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Will the CIPR and PRCA merge?

10th October 2016

If you are over 35 you may remember a particular conversation about marriage in the film Four Weddings and Funeral:

Gareth: I've got a new theory about marriage. Two people are in love, they live together, and then suddenly one day, they run out of conversation.

Charles: Uh-huh.

Gareth: Totally. I mean they can't think of a single thing to say to each other. That's it: panic! Then suddenly it occurs to the chap that there is a way out of the deadlock.

Charles: Which is?

Gareth: He'll ask her to marry him.

Charles: Brilliant! Brilliant!

Gareth: Suddenly they've got something to talk about for the rest of their lives.

Charles: Basically you're saying marriage is just a way of getting out of an embarrassing pause in conversation.

Gareth: The definitive icebreaker.

I’ve often had the view that a similar thing happens to UK PR people when they run out of conversation, they talk about their trade bodies – The CIPR and The PRCA.

Trade bodies (or professional associations – I’ve often struggled to see the difference) should be a force for good. And I think, generally speaking, in UK public relations we have two professional bodies that are a force for good. The issue of course is whether we need two of them.

This debate has been going on for the best part of 10 years, but it’s suddenly become a bit more interesting because the latest president-elect of the CIPR Sarah Hall, stood on a ticket of (amongst other things) closer collaboration with other trade organisations, including The PRCA. Whether this is likely to lead to a full blown merger – frankly, who knows? In many ways PRCA/CIPR closer collaboration is like Brexit in reverse; it’s a spectrum from a full merger on the one hand through to a couple of joint statements on the other.

As president Sarah Hall plans to “to establish a small CIPR working party looking at areas for closer collaboration and to develop the relationship from there “

Not much is likely to happen that quickly, partly because of the oddities of the CIPR election. Sarah Hall will not actually become president until the back end of 2017. Before that Liquid PR’s Jason Mackenzie will take over the reins from present incumbent Rob Brown. From the PRCA side, its CEO Francis Ingham position on a merger is pretty clear:

The central question here is whether the interests of PR professionals, or more specifically the members of each body, are better met with the two organisations competing with each other, or by the resources of each combining to create one stronger, bigger organisation.

It’s probably worth comparing what the two organisations do:




National Awards scheme



Regional Awards scheme



National Conference



Training (online and face-to-face)



Individual membership



Team/corporate membership



Regional events



Sector events



Fellowship scheme



It’s probably also worth comparing the revenues of the organisations on recent years.

The revenue of the PRCA and CIPR 2010 to 2015

So between them the two organisations' revenue was circa £6.5m in 2015.

Will they merge? Impossible to know at this stage, there are too many players on too many committees to be able to predict what may happen, but there is little doubt the election of Sarah Hall to president in 2017 has made it more likely that it has been at any time in the last 10 years.

If a merger does happen, it will be popular with some and deeply unpopular to others.

Global Reputation Forum


For me the distinction between and trade association and professional body is fairly clear (although in some sectors can become blurred).

A trade association represents a trade, business or industry sector at a corporate level and typically lobbies on behalf of that sector’s interest. 

A professional body is more concerned about the professionalism of an individual (thus usually has individual membership rather than corporate)  working in an industry through qualifications, regulation, training, etc and maintains a degree of impartiality enabling to act in the public interest and not simply that which favours the particular industry. 

(And then you have in certain sectors loan regulatory bodies which are usually statutory and are purely about prescribing the necessary competencies to practice, maintaining a register and disciplining accordingly.)

There is arguably a benefit in keeping the two (or three) separate and avoids any conflict of interest. It does become unclear, for example with the CIPR / PRCA debate which is which as both start to offer individual and corporate membership.  But I would argue that the level of regulation required (low risk), and the size of the PR profession, could warrant a single organisation (and lets not forget the other PR bodies like the IIC and APPC). 


By Neil Freshwater on 19th December 2016 - 2:06PM

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