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What difference do PR accreditation and qualifications make to your career?

According to the CIPR, being a chartered practitioner adds on average £17,000 to your salary. But not everyone is convinced you need particular PR qualifications. Here we hear from those with all sorts of PR letters behind their names to find out what difference it really makes, as well as from those who are succeeding without PR-relevant qualifications.

One person who has reservations about current PR training is James Herring, managing partner at PR firm Taylor Herring, who says that it doesn’t keep up with current needs: “My experience is that many PR courses are about three years out of date with actual industry practice. Such is the speed of development in our business that course designers need to be way more plugged in to current trends and practices. Our industry’s biggest challenge is recruiting fresh talent. We’re crying out for smart and switched on grads. If department heads spent more time talking to agencies and in house leaders we’d have a ready-made, highly employable new workforce.”

How my PR qualifications make a difference

‘I see the benefits every day’ says Matt Silver, senior account manager, corporate at PR firm Ketchum London: “I have both academic and professional qualifications in PR – a degree in public relations and communications from Leeds Business School, and the PRCA’s Online Certificate. I’m also a firm believer in lifelong learning and an advocate for continuing professional development and hold Accredited PR Practitioner status with the CIPR.

I see the benefits of my PR qualifications every day. PR degrees certainly aren’t for everyone and there are many different views on their value, but for me it was the right route to go down, and something that I have found incredibly useful in the first few years of my PR career. The ability to firmly ground your communications practice in tested theory, think and talk through why the strategy you’ve written will work, not just because ‘that’s the way it’s always been done’, is crucial – particularly when talking to people who don’t have a comms background. These qualifications, combined with CPD and the excellent learning and development and mentoring programmes at Ketchum, have given me the knowledge and skills to do just that, and as a result, to drive more value for our clients.

“I now have a holistic view of PR” says Tom Derrick, senior account executive, corporate reputation at Ketchum London: “I have an MSc in Corporate Communication and Reputation Management from Alliance Manchester Business School at the University of Manchester. Studying the theoretical development of PR from initial communication theories to case studies from across the last 50 years has given me a holistic view of how we’ve learned, evaluated and adapted the way we approach situations and resolve comms challenges.

“Understanding how and why we’ve arrived at the current views on best practice enables me to better plan and execute campaigns as a PR practitioner today. Further, it has provided a fantastic base to support and complement the on- and off-the-job training I’m currently undertaking through our internal global learning programme, which covers everything from client service excellence to copywriting and creative thinking.”

“I don’t feel accreditation has really helped me” says James Richards, senior public relations executive at construction PR firm CIB: "Before undergoing a career change to PR, I completed a Foundation Award with the CIPR before becoming a full member. I truly believe in professional development, so getting accredited was important for me. Although I don’t regret my qualification or my accreditation, I don’t feel this has really helped me in my career to this point. To say it’s hindered it would be an overstatement, but I seem to have fallen into a quandary in which potential employers either assume I am too qualified for junior positions, whilst lacking the right skills for more senior roles. I have no doubt that it will do nothing but help my career in the long-term, but maybe getting accreditation should be sought once you’ve gained the right experience."

“People are only interested in my experience” says Harriet King senior client executive at agency Milk and Honey PR: “I studied PR at Bournemouth University. PR is an industry that is highly competitive and difficult to get your foot through the door. I believed a degree in PR would give me the additional boost when on the job hunt. When mingling at other PR events at the beginning of my career, I hardly came across anyone who had a communications-related degree. In all fairness, I have never been asked what degree I took – only what experience I have. 

“Whilst my placement year helped me get my first 'proper' PR role, the course didn't prepare me for agency life. Most of the lecturers had worked in house or for a government organisation. When most of my peers admitted they wanted to work for an agency. 

“Sadly, Bournemouth University is no longer offering its PR degree. It was a highly regarded course in the PR field and gave its students access to people already in the field. I'd also say the majority of people who were on my course now work in PR or other areas of the media field. So it definitely opened the right doors.”

How my lack of PR qualifications has affected me

“Not being accredited has not held me back” says Alice Suh, head of global consumer PR at music platform Deezer: “I have never felt the need to earn any degree or accreditation in PR even though I studied literature and journalism. It was actually an advantage to come from my background as I developed strong writing skills and understood what journalists were looking for in a pitch. So I always recommend folks without the standard PR background to still give it a try if they are interested in the field.”

