CIPR’s elected officers must clarify policy

Colin Farrington has been at it again with his latest comments on blogs – he doesn’t tackle any other forms of social media, but perhaps that’s a good thing! I won’t rehash the arguments about why Colin has got it so wrong because Richard Bailey, Neville Hobson and David Brain have all done a good job of that already.

But I do want to ask a fundamental question.

Why is Colin Farrington qualified to comment on this on behalf of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations? It is a professional practice issue and the CIPR’s view on this should be policy driven. Colin is an administrator. Actually an excellent administrator given the tremendous strides CIPR has taken under his administration.

What he isn’t is a public relations professional (please correct me if I’m wrong). I recall Colin came to CIPR because of his management skills and ability to run a professional institute or association.

The people who do have a right to set policy for CIPR are surely the council, standing committees and executive committees. I’ve searched the CIPR website, but am unable to find a copy of our standing orders or constitution that might clarify this.

As Neville Hobson says there are many CIPR members, including our current president Tony Bradley, who have a much firmer grasp of social media and its impact on our profession than Colin Farringon appears to have. But that’s hardly surprising, it’s our job.

Shouldn’t our elected officers therefore be instructing Colin to keep quiet on this issue until CIPR has a clear policy. If Colin wants to express his personal views then he is free to do so – in a personal capacity and not in a column in our professional journal that is written in his capacity as director general. If he has a burning desire to pontificate he could always start a blog!

It is worrying that Neville, a professional communicator and member of IABC, says:

“The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) proclaims it is ‘the eyes, ears and voice of the public relations industry’ in the UK.

I think that’s rather worrying.

It seems to me that those eyes, ears and voice are deeply rooted in the past and have little relevance to evolving PR practice and the needs of practitioners in the 21st century,…”

I think Neville has the wrong impression of CIPR, but he has only been able to form this impression because of the mistaken comments of an administrator.

As an employee of CIPR then Colin Farrington is answerable to CIPR members via our elected officers.

As a CIPR member I agree with David Brain when he says that Colin’s views are in danger of damaging the public relations profession as others in the communications field take the lead in social media. David is right when he says that public relations is about relationships – two way communications – and therefore we should be better positioned that other communications disciplines to take the lead.

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About Stuart Bruce

International communications consultant and PR trainer specialising in online public affairs, digital corporate communications, online PR and social media; frequent national media commentator and conference speaker.
  • http://simoncollister.typepad.com Simon Collister

    Sound argument, Stuart. Obviously on a personal level I felt aggrieved by Colin's comments because I blog. Professionally I was put out because I give a not insubstantial fee to the CIPR to be "the eye, the ears..etc" of my chosen profession.

    That is why I felt particualrly aggrieved when the DG of the CIPR appears to be making a crusade against something he has taken a dislike to under the CIPR banner.

    You're right too about this being an issue for the Professional Practices Committee. The debate needs to be policy driven. I think Colin is looking into this as he emailed my boss to enquire about employers legal responsibilities towards employees who blog and its other implications when I posted about his original comments last month.

  • http://www.prblogger.com Stephen Davies

    I can remember Richard Bailey saying you're good when you're angry. Not sure if you're angry but that was good!

  • http://leverwealth.blogspot.com David Phillips

    Stuart.

    I have thought hard about whether to comment on this issue. It does matter to our industry and especially the members of the Institute.

    It matters at a number of levels.

    The evidence that there are new channels for communication are all round us. Take any train journey and count the number of iPods in use and one gets the idea. Not all are used for music. One may also see evidence of people creating and responding to text messages frantically writing text into their cell phones. In Starbucks round the world people work on laptops using wireless connection to the Internet. The most insular of people must surely see these things round them and a moment's thought shows that these are channels for communication.

    But are they legitimate channels for Public Relations communication?

    Well, in part, yes. The are the means by which a press releases can be distributed, for example, by email. Cell phones are good for arranging meetings and events. The Web is useful for the delivery of lists of people such as journalists.

    But this is not using new media in the practice of PR it is using the Internet to facilitate PR activities.

