From the IPR to the CIPR: Why Chartered status matters

Speech by Anne Gregory Hon FCIPR, Professor of Corporate Communication, University of Huddersfield (CIPR President 2004)

At our Annual General Meeting in 2005, the Deputy Clerk to the Privy Council gave the Institute a framed, vellum declaration, embossed with the Queen’s own Seal. This was the Royal Charter and represented two years of intense work which it had been my honour to lead on behalf of the Institute.

Getting a Royal Charter is a testing business overseen by the Privy Council. In the application the Institute had to demonstrate it was committed to working in the public interest, that it was stable, the pre-eminent body in the field and that over 75% of its members were qualified up to at least first degree level.

The application process also involved making a public declaration that the Institute was applying for a Charter and asking if there were objections. The then Department for Education and Skills (DfES) raised a number of issues that seem surprisingly contemporary, for example, it wanted to see a stronger commitment to diversity and equal opportunities, particularly for ethnic minorities.

It also wanted to see high value put on the designation Chartered Practitioner. It saw this as a signifier that those individuals had the highest standards of service quality, integrity and professional competence. The public should be in no doubt that Chartered Practitioners were seen to be in a class of their own, separate from all other types of membership.

The DfES wanted assurance of high standards in the Institute’s own education and training and that of the providers which it would accredit. Interestingly, the Department also wanted the Institute’s CPD offering to include significant elements of management and leadership.

Obtaining Chartered status brought a number of benefits and responsibilities to the Institute too. It has a clear obligation in law to work for the public good. Government regulates its qualifications and takes an interest in changes to membership criteria.

The Institute has a statutory right to be consulted by Government on matters that pertain to the profession. It is expected to be active in the public affairs arena so our actions on the registration of lobbyists and our current stance on ethical lobbying in the public interest are highly relevant.
As with other professional bodies, the Institute is expected to be active internationally and here our membership of the Global Alliance is important.

For CIPR members, the code of ethics became and remains a defining mark of professionalism, linked to the obligation to work for the public good. Building trust and transparency are key elements: the Chartered mark was and is to be a public indicator of the highest standards of professionalism and competence.

Looking back at the original documents, there is a profound sense of déjà vu. Some of the topics that exercised us in 2004 are amazingly pertinent today.

We are still trying to actively address issues of diversity and equality. There are still being too few ethnic minorities in our profession, the number of disabled people is derisory and the social class make-up is of deep concern.
Added to this is a distinct London-centricity which is stubbornly difficult to shift. Although the profession is now predominantly female, it remains dominated by men if senior positions and conference speaker lists are anything to go by and the pay gap persists.

Education and training remains hot. There are still vestiges of anti-intellectualism in the profession and active discussions about academic being from Mars and practitioners from Venus. Even now CPD in strategy, management and leadership is all too often side-lined for short-term skills training and this unfortunately has the effect of confirming the practice in the technical role rather than that of the Trusted Adviser.

Despite the Royal Charter, there are on-going battles to be fought over professional jurisdiction, the boundaries of our professional territory are constantly being challenged. Marketing continues to encroach as the communicative functions integrate. IT and HR specialisms take large bites of our business, not to mention the behavioural economists and the management consultants.

But, I see a bright future for our profession. Obtaining Chartered status was always a point in a journey not a destination. As the value of intangible assets increases, as a good reputation is seem to be crucial and as organisations are held to account by a society that expects more and more, the search for public relations people of wisdom, competence and integrity increases too. In a world of perma-crisis and dis, mis and mal information, the importance of truth and authenticity cannot be overstated.

There are more communication and public relations professionals in Board rooms than ever before. There are more energetic, qualified and motivated people entering the profession and it is being transformed by those who believe passionately in public relations for purpose not just for profit and demand for competent practitioners is buoyant.

The Trusted Adviser role is highly valued and those at the top of their game can expect to be well rewarded. There are more women in senior positions and at long last, positive indicators towards increasing diversity in the profession.

We still have to crack the serving society nut and part of that is letting the world know when we do good things and we do many good things. Working for the public good is not pie in the sky. Ultimately organisations which thrive are those which contribute to solving society’s problems and gain public support by being good in all the rich dimensions of that word.
Understanding what is required to gain that support is the essence of public relations.

In conclusion, here we are in a church. I gave my President’s medal to the late, great Archbishop Desmond Tutu for his work on the peace and reconciliation commission in South Africa. Painful dialogue and open discussion characterised that work. In his acceptance speech he quoted from the Bible ‘in the beginning was the Word and the word was with God and the Word was God. How powerful is that.

Words, conversations constitute the fabric of life, family, organisations and Society. The Royal Charterer has institutionalised our responsibilities as professional communicators and we know how important that is.

Back to 75th Anniversary page