Why become a ‘fan’ of the CIPR?

This is an article by Oana Baetica.
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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!

Oana Baetica, of Stone Junction, believes the CIPR should do more to support graduates

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.


  1. I could not agree more!

    It is about time that the CIPR made life easier (and cheaper) for graduates to gain access to their association. Often it is those with fresher minds who can challenge preconceptions and the manner in which things are done; surely the CIPR should not isolate itself from the benefits that new graduates can bring to the association by charging extortionate fees?!

  2. As an employer I often see young, ambitious, PR people who are frustrated by lack of access to the great things the CIPR does.

    I think the key for the CIPR is making those great things accessible and affordable for young consultants.

    As a call to action, maybe the CIPR should consider making bursaries available to the cream of the crop each year? These could be paid for with slightly higher membership fees or even voluntary tops ups.

  3. Interesting article …

    The simple solution here to sign to Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) qualifications.

    Offering PRCA Foundation Certificate, Online Certificate, Advanced Certificate and PRCA Diploma we can support you through your career from the beginning, right through to when you make the big bucks as CEO.

    The majority of university graduates will feel extremely knowledgeable on the ‘theory side’ of PR, but now are eager to put what you have learnt into practice.

    The PRCA qualifications allows you to do just this!

    Forget the ‘lecture’ style of learning, you want to express your opinions with workshops, master classes, briefings and network with others to see if you have similar ideas. Meet the real PR guru’s in person and through our qualifications you have the opportunity to do just that, after all, you are the future generation of CEOs and MDs of the PR Industry. Our qualifications incorporates face-to-face sessions and E-leaning, so you will experience the different types of training too. Be one of many to use our ever increasing online webinars as part of our qualifications – watch these at home, in a coffee shop or even on your ipad!

    Not only are they cheaper in price, but offer great flexibility. Study in your own time and choose the courses you prefer with our fantastic points system. This system allows you to have control as to which courses you want to study. Some of you may choose the more digital path and others improving profits, this is completely your decision. Start a qualification when you want, choose what sessions you like and pay less.

    It’s simply a win win with PRCA.

    Email training@prca.org.uk

  4. Jess

    I find your comment to be off-topic. Any PR student will spot it for what it is – a blatant advertisement.

    However, I welcome opinion pieces from those studying various qualifications (academic, professional, CIPR, PRCA).

  5. You are absolutely right Oana. It is extremely tough being a graduate today and the PR profession’s only Chartered body should be supporting the cream of our new talent in any way it can. It’s a tough and competitive environment to be coming out of university (often with huge debts). We saw this first hand at the CIPR recently when we received 120 quality applications (all from graduates) for an entry level communications vacancy.

    So, to your points and what we are doing, what we’re planning and what we should be doing. There’s definitely a groundswell amongst members that we must look at our membership grades, what it takes to attain them and the benefits that each grade delivers. As more students are graduating from public relations courses and perhaps with PR work experience, the landscape has changed since we last reviewed this and it’s on the plan for 2011. We have a new Membership Committee and together with our Membership Manager Jessica this will be one of their first priorities. The aim is not to drop the standards required of full CIPR membership or lessen the rigour with which we review applications but to ensure that our membership grades and associated criteria are fair, inclusive and relevant to the profession today. Oana, I think one of my colleagues has tried to get in touch with you personally but if you or any other graduate members would like to provide input into this process then it would be most welcome. In fact I know this is on the agenda for the next meeting of the Membership Committee on 9th May so those of you who have a view on gradute membership, please forward your input directly to me at janew@cipr.co.uk

    But that’s just the grades. What about everything else we do? You mentioned the Year of the Student and Teacher and there are a number of initiatives and events taking place over the next year from public affairs master classes across the country to graduate prizes offered by CIPR partners like Mischief PR and PRIME Research. We’ll be announcing more ‘concrete’ initiatives like this each month.
    For students, CIPR offers access to academic journals, networking opportunities and special events in conjunction with the CIPR regional and sector specific groups and the full range of CIPR guidance and toolkits we issue for members from measurement and evaluation to social media guidance and the use of statistics in PR.

    For graduates we are re-launching the CIPR Graduate Opportunity service this year and broadening the scope of the scheme to ensure graduates have access to industry wide opportunities to find jobs, internships and work placements. We provide employers with a toolkit reflecting the CIPR’s Work Placement Charter and wider industry thinking, clearly setting out the most appropriate and ethical way to offer and administer internships and to your point on cost of courses, we will offer graduates reduced rate access to all training courses and materials for the first three years of their PR career. We have also recently launched a new mentoring scheme which provides training and support for both the mentors and mentees and we see this as a really practical way from those at both ‘ends’ of the profession to come together and get mutual benefit.

    But what we also need to do more of is to ensure that the ‘voice’ we have for the profession is properly reflective of the people that make it up. And that means not just doing things for or on behalf of those at the start of their PR career (whatever their age) but actually ensuring that they are involved in the decision. We have a Future Leaders Forum which comprises winners of the Young Communicators awards at our Regional Pride Awards and an active group of Student Reps from all of CIPR Accredited courses who help us shape policy and programmes. As I myself head (at some speed) towards the big 4-0 this summer, I realise that I am a whole lifetime away in age from the bright young things who will be tomorrow’s leaders and as Chief Executive of the CIPR should rightly be considered by today’s graduates as one of the old f**ts at the CIPR. (can I say that in Behind the Spin Richard?) But that’s not to say that I and the Institute don’t value your membership, your participation and your commitment to the profession. I hope you agree that we are already getting some of it right and believe me when I say that we are committed to getting the rest right very soon.

  6. Thanks for the detailed response, Jane.

    In summary, young people are the future of our profession and the CIPR is reviewing its membership grades.

    I must be one of the old f**ts now, but welcome the opportunity to air this debate.

  7. And of course The Conversation from the CIPR is open to everyone.

    Also, congratulations Oana on being appointed a permanent member of staff at Stone Junction 🙂

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