Market Wire, was bought by Omers Capital Partners. Market Wire then acquired Collegiate Presswire. Primezone was taken over by NASDAQ and renamed PrimeNewswire.

    Herb Rowland, one of the dominant PR counselors in the 1970s and 1980s, died at the age of 81. He helped P&G, IBM, DuPont and others to conduct highly targeted PR campaigns at discreet demographic groups.

    Paul Basista left as executive director of the Arthur W. Page Society after six years and was replaced by Tom Nicholson.

    Publicity Club of Los Angeles, 50 years old in 1995, folded. PRS/L.A. and Entertainment Publicists gave it tough competition.

    Sard Verbinnen & Co. bought 51% of itself back from U.K. conglomerate Huntsworth, the deal to be completed by the end of 2009.

    Doug Dowie, former head of Fleishman-Hillard/L.A., was given 42 months in jail on charges of falsely billing the Dept. of Water & Power $500K.

    Call ten PR people and only one will pick up the phone. Almost all leave messages like, “Sorry I’m not here” followed by “Have a great day.” Please drop the latter. –Jack O’Dwyer

  6. I do agree, Judy, with most of your enlightning post but I do disagree with the its premise.

    You say that public relations doesn’t qualify as a “professions,” and you base this on the four pillars Chita Reddin offered you, which are:
    1. a recognized body of knowledge,
    2. A focus on the public interest,
    3. A globally harmonized and enforceable code of conduct and ethics,
    4. Global standards-setting body and regulator.

    I cannot think of any single existing profession which fits with all these four requirements:

    a) body of knowledge: we certainly do have a body of knowledge. If you say it is everything but suffient I agree, but the same is true for other professions. One might also say that it is not universally recognized and that is correct but the same is true for any other profession.

    b) one might claim that public relations is not sufficiently focussed on the public interest and this correct, but this is true also for other professions. The closest we have come to this is in the backgorund papers of Jean Valin’s work for the Global Alliance on ethics where it is clearly stated that whne faced with a conflict between the employers interest, stakeholder interests and the public interest, the professional needs to privilege the latter.

    c) I am not aware of any profession with a globally harmonized and enforceable code of conduct (from this point of view, Jean’s work has in fact put us ahead of many other professions).

    d) certainly no profession has a global standards-setting body and regulator.

    This, of course , does not mean that I do not agree with just about everything you write… We certainly do have a long way to go, but I don’t think we would be moving forward if we move backwards and return to square one.
    Please clarify.

    In my studies I use other indicators of what constitutes a profession, but I wonder if it is useful to express them as I believe that the professional scenario is moving so quickly that boundaries are sketchy and that our continuos, defatigating and maybe useless quest for a common definition of public relations bears a strikingly reactionary profile.

    If you ask today twenty lawyers, accountants, doctors or notaries how they would define the boundaries of their profession you would get many different answers.
    No?
    The only things which really differentiate us from other professions (but not in every country) is that we are not regulated as a profession (our practices are very much regulated) and that to practice we are not obliged to belong to a professional association.
    Can’t think of any other, frankly.

  7. I would like to thank Judy for an excellent post.
    To pick up on Toni’s push-back that no profession has these four pillars. I disagree. It is not so much that professions don’t have global standards, but the fact that in most cases professions have similar or identical pillars- sometimes without realising it. Accountants,as I am sure Judy can explain have very similar if not identical core elements such as ethics, code of conducts, body of knowledge. Same with law, engineers etc. So for me it is not so much that theer must be a document called ‘world standards’ for each profession, but that professions have aligned themsleves to a core set of elements that are done grosso modo the same way around the world.
    I have and continue to push hard at the GA table for world standards -in name and in spirit- because I think our profession needs it to decalre victory and be respected as a profession. Judy’s point on that is bang on. We will all be stronger and better respected if we can achieve this status and we will do this through the efforts currently underway through the GA.
    Support this work and join your national association !

  8. Great post and discussion Judy. I am aware of the various academic perspectives on what makes a profession – usually the type of factors you’ve listed are considered.

    For me though, I believe that I am both a PR practitioner and a PR professional. Beyond the definitions of what constitutes a profession, there is the personal dimension and this reflects on one’s own approach to the way you practice.

    Being a member of an organisation such as CIPR (which I am) may well be part of how I express my own professionalism, but I would be equally professional without such membership.

    I tend to feel we need to look beyond the bodies if we wish to create a better reputation for PR as being professional (does anyone really care in the “real world” if it is a profession). Until the majority of practitioners demonstrate a professional attitude – which includes, as Jack’s list reminds us, getting the basics right, we can’t hope to be seen en masse in a more professional light.

    P.S. Jack – on the issue about the number of media killed and the response from PR bodies, I couldn’t agree with you more. Many of us in the UK PR blogosphere did raise the issue in relation to the kidnap of BBC jouranlist Alan Johnson earlier in the year. But where is the wider voice of PR in standing up for a free media?

  9. I was just finishing up quite a long response to all of the wonderful comments received…when I did “a Brian” and the whole thing disappeared. Darn! So I will be briefer this time around.

