An international conversation with CIPR candidates

Result announced:  The UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) has announced the results of its 2014 President election – with Stephen Waddington the successful candidate [polling 68% of votes; turnout 8.8% of membership].

PR Conversations offers congratulations to Stephen and Commisserations to Jon, the two candidates.

During the election campaign, we invited them to participate in a PR Conversations post, and asked our public relations colleague and good friend, Dan Tisch, chair of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, for some questions with an international dimension—before subjecting the election duo to one supplementary question and then a few quick-fire responses to an abridged version of our PRoust Questionnaire.

Contact details: Stephen Waddington MCIPR (Twitter and LinkedIn) and Dr. Jon White FCIPR (Twitter and LinkedIn)

Let’s begin with Dan’s questions and the candidates’ responses:

Dan Tisch (DT): CIPR membership is a passport to participation in a global professional community. Under your presidency, how would you enhance the international outlook of CIPR, and what do you think are the keys for CIPR to enhance the value of global connections for its members?

Stephen Waddition (SW): International members are the route ensuring that the CIPR is relevant on the worldwide stage. The CIPR has an opportunity to take its core products, namely training and qualifications to a wider international audience.

The CIPR’s opportunity lies in developing relationships with other public relations organisations such as Global Alliance, IABC and ICCO. As president I’d be keen to act as an ambassador for the CIPR and members whenever I had the opportunity.

This is my day job at Ketchum travelling and advising clients through Europe as well as those assisted globally by the agency from North America, Asia and Latin America.

Jon White (JW): CIPR’s critics have suggested that the Institute has become inward-looking and self-serving. In the first item in my campaign statement, echoing CIPR members’ views, I said that I want to see CIPR reassert its leadership, nationally and internationally. Headquartered in London, which is a global centre of practice, the Institute has much to offer the international community of practice, and much to learn from other professional associations. Despite an active international interest group, the Institute–for reasons having to do with its recent history–is not particularly internationalist in outlook at the moment.

I am internationalist in outlook and experience and will be pushing the Institute to make a greater contribution to international professional development. Keys to this are the Institute recognising its international role and having something to offer in playing this role.

DT: In what areas would you most like to see CIPR collaborate with professional associations and institutes around the world?

JW: Practice development, through contribution to the development of standards in public relations education and training, and through closer attention to the national and international benefits to be realised from public relations practice (in terms of conflict resolution, social and economic development (some of this has been started already through work on the Stockholm Accords and Melbourne Mandate, but much more needs to be done to translate these initiatives into practical results).

SW: I firmly believe that we have a moment in time. The profession is either on the threshold of becoming incredibly valuable as a management discipline or it faces irrelevance. It really is that stark. We need to listen and learn from others organisations around the world and then apply what we learn as a global community to ensure that it’s the former rather than the latter.

The CIPR and UK public relations industry leads the profession in many areas but we have much to learn from other regions and industries that are more agile and focused on innovation.


DT: If you could ask one research question to PR professionals and/or academics all over the world, what would you ask them, and why?

SW: How do we ensure that the profession asserts its value as a management discipline and what are you personally doing about it? It has been one of the key themes of the election for CIPR president.

JW: I would like to see a research study carried out to summarise the ideas, theories and models that inform modern public relations practice. This would be done through a content analysis of practitioners’ statements on practice, and would be carried out as a start towards showing how the practice can be enriched by an infusion of ideas, theories and findings from the social sciences, business and management studies.

I suggest this study because of a summary contained in an entry on public relations in the International Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences in 1968, written by Robert Carlson. He said then that the practice drew on a paucity of theories and concepts. This, in my view,remains true today and needs to be investigated and addressed. A good current example is of AMEC’s attempt to develop valid metrics for the measurement of public relations practice, where the metrics draw on a model of the communications process developed in the 1940s which no longer has the explanatory power that it had when it was first devised.


DT: The next World PR Forum will take place in Madrid in September 2014, and it’s expected to attract professionals from 30 countries. At this early stage, what do you believe CIPR can or should contribute to that event?

JW: Much will depend on the theme decided upon, but I would expect CIPR–in its own right and as a significant member of the Global Alliance–to be involved in discussions around possible themes and to support these with ideas and suggestions regarding speakers.

