PR – the public relations profession – being a member, joining in and taking part

CIPR fellow logoI’ve been a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) since I was a student (long before it added the chartered to its name). When I ran a PR consultancy I ensured it joined the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) and late last year I joined it as an individual member. I’ve recently been having online and offline conversations with various colleagues about the value of joining professional and trade associations and several have been trying to persuade me to join their organisation.

It would be easy, but too expensive, to join them all. But which ones should I be a member of? Rather than trying to figure it out for myself I’m going to share here what I think are the reasons for joining a professional or trade association. I’m then going to list the organisations I’m thinking of joining and ask my network of friends and professional colleagues to chip in and share their thoughts on which I should join.

My reasons for joining professional or trade associations are primarily:

  1. Contributing to the profession – I make a good living out of PR therefore I have a duty to give back to the profession and industry. The best way of doing so is via its professional and trade organisations. I can do this by actively participating in committees, writing and updating publications and guides, and by speaking at events and conferences.
  2. Learning – I recognise that no matter what I already know about PR I can always know more and it’s essential to keep improving, refreshing and updating my knowledge. The CIPR is the only organisation listed that both helps me to learn and crucially to record that learning and be recognised for it.
  3. Ethics – I want to practice my profession or trade in the most ethical manner possible and professional associations and trade bodies provide me with a framework and codes of conduct to do so.
  4. Networking – Meeting people I can learn from, people I can recommend and people who can recommend me.
  5. New business – Currently all of my business comes from word of mouth and referrals as I don’t do any formal ‘prospecting’.
  6. Practical benefits – discount for services, access to desk space etc.

Membership benefits for PR professionals

Several, but not all of these organisations, also offer benefits such as template contracts, discounted business and professional indemnity insurance, limited free legal advice and discounts on a range of other services.

Currently I’m paying £297 a year to be a member of the CIPR and PRCA. My CIPR membership is non-negotiable and essential for anyone that calls themselves a PR professional. I’m an honorary founder member of the Davos World Communication Forum Association.

If I join the EACD, IABC and PSA it will cost me a total of £978 a year, which for an independent consultant is pretty steep and probably impossible to justify.

My questions for you are:

  • Which of these organisations will provide me with the best value for money?
  • Is the PRCA the right ‘second’ organisation to be a member of?
  • Have I missed any PR or communications organisations that I should consider?
  • If I join just one more, which one should it be?

Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR)Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR)

Annual fee £197

The CIPR is Europe’s largest PR association for public relations professionals as well as being one of the oldest and most respected. My membership is unbroken since 1988 and throughout this period I’ve tried to contribute more than I’ve taken. I was a founder and am still a member of its Social Media Panel and have also been elected member of the CIPR national council since 2011, having been re-elected just last year. Last year I also became a fellow of the institute. The main benefit of CIPR membership is a commitment to professionalism – signing up to its professional code of conduct and doing annual continuous professional development (CPD) to be an accredited PR practitioner. It also offers a wealth of resources in terms of best practice guides, books, webinars etc. The CIPR also produces some interesting research on PR best practice and the state of the PR profession. The CIPR also provides well established professional PR qualifications and training courses (disclaimer I teach the CIPR diploma and train on some of its courses).

A huge personal benefit of CIPR membership for me is it’s chartered status. In the UK people don’t sufficiently realise the significance of chartered status, but when I’m overseas this is very highly rated and means that PR professional take very seriously everything the CIPR has to say.

The CIPR also has a room for members in its central London offices where you can use a table to work which is particularly useful for members like me who aren’t based in central London.

PRCA logoPublic Relations Consultants Association (PRCA)

Annual cost £100

The PRCA is the cheapest to join, but also appears to ‘offer’ the least. That’s not surprising as it was originally a trade association for PR consultancies and then in-house PR teams. It has only recently started to offer individual membership. The main reason that I’m a member is that the PRCA is that it is an effective trade lobbyist for the industry with issues such as its joint legal action with Meltwater against the iniquitous and immoral Newspaper Licensing Authority (NLA). The PRCA also conducts some interesting and valuable research into the state of the industry.

