The CIPR Foundation Award: money well spent?

This is an article by Karl Booton.
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On first researching entry routes into PR my initial port of call was the CIPR website. After further research, I returned to the site to enrol on the CIPR Foundation Award.

The Award is intended for those interested in a career in PR, be they students, or entering from other fields, such as journalism, and is particularly useful for anyone whose degree discipline lies outside of public relations, media or communications.

My own degree is in English Literature and Religious Studies, which – while useful, being both creative and analytical, and encompassing knowledge of other cultures – is hardly amongst the most commonly requested subjects by agencies or companies. However, this is where the Foundation Award comes in.

While it will undoubtedly prove unnecessary for those enrolled on CIPR-approved degree programmes, the course has for me been invaluable in gaining solid, fundamental knowledge of the industry.

At just over £600, it can, at first glance, appear a little pricey. However, after completing it, the Award is undeniably money well spent.

Course content

The Award is a three-day intensive crash course in all the essentials of the industry: from developing practical writing skills, to learning about corporate social responsibility (CSR) and crisis management. It also explores media relations; the CIPR’s code of conduct and ethics; takes in a brief history of PR from Edwards Bernays through to Max Clifford and current CIPR president Paul Mylrea; and the role of photography in the media.

The course is unique in that each class of students brings their own different ideas and opinions to the course, coming to the forefront in group activities: when it comes to brainstorming case studies, everyone has their own enthusiasm and humour to contribute, which really enhances your overall learning experience. It is undoubtedly a cliché when it comes to PR, but it really is the people who make it what it is.

This also includes the tutors – who prove approachable and happy to answer your every question, regardless of how big, small – or in my case, obvious – it is, also on hand to supply help, if needed, via email.

Only one topic struck me as odd in its absence, given the ways in which it has revolutionised how we communicate, and that is social media. The course could perhaps, in future, incorporate a stronger element on the topic, exploring the influence of Twitter and Facebook, considering that they have now – perhaps sadly? – become a staple in most PR campaigns. However, the CIPR is savvy enough to keep evolving, so it will only be so long now until the syllabus incorporates the topic.


It was only when it came to discussing the exam that we all felt a little nervous. It consists of three parts: Part A – a report on number of studied PR topics, including CSR and crisis management; Part B – an essay question, arguing both for and against a claim; and Part C – a press release. But after just three (albeit thorough) days, was this enough to pass the exam?

Exam day itself wasn’t without its hitches, including my laptop crashing and the internet refusing to connect, but within minutes, City Lit – one of the venues for the Award – had emailed me a copy of the paper as a back-up.

However, all was well when a month or so later, I was overjoyed to receive the email saying: “Congratulations! You have passed the CIPR Foundation Award in Public Relations … with a Merit grade …”.

The course has proven even more informative in that, for me, it has solidified the thoughts I had prior to enrolling on the course: that I want definitely to pursue a career in public relations.

Here is how the Award can benefit you:

1. It is a nationally – and internationally – industry recognised qualification

It is equivalent to a vocational A-Level or NVQ3, and is registered as Level 3 on the NQF (National Qualification Framework).

2. It increases your employability

The Award looks great on your CV. It also demonstrates to employers that you have dedicated both your time, and money, to gaining sound, academic knowledge of your industry – that you are taking your career seriously. Plus, if your degree is PR-free, then it will also give you valuable material to discuss in interviews.

It shows a commitment to investing in yourself. Employers, after all, will only invest in new graduates if we illustrate that we are willing to invest in ourselves.

3. Networking

Your time on the course is a great opportunity to meet new people in the field: from those at the beginning of their careers (like me); those with more experience, working in PR or related sectors (enrolled on the course by employers, for example); and the tutors – experienced practitioners themselves – who each have their own unique insight to add from personal experiences.

The course is in itself a chance to network, and our class was exchanging email addresses within minutes. So be sure to add your fellow students on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

My advice to anyone contemplating enrolling on the CIPR Foundation Award is to not hesitate, as I really could not recommend it more highly.

It is a strong, instant knowledge platform on which to build further PR experience and education, including the CIPR’s subsequent qualification, the Advanced Certificate (which I myself hope to enrol on sometime soon).

Have you completed the CIPR Foundation Award or another professional course? Leave your feedback below.


  1. Great to hear such positive reports of the Foundation course that PR Academy runs at City Lit. Another thing to mention is that this is also a ‘fast track’ way of enrolling on the CIPR Advanced Certificate course. The Certificate is a ten month degree level course with a great mix of theory and practice. Here at PR Academy we have had a couple of enquiries from students looking at this as an alternative to Uni. Its not just us that run in London, there are centres around the UK and its online too.