    Toni and Heather, when I talk about being professional, I’m not talking about individuals. I’m talking about an accepted and recognized form of credentialling, with the best candidate for this job being associations.

    And by accepted and recognized, I’m talking about third parties, whether that be the government, the people making hiring decisions or the general public.

    A doctor, lawyer or professional accountant needs to learn and master a body of knowledge before he or she is accepted into membership. And they have to adhere to all of the requirements that go part and parcel of being a member of that professional association or they will be suspended or expelled.

    If a doctor or lawyer is suspended or expelled from his or her professional association, he or she cannot practise medicine or law. End of story. In the case of an accountant, not being able to say you have attained a professional accounting designation has a huge impact on one’s career. Very few corporations will hire a non-designated accountant for the senior-level positions…partly because corporations know there would be no disciplinary body to fall back on, should there be any accounting or financial malfeasance.

    Can you say the same of public relations? Toni and Heather, would it really hurt your career, at this stage in your life, if you were no longer allowed to be a member of your PR association? That’s the type of profession I’m talking about, one that is recognized by third parties, not just a (loose group) of individuals.

    * * *

    Thank you, Jean, for your kind words and support. You really do understand where I’m coming from. Perhaps it’s because you work in government and understand these fine distinctions of authority/accountability/credibility. I do think the work that Toni, João Duarte, you and others from around the world are doing with the Global Alliance is quite magnificent, in terms of raising the bar and getting us closer to “professional” status, but I still say we are a long ways off.

    And Jean, you are indeed correct in thinking that accounting does have a global standards-setting body, the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC). My organization has a rep on its current international board, in fact, Sylvie Voghel, FCGA, from Quebec.

    Check out some information about IFAC; don’t you think its mandate and governance structure sound a lot like the GA?

    About IFAC
    IFAC is the global organization for the accountancy profession. It works with its 158 members and associates in 123 countries to protect the public interest by encouraging high quality practices by the world’s accountants. IFAC members and associates, which are primarily national professional accountancy bodies, represent 2.5 million accountants employed in public practice, industry and commerce, government, and academia.

    What We Do

    Through its independent standard-setting boards, IFAC develops international standards on ethics, auditing and assurance, education, and public sector accounting standards. It also issues guidance to support professional accountants in business, small and medium practices, and developing nations. In addition, IFAC issues policy positions on topics of public interest.

    A fact sheet provides additional information about the organization and its role.

    Structure and Governance
    IFAC is committed to inclusivity. Its structure and governance, therefore, provide for the representation of its diverse constituencies and interaction with external groups that rely on or influence the work of professional accountants.

    Mission and Strategy
    To serve the public interest, IFAC will continue to strengthen the worldwide accountancy profession and contribute to the development of strong international economies by establishing and promoting adherence to high-quality professional standards, furthering the international convergence of such standards and speaking out on public interest issues where the profession’s expertise is most relevant.

    IFAC’s 2007-2010 Strategic Plan outlines how IFAC will fulfill this mission and deliver value to its various constituencies — the public, members and associates, firms, regional accountancy organizations, and professional accountants worldwide.

    * * *

    And, finally to Jack, thank you for sharing all of those bits and pieces and quotes; it’s great that you so often share your publication’s for-fee information here on PR Conversations. My only question is, did you share them to say how close…or how far…is public relations and its practitioners from being truly “professional?”

    Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday and break (if it applies). I’m not sure how much time I’ll be spending online over the next 10 days, but I’ll definitely keep an eye on comments to this post. Again, I really appreciate all of the commentary.

  10. A very nicely presented look at the “you say profession, I say trade” debate that has ebbed and flowed in PR circles for decades. Everyone has personal preferences for terminology on this one.

    Are we a profession? Probably not. And that’s not likely to change in the future until two things happen:

    1. Dominant PR associations band together. I still heave a disappointed sigh when I think back back to the failed merger talks between IABC and PRSA (& CPRS) in North America. That’s the kind of thing that needs to transpire to add clout to most of Chitra’s pillars. Our globe is full of lots of PR associations, many of them with global aspirations and monikers, none of them with any over-arching clout.

    2. There needs to be regulatory power. I know you deliberately side-stepped this aspect, Judy, but it’s pivotal if we’re truly going to operate as a profession. No amount of agressive marketing, accreditation and codifying is going to obscure the need to not only create professionals, but to revoke that professional status when practitioners are – well – unprofessional.

    In the meantime, PR folks always have the semantic option to define themselves any way they like: practitioner, tradesperson, professional.

    I think of my own situation as a ‘professor’ in Ontario’s community college system. Am I really a professor? No, but the province officially granted us that title as a concession in contract talks years back. See? Maybe it’s that easy!

  11. Ah, now I see the distinction between “profession” and “industry” you’re making. True, if PR became a credentialed “profession”, it would likely rid it of the charlatans and enhance its reputation and credibility – two factors which would be key to moving the “two-way symmetrical” model into the forefront of PR practice.

    • This post is almost four years old at this stage, Eric, but (from what I know of national PR association) I still feel that the UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) is probably moving in the most logical direction. Not only because it has introduced two CERTIFICATION programs (which now have graduates), but also because the association received Royal Charter (i.e., government) status.

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