EACD logoEuropean Association of Communication Directors (EACD)

Annual cost €280 / £200

The EACD is focused towards in-house communicators operating at a European level and is an absolute bargain for them at only €140. EACD is so good I can’t understand why any eligible in-house PR person wouldn’t want to join it. Unfortunately this means independent advisers such as me can only join as ‘supporting members’ and have to pay almost twice as much for the privilege. I know lots of EACD members and have spoken at its events which tend to be really good with very knowledgeable and senior speakers. As well as organising good networking and educational events throughout the year, the EACD also has a range of publications to help you improve your professional practice. I’ve never attended EACD’s main event which is the European Communications Summit, but I’m told it is excellent. But once again unless you’re a speaker it’s a pay extra option of membership.

IABC logoInternational Association of Business Communicators (IABC)

Annual cost $379 / £256

The IABC appears to be expensive for what it offers as its ‘Why join IABC’ page isn’t very compelling. I don’t know what my ‘local chapter’ offers and the webpage is too US-centric for what purports to be an ‘international’ organisation. Webinars and a digital magazine aren’t an incentive unless I’m given samples upfront so I have a feel for the quality of what I’m buying. Conferences and awards definitely aren’t an incentive as both inevitably cost a lot more on top of membership. All that is in the IABC’s favour is that several people I know, like and respect speak positively about it.

PSA logoProfessional Speaking Association

Annual cost £225 for member and £250 for fellow

The Professional Speaking Association is a smaller association ran entirely by its members. It has an excellent, lively and informative Facebook group (which interestingly doesn’t require you to be a member). Claimed benefits of PSA membership are much the same as for other organisations, except perhaps its opportunities for learning and professional development are very informal ‘learning from others’ and access to its newsletter and magazine. You can also attend its regional meetings and conventions. I’m not sure how much of an advantage this would be for me as I do so little work in Yorkshire that I don’t know what I’d get out of attending its events. What looks more interesting is membership of the Global Speakers Federation as much of my work is with international audiences – mainly PR training courses in more than 20 countries with delegates from more than 40 countries. What looks potentially interesting is that fellows can apply for CSPGlobal which certifies and recognises international speakers.

IPSE logoAssociation of Independent Professionals and the Self-employed

Annual cost £149 or £239 for ‘plus’

IPSE is different to the other organisations I’ve listed here in that it’s not specifically for PR or communications. The reason I’ve included it is that it offers some very practical benefits, especially at plus level which basically appears to mean added insurance benefits. These include such things as compensation for failed payments, jury service, illness or injury, tax compliance meetings etc. The basic membership offers one rather practical and attractive benefit which is free use of a hot desk for four days a month in seven London locations.

IOD logoInstitute of Directors

Annual cost £385, but you also have to pay a ridiculous £220 joining fee, compared to most organisations where it is zero to £50.

The IOD’s website isn’t particularly illuminating in explaining what its benefits are as it’s not very clear about what is included and what it charges extra for. It offers ‘meeting space’ at 15 locations across the UK and ‘meeting and solo working space at 3,000 Regus locations’, but I suspect both of these involve charges. I know you can hotdesk at the IOD on Pall Mall, but it’s far from clear what the other benefits actually entail. It also offers ’25 business research sessions’ and ‘four one-to-one sessions with a business expert’, but doesn’t explain what these are. The IOD’s benefits page is more of a turn-off than a turn-on as you can’t click on any of the benefits to get an explanation and it doesn’t even mention one of the things that sparked my interest – that I’ve heard the IOD provides good training courses.

Very surprisingly the IOD is the least inspiring of any of the organisations I’ve listed and is the only one that has managed to immediately rule itself out of being considered for me to join!

WCFA logoWorld Communication Forum Association

Annual cost €200 with a €200 joining fee (waived for 2015)

The WCFA is a new international organisation that I was honoured to be a part of creating. It has grown out of the annual World Communication Forum in Davos which this year I was the moderator of. Unlike the other organisations listed the WCFA doesn’t yet offer as many benefits as it was created primarily as a vehicle to give ownership of the World Communication Forum to its participants. This ensures that the annual forum in Davos every March and the regional conferences in places like the Czech Republic, Russia, Spain and Ukraine (to date) can run and be expanded to other countries. Currently its main benefit is discount attendance at WCF’s excellent events.