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