“I don't believe a lack of PR degree or accreditation hampers people” says Rose Allerston, account director at Smoking Gun PR: “I've been working in PR for the past seven years and came into the industry with no PR-specific qualifications, having graduated university with a degree in English Literature and Drama. PR can be tough to break into, but I don't believe a lack of PR degree or accreditation hampers people. An ability to write, thirst for news and determination to make contacts were some of the skills that enabled me to take my first steps.

“Ultimately, personality and attitude are the most important things and when recruiting at Smoking Gun, we consider these over qualifications – PR or otherwise. We hear from many PR students who tell us they learn more quickly and efficiently in the practical agency environment than studying the theory. 

“There are so many ways to continue to improve your professional skills and knowledge however, and I'm always on the look-out for industry events and training. I've recently become a CIPR member and am making the most of its webinars, toolkits and reports.”

Views of the PR industry bodies

Why you need CIPR accreditation
CIPR president Sarah Hall: “Public relations is growing up. Respect for our profession is rising, but there is still a job to do in educating employers and the business community about the strategic role we play in achieving organisational success.

“By investing in ourselves, we can assert our value to clients and businesses. Finance directors and legal professionals at the top table are backed by accreditation and we should be no different. The C-Suite has to be able to trust in our abilities and that requires constant learning in a fast-paced and ever changing industry.

“Studying for qualifications and committing to CPD with the goal of working towards Chartered Practitioner status should be an ambition for every PR professional.

“CIPR qualifications have a direct impact on the careers of graduates. From the Foundation Award to the Diploma, they lead to promotions and new career opportunities. Crucially, they equip practitioners with the knowledge, confidence and resilience to thrive and command management’s attention.

“Chartered Public Relations Practitioner status is also vital. It’s awarded to individuals who meet the required standard of professional distinction following a full-day assessment in strategy, ethics and leadership. Whilest Chartered Status is already the norm in older professions, it’s relatively new to our industry. It’s a kitemark of excellence and integrity – and it’s gaining momentum fast. There are now more than 250 Chartered Practitioners and following recent changes to the eligibility criteria, more people than ever are able to apply for the assessment. Our data also shows Chartered Practitioners earn an average of £17,000 more than others.

“We are well on the way to becoming a chartered profession and with the volatile business climate opening up even more opportunities for top level work, there’s never been a better time to invest in your own professional development.”

How PRCA qualifications improve your career prospects
PRCA director general Francis Ingham: “Year after year, PRCA and ICCO publications show that the industry’s number-one issue is talent: finding it, and then keeping it. And that this issue exists at every level of the profession.

“So an investment in a PRCA qualification has value for two reasons. First, its acquisition helps practitioners to stand out to potential employers – it distinguishes you from the herd. Second, if you’re an employer who’s offering to fund one (and that’s the case in 90% of the PRCA qualifications we deliver, whether at introductory, intermediate, or advanced level), it shows that you’re willing to invest in your team.

“Former PRCA chairman David Gallagher put it well when he advised leaders to recruit for attitude, and to invest in skills. Because there is no prescribed route into industry, and because for as many employers who actively look for PR degrees in their employees, an equal number are agnostic about them, it frequently falls to employers to skill up their teams. PRCA qualifications do just that – and in a modular way that focuses not on theory, but on professional skills, and all delivered in a cost-effective manner. What’s not to like?”

Some people feel they have been enriched by studying PR, whilst others feel that experience is what matters. What truly counts is having a passion for your work, whether or not you decide to back this up with professional letters after your name. As Richard White, managing director at tech PR firm AxiCom concludes: “The same core attributes hold as true today as they did 25 years ago – we look for Intelligence, Integrity and Initiative in all our people, irrespective of degree or professional training. If you have these three things, you’re able to get your head around complex subjects and create compelling stories, you’ll be trusted by clients, media and colleagues to always do the right thing, and you’ll have the wherewithal to proactively drive campaigns and keep them moving towards the end goal. We have some extremely talented people who have done marketing and PR degrees, just as we have those who have studied politics, drama, economic history, or business; and people who sidestepped university completely and have come into PR through careers such as recruitment. The bottom line is it’s about having the right mindset – there is no ‘type’, it’s about building a team with a blend of talents.”

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