SW: The CIPR is already contributing to the community through the work of the Global Alliance by tackling the issue of the relevance of the profession to the standard for international reporting. The Consultation Draft of the International Reporting Framework is an important piece of work as it promises to provide public relations practitioners with a narrative and vocabulary to engage with management in the area of benchmarking and evaluation. This is our natural ground but we risk it being taken from under us by faster moving disciplines.

Anne Gregory, CIPR past-president, and member of the CIPR Council, is chair-elect of the Global Alliance. We have the opportunity to contribute directly to the World PR Forum by listening and learning from discussions, and in areas where the CIPR leads practice such as diversity, social media, public affairs and internal communication.


Our supplementary question was:

PRC: If introducing new initiatives, how would you ensure that as many qualified CIPR members as possible would receive an invitation and/or opportunity to play a role?

SW: It’s been suggested numerous times during this election that public relations organisations have a challenging time engaging with members. That hasn’t been my experience at all. Members and non-members have been keen to discuss issues facing the professional directly and via a variety of media. Technology has makes it easy for our members all over the world to engage directly.

As CIPR president I would continue this dialogue engaging with members in any way that they choose and by examining how we can innovate with technology.

JW: If elected president, new initiatives will be developed out of discussions with members, where my ideas, as president, will be tested against their contribution to discussions. I plan to use face-to-face meetings by preference supplementing these with other forms of communication, choosing these as they are appropriate and useful.


Finally, we put Stephen and Jon under the spotlight to answer some of the questions from our PRoust Questionnaire. As ever, we asked for their spontaneous thoughts….

What is your most striking characteristic as a PR practitioner?

JW: Thoughtful analysis.

SW: I’m a doer. Sleeves rolled up, I lead from the front on client assignments and through blogging, writing and speaking.

What is your principal fault as a PR practitioner?

SW: Not switching off from media. We have a rule at home that my BlackBerry and iPad are put away whenever the family is together. My daughters are as fixated with the media as I am, but my wife and son both insist on a no-device policy when we’re together. Fair enough.

JW: Reticence

Who would you describe as a PR hero or villain?

JW: Alastair Campbell (both hero and villain).

SW: James Grunig is a hero for his relentless energy in engaging with the public relations community on his Excellence Theory over the last 30 years. Whatever your view of the Excellence Model and Four Model of Public Relations, he practices his own theory of public relations excellence.

Has a novel, film, play or other work of fiction ever influenced you as a PR practitioner?

SW: There are so many. The Wire [American television show 2002-08] is a brilliant portrayal of the pressures facing traditional media and the challenges that professional communicators face in dealing with the media.

The Constant Gardener (2005) tells the story of a public relations battle between activists, business, government and drug companies in Kenya. It’s a gripping story with wonderful cinematography. Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz are also the lead characters. I’m not sure you could ask for much more.

JW: I am constantly influenced by novels, films, works of fiction and plays. Shakespeare saved my life.

Who is your favourite writer?

JW: George Orwell

SW: Ernest Hemmingway for fiction; he’s simply a beautiful writer and was a great traveller–we could all learn from him about media misinformation. Steve Biddulph for non-fiction; every parent and child should read his books about communication between the generations. My copies of Raising Boys and recently published Raising Girls are both well-thumbed.

What skills and abilities do you think tomorrow’s PR leaders need?

SW: Open communication, decisive action and personal presence. Change is the only constant for our profession but the demands on leadership remain a constant.

JW: Humility, breadth of vision, pragmatism and ability to get things done

How would you describe the current state of public relations?

JW: On the brink of opportunity or irrelevance.

SW: The public relations industry lacks confidence. We debate our purpose while other disciplines such advertising, digital and management consultancy are asserting their value. Thanks to media fragmentation we increasingly have the media and the means to help organisations engage in a two-way relationship with their audiences. The profession will either become incredibly valuable as a management discipline in the next decade or irrelevant.

What is your PR motto?

SW: Let’s get on with it. We haven’t got much time.

JW: From W H Auden: “We must love one another or die.”


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9 Replies to “An international conversation with CIPR candidates

  1. Wish to congratulate Stephen for his victory and wish him a great presidency. First utmost urgency in my view is to understand such a low vote turnout… Not more than 9 per cent, despite simple and easy online access to vote. This is shameful…..

