CIPR election: Two candidates go head-to-head

Stephen Waddington and Dr Jon White are standing to be elected as the next CIPR president. Waddington is European digital and social media director for PR firm Ketchum and is co-author of Brand Anarchy: Managing Corporate Reputation. Dr Jon White is a consultant in management and organisation development, public affairs, public relations and corporate communications management, and has worked in public and private sector organisations around the world.

The election will take place from 7 to 21 May. You need to be a member of the CIPR to vote. The president for 2014 will be announced on 24 May.

Here they answer a few questions from PRmoment's founder Ben Smith:

BS: The future of public relations has never been more exciting. Do you agree?

SW: Yes I do agree and that is why I am standing for president. As I said in my statement there really has never been a more exciting time to work in public relations. The levels of transparency demanded of organisations, coupled with the combination of social and traditional media means that our professional skills have never been in such demand. In fact, such is the demand for our expertise that adjacent marketing disciplines have recognised the opportunity and are threatening to encroach on our turf. We have an incredible opportunity, but we need to be brave and confident.

JW: I think that would be going too far, but the future of the practice is exciting because of the challenges faced by business and other leaders. Business schools talk of these as arising out of technological developments, complexity and emerging problems – examples, the continuing developments in social media, globalisation, and uncertainties in the Euro zone. Leaders dealing with complexity and uncertainty look to advisors for help, and there are huge opportunities for public relations in this. Complexity and uncertainty mark out our territory.

BS: What do you believe are the most important challenges for PR professionals right now?

SW: The industry faces two massive challenges: getting to grips with media fragmentation, and shifting from a craft to a profession. The CIPR is tackling the first issue via the Social Media Panel which I chair, training for members, and initiatives such as Share This which I edited and contributed too, and we’re making good progress on professionalism through changes to the membership structure and by putting qualifications and training at the core of the CIPR’s proposition. We need to go much further. I’d like to see a roadmap to make Continuing Professional Development (CPD) mandatory, but first we need to truly demonstrate its value to employers.

JW: Simply, raising our game – we are being looked to for advice, can we provide it and act on it, to deliver results for the clients, organisations and individuals we serve? Second, we need to work from a much stronger base of research, knowledge and skills.

BS: Do you believe the client/PR agency relationship is changing?

SW: The agency market has polarised between independent operators and specialists such as my old agency Speed, and large networks able to deliver international scale such as Ketchum . All market data points to this trend. But ultimately the challenge facing public relations agencies and practitioners isn’t other public relations agencies, but asserting our value against other agency disciplines such as advertising and digital, and demonstrating that we are able to deliver significant business value to organisations.

JW: Yes, client expectations are higher, and where agencies cannot deliver, in-house capabilities are built. Consultancies need to be more confident in what they have to offer and willing to take stands to influence client thinking, in the clients’ interests.

BS: What do you see as the role of a professional body in 2013?

SW: The purpose of the CIPR is to help practitioners develop skills so that they become more valuable, are able to increase their earning ability, and broaden their career prospects. I can show a direct correlation between my skills and my income throughout my career. There’s also an important role in upholding professional standards through a code of ethics and rigorous complaints process.

JW: As in the past to provide leadership to the practice, providing guidance towards professional development, examples of best practice, role models to the practice, and clear and hard thinking on the issues facing the practice – this to be expressed through representations to government and business organisations such as the CBI and IoD, collaboration with other associations having overlapping interests, and in debate with members of the professional body.

BS: Outside of public relations, of all the professional bodies out there, which one do you most admire and why?

SW: The British Medical Association (BMA) and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) have world-class training and professionalism agendas. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development(CIPD) and the Chartered Institute for Purchasing and Supply (CIPS) all have a strong voice representing members regionally and nationally. Econsultancy, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) all have bold modernity agendas. As President I’d promote working relationships with key national and international organisations in advertising, digital, marketing and public relations.

JW: The longer established Chartered Management Institute and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development are further along the path taken by emerging professional bodies, and have the advantage of larger membership (CMI, 90000 members; CIPD 135000).   Both are more developed in areas such as education, professional development, research and codes of conduct. 

BS: I must admit, I struggle to get excited about the perennial CIPR/PRCA merger question – I just think there are so many more important issues to deal with. But it would seem amiss of me not to cover it – so how do each of you see the CIPR/PRCA relationship evolving in the short, medium and long term?do each of you see the CIPR/PRCA relationship evolving in the short, medium and long term?

SW: The relationship with the PRCA needs to be addressed for the benefit of the broader public relations industry. We’ve got an opportunity to grow the industry and our professional practice internationally and by asserting our strengths as media fragments against other marketing disciplines. The two organisations need to mark-out areas of competition and work as a united voice to represent the industry. I sat on the PRCA Council in 2011 and 2012, I’m speaking at a PRCA event in Edinburgh in June, and I have a good relationship with my opposite number on the PRCA Digital Group. But a full blown merger is almost certainly a call too far. The two organisations have very different cultures and governance structures.

JW: Towards greater collaboration – healthy competition aside, we need to restart a discussion on how we can best work together – an obvious start would be in the area of research and development.  Resources here are so hard to come by, that we cannot afford duplication of effort. I have a personal history of working with the PRCA on research projects and know how productive collaboration can be.

BS: It seems to me that both PR professional bodies in the UK struggle to engage with their membership. You may or may not agree with me but for the CIPR, how would you improve the level of engagement with members?

The CIPR is a regional organisation that happens to be headquartered in London. The new president needs to help to address the perceived London bias. The regions and nations are one of the most important ways the CIPR reaches out to members. As president I’ll support each regional chair to deliver real membership benefits locally. I’m proud to have the support of so many regional chairs and committee members but ultimately people will need to get out vote. Beyond this strong engagement and continued investment in technology to remove geographical boundaries would go a long way. I’m proposing a monthly Twitter chat and will continue blogging on my own site and for trade titles. This is after all the business of public relations.

JW: Earlier surveys of CIPR members found that they join because of the possibilities offered by the institute for professional development. The CIPR has to show that it can offer these – not just in London, but consistently throughout the UK, its countries and regions. They have to feel that membership in the CIPR matters, that it’s hard to be an effective practitioner without association with skilled and knowledgeable peers, and access to the resources of the CIPR.

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