  2. Please note: two comments have been deleted. (In reality, it was one comment appearing to come from two people).

    The authors(s) of this/these comment(s) argue(s) that PR degrees are not needed, and that a general first degree followed by postgraduate training is the best route into PR. This is a valid argument that I’d be happy to air here if the author(s) would like to contact me and offer their opinion in the form of a full-length article.

  3. sarah james says:

    Editor – do you work in PR and if so did you take a PR undergrad?

    My concern is that there are too many people doing degrees courses that should be vocational. PR is not part of academia. Universities offer degree courses in a whole range of subjects nowadays that offer students who wouldn’t previously have studied at degree level, subjects that are more practical and work-oriented. Yes, PR requires training, but PR agencies should also look at offering training schemes to people after A levels – going back to apprenticeships and the like. Instead, we have a culture where A level students go on to spend 9k and more on university degrees like public relations, and considering that these fees will go up to 27k with the new fees being put in place, that will place students in silly amounts of debt when they could have taken a debt-free route into their PR career.

    Regarding 600 pound training courses for students like the author of this article, I can only see that as a money spinner for the organisation.

  4. Sarah

    I have worked in public relations; I now teach PR at university (and on professional courses).

    I did not do a PR degree because they weren’t available to my generation. But I have a huge respect for education (two degrees so far; another one planned) and believe that our courses offer academic training (like any other degree) plus a vocational focus that is helpful in a world in which many young people struggle to find well-paid work with prospects of advancement.

    But I use this site to allow our students and graduates to speak for themselves.

    Your desire to see apprenticeships is superficially appealing, but I fear unworkable. For one thing, it’s not only consultancies that hire PR staff. What about in-house departments?

    Since there’s a large pool of graduates willing to learn, why would employers prefer to train up school leavers?

    Public relations was my third career: I was almost 30 and had worked as a teacher, then as a journalist and publisher. PR takes some confidence and life experience so is an ideal activity for experienced graduates.

    But if you’d like to explore this further, I’d still welcome a full-length article on this topic from you.

  5. I have just finished the Foundation PR Course and I have to agree with Karl, it was a brilliant course and especially for myself, having come in with what I now know (!) to have absolutely no knowledge of PR. Having said that, although the tutors were absolutely brilliant and the amount they squeezed in was pretty amazing, given the time constraint (three days, the exam itself (being a ‘newbie’) I found extremely tough. I am now awaiting the results and think I have probably failed. I did mention to the CIPR that the first question threw me – I don’t feel we covered that in the exam and 2 others agreed with me, that had they not been in PR for 6 years and were they completely new, like myself, they would have struggled to have answered this 750 word essay also and they felt considering the prominence of this question in the exam, it should have been covered in the course. I did forward their comments to CIPR and out of 11 students who sat this exam, with three of us who had the same thoughts (I’m not in contact with the others, so possibly more) I was a bit disappointed with their feedback which was that we hadn’t read the question properly. With regards to comments above that you should have to do a degree, well, I don’t have the time to do that – my company needs me to start now so this is a great way of getting into it… providing I haven’t failed that is…

  6. Lucy Wollam says:

    I recently took the CIPR Foundation Award and I have to agree with Karl, I honestly think it was well worth the £600 pricetag. As someone who had no idea about PR until a couple of years ago, I now want to enter into the industry after graduating this year on par with those who have read public relations at university and have broad knowledge and experience on the subject. I really felt like the Introduction to PR course by the CIPR put me on the right track to achieving this. I was the only student on my course, everybody else had been working in PR for at least a year so it was a steep learning curve! But I thought I did okay, the teaching was really good and I particularly enjoyed the theory part.

    With regards to the exam I would have to agree with Danielle, I took along both the recommended texts in the exam and the second one definitely saved me. Nobody else had the second book so I’m not sure how they found it but without that I would have failed. The questions in section A were clear if you understood the specific terms, but I certainly had to look those up, the section B and C questions I found difficult but I hope I did enough to pass. I haven’t received my result yet but fingers crossed!

    What I would say is that the course is really useful and a great start for anybody who wants to get into PR, but maybe there could be more recommended reading to do in preparation for the exam.


  1. […] university and at professional level. Karl Booton describes his experiences as a student on the new CIPR Foundation Award and many have contributed reviews of their BA and MA […]

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