  2. I think this raises an interesting issue not only for CIPR (and the two presidential candidates) but for other professional bodies. I appreciate the origins of Share This and also the SM panel – and there is merit in drawing on those with experience, expertise and examples to share (or simply contacts we can trust to deliver), even if this means sometimes going outside the membership base.

    There is a question about how bodies initiate and welcome ideas from members for such projects – and perhaps it would be good for CIPR (and other bodies) to have a policy regarding this, much as publishers have advice on how to submit a proposal (eg Again, why not publish information openly about how initiatives are generated from within the body’s committee and executive processes? I’m sure many CIPR members have little understanding of the qualifications for example and how they could become involved in their future development. Indeed, the involvement of teaching centres, tutors and markers has lessened over the years, which I believe is an issue as this valuable experience and expertise is not being utilised.

    I would also like to see exclusive panels/groups within membership organisations become more inclusive (eg could the SM panel not become a CIPR specialist group) – or at least explain the approach to selection (for example, if representation from different sectors is important) and/or have an open mechanism for others to get involved. After all, there is a lot of talent within bodies such as CIPR and we can’t all know everyone and shouldn’t just rely on those who push themselves forwards.

    The question about involving non-members is interesting. It is something that baffles me in particular regarding Awards (such as those run by CIPR) where non-members are able to submit and win. I understand that maybe the aim is to recognise good work across the entire body of PR – but shouldn’t joining the relevant body be a condition then of winning?

    It is good to see Stephen say that the intention is for SM panel members to join CIPR. Where such people are working in PR and eligible to join CIPR, they should certainly be encouraged to do so. I note that six out of the 20 people listed on the SM panel are not yet members and it would be interesting to know why those people are happy to be involved in the panel but not members. If they are viewed to be worthy of belonging to the SM panel, they should be the very people that CIPR is trying to attract as members.

    So this leads onto the challenge for professional bodies in attracting those deemed to be experts or leaders or otherwise influential to be members. If we are holding such people up as valuable contributors to the occupation, then perhaps the presidential candidates should be targeting them for membership (ditto those in the PR Week top list who aren’t members). Do other professional bodies do this, I wonder?

    Beyond this, we should of course be introducing members of professional bodies to leaders in all sorts of areas beyond PR and in that case, these should be purposefully selected. I would love to see more of this. Similarly we should invite more non-PR people to contribute to this blog where they have interesting things to share that have relevance to us.

    1. Thanks, Heather. You summed up nicely (with your own examples, rather than what I had in my head) my concerns about association members not getting told about opportunities (let alone some sort of equal playing field in terms of getting the roles).

      And in this specific instance, decisions that were made in the past (re: CIPR’s social media council and books) are less important than how the process will be done (and decisions made) in future.

      That’s why I asked the question of both gentlemen candidates, except in an oblique way. That’s sometimes the problem: unless you share a specific example or two, the crux of the matter isn’t always understood.

      I’m actually coming at this question from my personal experience in association memberships where I’ve felt I’ve “given” (membership dues, volunteer time) far more than I’ve received back in terms of things being “awarded.”

      I remember having a conversation with Toni Muzi Falconi many years ago (I think 2008) where he described a PR association in many ways being like “old-fashioned, gentlemen’s whist clubs.”

      (Note that it wasn’t CIPR being discussed.)

      I’d really appreciate hearing from Jon White on the query (as well as a second time from Stephen, if he wanted to clarify or enhance his answer.)

      1. Thanks, Judy, for your prompt on this question, and Heather for her suggestions. The election campaign has been very productive in putting issues on to the agenda not specifically addressed in candidates’ programmes. My earlier answer on how new initiatives would be discussed was that “If elected president, new initiatives will be developed out of discussions with members, where my ideas, as president, will be tested against their contribution to discussions. I plan to use face-to-face meetings by preference supplementing these with other forms of communication, choosing these as they are appropriate and useful.” Heather’s suggestion that we have a policy on how new initiatives can be developed and considered, in ways that draw in as many members as possible, is one for the newly-elected president to take on. We do have the beginnings of such a policy in the CIPR’s Research and Development Unit, which allows for the consideration of new research proposals and how they can be taken forward.

        Other points: I did an analysis of the PR Week assessment of who is influential in public relations in the UK (their annual Power Book exercise for 2013). Of 463 practitioners identified, 22% were CIPR members, and only 4% were fellows with the Institute. Attracting some of the influential practitioners not currently members of CIPR will also be a task for the incoming president.

