PR people: if you want respect, pay your dues..

Is PR a profession?  If you think so then Bill Sledzik has a great post with some bad news for you.  He estimates that we’re 0/5 from the five attributes of a profession. His advice:

Follow the PRSA Code of Ethics whether you’re a member of not. Mentor up-and-coming practitioners and interns, encouraging them to act professionally. Support a “professional organization” that attempts to elevate the status of the field. And do the right thing, because “true” professionals act autonomously, always placing the public interest ahead of client interest.

This is a thorny subject. 

From time to time PR people raise the issue of the profession’s (or not) poor perception.  Normally this results in a passionate call to action, a web site, a plan, a petition.  The one common result of these efforts is nothing.  Nothing changes. Last week we had the latest effort from Keith Trivitt and PR Cog*. (*Not to be grumpy but is it ironic that someone writing under a pseudonym is giving out about PR’s perception problems? Really?)

Of course there are very good reasons why PR has a perception issue. First and foremost there’s a lot of very poor practice out there. Some of it is due to laziness, some of it is due to a lack of professional pride or competence and unfortunately some of it is due to a serious lack of ethics. However, it all adds up to a huge reputational challenge.

We are not helped that the barriers to entry into this line of work are at best low and at worst non-existent.

Let’s also not forget that the level of membership of our professional bodies is incredibly low.

I welcome people’s passion and their attempt at affirmative action.  But in my opinion it’s a waste of time, energy and resources.

If you are a PR practitioner and you are serious about addressing our collective perception issues, then the first thing you should do is join your local professional body, adhere to well accepted (global) code of ethics and invest your energy in evangelizing the need for professional membership.

When I lived in Ireland I was a long-time member of the PRII and was lucky enough to spend a few years on the Board.  There I saw firsthand the hard work underway around the world to agree standard codes and evangelize their importance.

The challenge is that while the professional bodies can provide a collective voice for practitioners, their validity is proportional to their membership.  If PR people don’t sign up then their impact and mandate is reduced.

Now I am well aware that these bodies have their limitations, however the fact remains they are already doing a lot of work to address these issues and the more people who sign up, the greater impact they can have.  If you want to make a positive contribution sign up and get involved.

So, put away your new wiki or website. Instead pay a visit to your local professional body, sign up for membership, read and embrace the code of ethics and start educating people about them.

Addressing PR’s perception issues is a complex and some would say impossible task.  However, supporting our professional bodies will help this issue far more than any website or amateur plan.

Share your thoughts in the comments below or let me know on Twitter.

Disclaimer: I was a long time member of the Public Relations Institute of Ireland, though my membership has lapsed since my move to the United States last year.  The PRSA and IABC are on my to-do list.  Add your local professional body to yours Smile.

Update: Judy Gombita over at PR Conversations penned a post on a similar topic a while back: Industry, trade or profession? Some observations on PR associations, present and future


Posted by Tom Murphy

15 thoughts on “PR people: if you want respect, pay your dues..

  1. I agree with you. PR perception matters and somewhere PR professionals are responsible for it. Being a part of a professional body and carrying our ethical PR activities will surely help change the perception.

  2. Nice post!!
    I believe PR traditionally has been unethically ethical & if basics don’t change soon, then new PR professionals won’t have anything to take away from this field as a learning!!

  3. Ashwani: Thanks for your comment, the more people who sign up for the professional bodies the greater the chance of a breakthrough!

    Namita: I dont’ actually agree that PR has been traditionaly unethical, it’s a small number of people, but you’re right, if we don’t take a stand, we have no one to blame but ourselves.


  4. Sorry I’m so late to the party, Tom, but I had a chance to unplug for most of this week and took advantage!

    I was a member of PRSA for 27 years, earned the APR and admission to the College of Fellows. I opted to take a one-year holiday from the group this year, but will affiliate with another organization sometime in 2011. Or maybe I’ll return to PRSA.

    What prompted my hiatus is the “value” question. It’s becoming more and more difficult for PRSA, IABC and other groups to demonstrate value to individual members. The information they once sent us in publications and newsletters is now readily available through other sources. Alternative networking opportunities have also expanded thanks to social media.

    So while I still believe in the “professional organization” idea, I’m not convinced simply having a larger membership will have much impact.

  5. Bill,

    Thanks for the comment. I think you raise a very interesting and valid point. Certainly some feedback on Twitter has echoed your views.

    There are a lot of questions over the value of professional bodies. I don’t think this is anything new, but I agree with you, they have been slow to adapt to new ways of delivering value to their members.

    However, I do think if you want to provide some sort of entry level standard for Public Relations practitioners, and you want someone to advocate on behalf of the profession, I struggle to find a better alternative.

    Grassroots efforts just aren’t sustainable.

    I think this is a discussion that I’d love to see the PRSA and IABC take the lead on…

    Thanks again (and thanks for the inspiration for the post!)


  6. Interesting post. I don’t really want to dispute the question about PR being a profession or not. Personally I don’t believe it makes much difference to the work we do, or the image at large. Lawyers are not more widely liked simply because they are professionals.

    I do agree with Bill though. Being a member of a professional body doesn’t make something a profession.

    Though again in response to Bill, acting for a client and not the greater good does not a profession make. Lawyers for instant are typically recognised as professionals and don’t act for the common good, but their client. Of course they typically act within the law, but so do most PR practitioners.

  7. Hi Matthew,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I agree with you that the whole “profession” question isn’t a big issue. I also agree that a professional body doesn’t make a profession.

    I agree with Bill that professional bodies have their own set of issues in how they remain relevant.

    However, if you’re personally concerned with the image of PR then the way to address that is to get involved with your counterparts and I believe that professional bodies provide the best avenue for that collective effort. Certainly better than yet another ‘PR is Good’ website.

    I also personally think it’s healthy to have active, effective professional bodies. Particularly in a business that often resembles the wild west :-)


  8. What are the advantages of being classfied as a “profession?” People get too carried away with titles and initials. If you want respect, do a good job; just don’t do a job so you can put some initials after your name. The reason why PR gets a bad rap is b/c people who work in PR are overly concerned about things like being certified as a “professional.”

  9. Tom. Good to catch up with you again. Whether we are a ‘profession’ or not is really immaterial. What is important is that we act in a professional manner – high standards of ethics and doing the best job possible. Neither should we get too worried about our cred with certain groups. After all journalists, politicians and even bankers can get on with their work without been universally loved. The fact is that virtually every organisation of any stature knows the value of PR and employs PR people, whether in-house or as consultants and in the business world PR is now seen as a management discipline.

    Rather than spending time wondering whether or not we are a profession we should be using that time to find appropriate ways to demonstrate that we have a key role to fill by helping organisations manage their communications, shape and protect their reputations or promote and achieve media publicity and let the results demonstrate a positive ROI.

    The Barcelona Declaration of Measurement Principles published this week by an alliance of PR professional bodies from ICCO to PRSA shows the worth of these bodies.

  10. Jim,

    Good to hear from you, thanks for the comment.

    I agree with you on the subject of pondering whether PR is a “profession”, first and foremost we should be focusing on the day job.

    I imagine, given your closing comment you would concur with allowing representative bodies play a role.


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