    Detailed, independent, and empirical analysis of the job descriptions of people who work in public relations (PDF) and join PR associations shows that the industry predominantly attracts people whose main work (in the UK at least) is press relations and event organisation.

    The New Media involvement of people at home and at work with forms of communication such as Instant Messenger combined with conference and video telephony, Interactive web sites such as blogs, collaborative project management, co-created knowledge bases like, for example, this new PR Bibliography (a wiki), and completely different commercial Second Life like environments, some with very business oriented applications, is a different form of communication and relationship building.

    On the fringe of both these forms of communication and engagement (on/offline) are people who have an interest in reputation management, corporate and product brand promotion, investor relations and influence among communities who affect organisational behaviours. These people form a third phalanx of practitioner with interests that are not mainstream to either the traditional party organiser/press officer or New Media relations practitioner.

    * That there are people who earn a living from each of these areas of activity is not in dispute.
    * That there are companies that invest heavily in these areas of activity a matter of public record.
    * That there are communities of practitioners, to a greater or lesser extent, associated with these activities such as the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), PRCA IABC PRSA is evident.

    What is important is the relevance of these associations to the three areas of practice outlined above.

    I am saddened that the CIPR's principle advisor is not very serious about committing to New Media practice and practitioners.

    The latest comment uses a privileged position in the Institute, is retrograde and flies in the face of the CIPR's own Internet Commission findings (I was its chairman) in 2000/1. Perhaps it is now time for the Institute to publish those papers for all the members, and not just a select few to see the papers that were presented.

    The CIPR's spokesman, prescient in so many other ways, seems to dismiss an area of practice that is growing by being critical of a form of Internet Mediated communication, namely blogs.

    His comment in Profile Magazine: "If there are any good blogs still around in six months I'll come back to it," may not be directly aimed at blogging literati and Knights of the Realm , senior political commentators or Ministers of the Crown but are, this time, all-inclusive. As, in his own words the principle advisor to the Institute'e Council (For Imediate Release show 160) seems to be that my organisation (the CIPR) is under no pressure to consider, let alone act on, the significance of New Media in the interests of its members.

    This view runs contrary to informed opinion among the world's most involved commentators such as WPP's Sir Martin Sorrell (owners of Hill & Knowlton and GCI among other PR firms). In a CNN interview last week, Sir Martin said: "One of the interesting things is that the new technologies, the blogs, the development of Web sites, the development of social networking sites, is really I think probably giving a new driver to public relations and public affairs. Paid-for publicity, it is known from research, is probably less effective than editorial publicity".

    Sir Martin makes it apparent that this is an area of development for the most powerful PR agencies in the world and, at the same time makes the connection between New Media and the third phalanx of practice.

    It would also appear Edelman's David Brain, who commented last week that Public Relations practitioners are the 'natural inhabitants of this (Social Media) world' is of a like mind. There is agreement that development of skills, models of best practice and working in New Media, is an opportunity for PR practitioners.

    The critical issues for Edelman, H&K and GCI and many, if not most other, PR consultants and in-house practitioners are:

    * Who will represent the interests of practitioners involved in New Media;
    * Who will ensure the training, education and mentoring is available;
    * Who, will take up the sector wide mantle of representations with officialdom as this area of work evolves to the majority of members both in-house and in smaller agencies and
    * Where is the imprimatur for proposing planned, managed and properly evaluated New Media programmes?

    ….

    The timing of the CIPR statement was not good. Within 48 hours the Economist in an article headlined 'Who Killed the Newspaper', suggests that current media relations practice (the rock and foundation of CIPR member numbers) will have to change. It is not the first publication to identify the online threat to newspaper survival and journalists in-post.

    Are PR practitioner members to die with the print media? Is there nothing the CIPR can do for them – such as retraining for the New Media. The present stance seems not to serve even the core membership well.

    Critical comments from a leading official of an influential PR association (even if research of its membership demonstrates a focus that leans towards relationships with print journalists and party planning) are not helpful to those who make a living advising organisations about managing their social media presence (including Edelman, Hill & Knowlton and GCI,). This is especially true when many of these agencies boast significant membership of the CIPR and other like associations world-wide. Such criticism has, to an outsider and however misleadingly, the ring turf wars, splits and division.