        Toni’s point about PR associations being ‘old fashioned gentlemens’ whist clubs’ — studies of the evolution of associations set up to bring together practitioners working in particular areas have shown that this kind of organisation is found in associations at an early stage in their evolution. CIPR and other similar associations — CPRS, PRSA, PRISA for example — have moved beyond this stage, but still have a great deal of work to do (some more than others) to develop their own governance, focus for their work, and policies to guide them in the work that they do. Again, all tasks to be picked up on by the incoming president.

  3. Thank you, Stephen and Jon, for agreeing to “face off” on PR Conversations. Even as a non-CIPR member I found both sets of answers very interesting, particularly those of a more “global” nature (that Dan supplied to us).

    Disclosure: the supplementary question came from me, partly because this is something that has bothered me for years in regards to my own association memberships: parity when it comes to opportunities for members. (And it was at the back of my head when I wrote my recent Making Honest B2B Endorsements through Social PR, Part I.)

    I have heard rumblings from more than one CIPR member about unhappiness in regards to “opportunities” presented regarding the high-profile social media initiatives. For example, concerns that even though the social media council has the CIPR “brand” attached to it, not all of the council members are CIPR members.

    And the same thing with the Share This (very successful) book. Again, the CIPR imprint but contributions from non-members.

    How would you (Jon or Stephen) prevent this from happening in future, i.e., the unhappiness of members who were not even told about an initiative at the front end, and be given an opportunity to apply for it?

    I think the answer to this question would be valuable to many association leaders (staff and elected), not just CIPR.


    1. Share This is a project that myself and Philip Sheldrake pitched to Wiley to document content from the Social Summer series of workshops that the CIPR ran in 2011.

      We sought contributors from our networks – both CIPR members and non-members – reflecting the Summer Social content and ensuring that we were able to cover the range of subjects required to deliver a product to Wiley’s standards.

      All contributors are recognized experts in their field and several are established authors in their own right. In an ideal world they would all be CIPR members but we took the view that professional practice is developing so fast that it was best to ensure that we had the breadth of experts.

      We’re in the process of producing a follow-up edition Share This Too, edited by myself and Rob Brown, slated for publication in August 2013. This is a larger book with content from new contributors many of whom came forward with pitches following the publication of the first book. Again this includes some non-members including Brian Solis who has contributed the foreword.

      The CIPR Social Media panel was set up in 2010 by the then President Jay O’Connor. In Q4 2012 it formally agreed that members of the panel would be expected to show commitment to the CIPR by joining as members in 2013.

      More than happy to answer any further queries about the books or the panel.


  4. Last November I wrote a post on my personal blog ( about some issues with modern elections. I am delighted to see that so many of my concerns have been addressed with this current election (not claiming any cause and effect of course!).

    With the recent relaxation of membership entry criteria, more people are eligible to vote. It was easier for candidates to stand. Plus the two candidates have been open and engaging in providing information about their positions on all sorts of issues. Let’s hope that, with the easy voting system that Toni notes, this will result in a much higher turnout than the last time when only 9% of members participated.

    The final point I made late last year was about how people make their decisions as information is processed against existing opinions. I think in this election, members should have learned much about both candidates – and even if we still rely on our existing heuristic (as Toni is doing), those without any knowledge or experience of either Stephen or Jon, will have compared their own views to those expressed by the candidates.

    I agree with Toni that this has been a refreshing change to so many elections and look forward to further openness and innovation whichever of the candidates is successful.

    (Disclosure – I never disclose how I vote!)

  5. Excellent initiative by prconversations. thank you.

    As a honorary member of the CIPR I have been following with great interest the public discussion by the two candidates over these recent weeks and believe that this is the most effective, innovative and advanced approach for a professional organization to involve and, eventually, engage its members in determining the future of their organization.

    I was also supplied this morning via email with an online voting application that was extremely simple, friendly and fast.

    My congratulations to Cipr in the hope that all other organizations now decide to adopt a similar approach and make one step forward to making their presence more relevant.

    (disclosure non petita: I voted for Jon White, one of the two candidates. Have known him for years, admire his intelligence, his respect for others and, most of all, his calm approach to controversy… good luck Jon).

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