Imagine for a moment the following situation. After a challenging university course you have gained a PR-related degree and somehow landed the job of your dreams: an entry level account executive role. It may not pay much and will require hard work and ambition, but this is the break you needed and longed for. This is your moment to shine, show what you are made of and put all that academic knowledge to the test!
You fervently believe that you can make a positive impact on the communications business and hope to one day manage a portfolio of accounts.
Because you are passionate and want to get ahead in your career you would also like to be part of a professional body and are thinking about joining the Charted Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).
The CIPR is the most respected membership body in PR and communications. It acts as ‘the voice of the public relations profession and a champion of professional interests’ and advocates honesty, integrity, professionalism, collaboration and sustainability.
It’s evident then that being a member is an acknowledgement of one’s professional abilities and level of expertise.
Furthermore, being part of this particular association is also an indicator of the individual’s determination to help raise standards in the industry and contribute to his or her own personal development.
Just like a Facebook ‘like’
However, the options the CIPR offers to young executives have no more benefits than the ‘like’ function on Facebook. Having a student, affiliate or associate status with the CIPR will not necessarily support the above mentioned professional development and it will leave you a few hundred pounds lighter as well. Only upon completing professional courses such as the CIPR Advanced Certificate or Diploma in Public Relations, which cost up to around £2500-2700 each, can one aspire to becoming an actual member of the awarding body sometime in next three years.
If one doesn’t have the finances to do one of the courses, the only option remaining is to wait… and wait. According to the CIPR membership grades page, the earliest a PR professional can obtain full membership on time served is after at least six years of continuous employment in the sector. During all this time, the only alternative you are presented with is to become a ‘fan’ (i.e. student, affiliate or associate status). This kind of fandom comes at a considerable annual fee as well.
The need to belong to a group
There are multiple issues to be considered here. First of all, in an industry with a speckled reputation, whose practitioners are referred to as ‘spin doctors’, can we really afford to leave young account executives outside the professional standards system? Restricting access to guidance and mentoring, when graduates and first-jobbers need it the most is not a viable solution. Additionally, industry juniors can be left feeling let down and not considered worthy to adhere to CIPR codes of practice because of their job title.
The need to belong to a group, which is inherent in all of us, is perhaps more stringent when it comes to occupational structures. As a 23-year old MA graduate I can appreciate firsthand how crucial this is for one’s professional development.
Furthermore, I believe that the reputation of PR practitioners could be greatly improved by opening CIPR membership up to appropriately qualified younger people or making associate membership worthwhile. Welcoming the young and relatively inexperienced in a professional body is perhaps a good way of healing the ills of the trade and improving the enforcement of a set of values. Providing a free magazine, discounts on training and a plastic membership card in exchange for a couple of hundred pounds a year is a bit like offering membership of the Desperate Dan fan club.
But maybe hope isn’t lost? Maybe the CIPR is already doing something about the problem?
Year of the student and teacher
The organisation has recently announced that 2011 will be a year of change with regard to entry-level consultants and graduates. A new scheme, which run from April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012, aims to boost the prospects of PR professionals in the early stages of their career by providing academic and practical support. Under the Year of the Student and Teacher badge, the institute promises to reach out and help students widen their horizons and broaden their knowledge. However, the concrete facts of this plan are yet to be detailed.
Will this mean that we can now hope to receive relevant benefits such as lower course and training fees, career advice and networking opportunites? Perhaps the CIPR is thinking of also addressing the issue of membership levels.
Counterproductive membership system
As things stand, I consider that the exclusive membership system the CIPR currently uses is not only detrimental to the development of aspiring professionals, but counterproductive as well. Without an incentive to join a professional body and its values, best practice and ethics how can one expect responsible professionals providing a high standard of services?
The CIPR needs to realise that the people who cannot afford to become members today are on the road to becoming tomorrow’s account directors. As the leading body in the field, surely it is in its best interests to have a say in shaping these new-comers and turn them into reliable professionals?
I think the CIPR bears some responsibility for creating an environment where young execs can feel a part of something bigger. It is this feeling of belonging, of aspiring to a higher position that helps us move forward. Bettering oneself should not be limited to those who can pay, but encouraged and nurtured.
At the moment, the road ahead for the great majority of graduates is not an easy one. Prohibitive course and subscription prices, that very few can afford, corroborated with demanding membership criteria are not the best way to create tomorrow’s heads of communications. If anything, they tend to alienate fresh faces and leave them to fend for themselves, without informing and offering significant guidance.
My firm belief remains that graduates and entry level practitioners are to be encouraged and supported by the CIPR and not charged enormous fees to become humble ‘fans’ of this august body.