    The CIPR seems to be selectively representing its members but not the practices of public relations identified by Sir Martin or David Brian.

    Colin Farrinton's exposure to a Public Relations audience in numbers well in excess of any CIPR conference platform in an interview in For Immediate Release (a New Media public relations specific podcast), experience of the President's blog and a scan the Institue's own Commission papers would at least have shown that there is a place for members who are active in the New Media.

    This most recent statement, to return to the blogging issue in six months, indicates that client investment to engage a community of people who comment about client brands, products and behaviours can wait for six months or so before further guidance is available.

    Indeed, it would seem an even later date because that is as soon the Institute will vest time considering the significance of this New Media for members.

    Meantime:

    * Member can see comments online about their clients companies and professional practice but have no professional guidelines.
    * There is discrimination between New Media member practitioners and other members.
    * It even has policies.
    * The Institute is willing to accept freely donated articles in its magazines and training in this area during such a New Media moratorium.
    * Its regional organisations are running well attended New Media events.
    * The Institute is even charging members money to attend these activities.
    * There is a miss-match in the education programme.

    The CIPR New Media strategy, to a casual observer would seem to be dysfunctional. A dichotomy, or worse?

    Who distinguishes the private comments of John Presott and Governement policy or the comments of Colin Farrington and The Chartered Institute or PR practice in general.

    This apparent public voice of Public Relations in the UK, (the CIPR)

    * Suggests that practitioners working in New Media are less than welcome into the fold because they are:

    * At best, too far ahead/different to mainstream practice (press release writing, pitching and party planning and something called 'spin')

    * At worst, engaging with people (that is, bloggers like the Rt. Hon. David Milliband, Sir Peter Stothard and Oliver King) who fall outside some, as yet, ill defined but hoped for blogging elite.

    * Already has (a) blogging policies:

    o a policy against bloggers astroturfing (but does it have a credible capability to campaign, advise members or even align itself with the real, global, campaigners who are working in this area?), which suggests a deep understanding of the blogersphere.

    * Wants to profit from New Media:

    * Does not have a publication, white paper or guidance note about New Media. Its five year old Commission Report is out of print and its text books do not even mention Technorati or Google Blog Search.
    * Is able to accept voluntary contribution (e.g. articles in magazines, books) to generate wealth on its expertise (?) in New Media (Profile cover price is £4.75)
    * Takes money from members and non-members attending events associated with New Media.

    * Seeks educational organisations to prepare and educate young people for the industry
    o Is prepared to engage trainers who have no experience of social media to teach it
    o Is prepared to teach new media techniques without a prior foundation in new media context, strategy, planning, monitoring or evaluation
    o Endorses F/E courses that do not include New Media modules by default
    o Provides no franchise to F/E establishments to examine the social and economic consequence deriving from the semantic Web as it affects the practice of PR.

    I start writing the the second edition of the CIPR's book on Internet mediated PR this week. It shows that there is a commitment in this area.
    I begin teaching New Media courses at first degree and Masters level in a month's time which shows there is commitment among CIPR recommended FE establishments.
    The regional branches are, evident in the course I ran for the west of England last Thusrsday, running new media courses.
    This is evidence of an underlying groundswell of interest, support and commitment to New Media and that is important.

    However, it shows there is inconsistency which would seem to confirm you view that there is a need for leadership.

  • Amanda Foran, Editor, CIPR Profile magazine

    It's good to see the content of Profile being talked about by members. Colin Farrington is voicing his own personal opinion in his Profile column – that's one of the purposes of having a column. Profile also takes comments from members who want to put their view across and agree or disagree with what is being said in the magazine. Colin's personal view is not CIPR policy and doesn't claim to be. The CIPR wants to inform its members about blogging by giving them various viewpoints so they can make their own decisions on the subject. For example, this issue of Profile magazine featured two articles about blogging (also on the Insitute's online magazine Profile Extra), and the CIPR launched the President's blog this year. The CIPR wants to encourage constructive discussion and debate around industry issues such as blogging – it's good for the profession.