In his keynote speech today 1005burson_speech_text.htm at New Delhi’s ICCO annual conference (Icco is the international association of national associations of public relations consultancies), Harold Burson surprised everyone by taking a strong stance on an issue which until only a few weeks ago was considered blasphemy in the US public relations community.
Now, licensing, which, admittedly, is controversial. I raise the issue because I cannot think of a profession that is not government licensed. Medicine, law, accountancy, engineering, architecture – all are licensed. I know that a few countries even now license public relations. In fact, licensing was a lively topic among U.S. public relations practitioners in the 60s, 70s and 80s. The Edward Bernays I mentioned earlier, was its most vocal proponent. Though then young and largely unknown, I was opposed to licensing – which would have been limited, rightly I think, to public relations professionals who sold their services to clients. In general, after serving a five-year apprenticeship, employees of public relations firms would be required to take and pass the equivalent of a bar exam to obtain a license to practice. I opposed licensing because I felt public relations and the firm I headed would be better served without any form of government oversight. Through the years, however, I have often wondered if the status of public relations would now be different had it been licensed twenty or so years ago. While I am not yet at the point of endorsing a licensing initiative, my present attitude is that bodies such as ICCO and its constituent organizations should put the issue on their agendas for serious study. The trade off is clear: public relations will likely not gain the professional status it wants and deserves unless it embraces licensing. Unfortunately, I have doubts that self-licensing will meet the test. It is an issue your generation of public relations professionals will have to decide.
The rest of his speech is also well worth reading. Particularly when, reffering to the tale of the cobblers children (who walk around with holes in their shoes because their father i too busy fixing his clients shoes…), he puts the responsibility on professional associations to develop a comprehensive and intense public relations program for public relations….Obviously, given the specific cirumstance, he refers to Icco, but the sense of the message could be interpreted in getting ICCO to tie up with the Global Alliance and its 65 nation strong member associations to devise and implement such a program globally.Your opinions on both licensing (there is a previous post of mine on this issue in which I also attach the discussion which, after more than twenty years of embarassed silence and denial the issue was there, has recently opened on PRSA’s web site and latest issue of Tactics) and on who should start up the pr for pr process?