Last week, the PRCA announced it was to open up to individual memberships, putting it in competition with the CIPR, as it seeks to become the 'industry's undisputed voice'.
But former PRCA chairman Quentin Bell questioned the wisdom of blurring the boundaries between the two trade bodies.
'The decision would seem to flout a basic PR law, which is to formulate a clear and understandable message and communicate it consistently,' said Bell, who chaired the PRCA between 1994 and 1996. 'How the PRCA, which has "consultants" in its name, can encourage individuals to join seems to me to be flouting that law.
The PRCA and the CIPR have different roles and they should not be mixed.'
Tim Traverse-Healy, a founding father of the CIPR and president in 1967/8, told PRWeek that the PRCA's move would 'do nothing but harm to the long-term public and societal position of our craft'. He said the development was seemingly 'fuelled by immediate commercial considerations', adding: 'The concept of one organisation to represent individual practitioners as professionals and a separate one to embrace consultancies as a business was correct in 1968 and remains so today.'
Other senior industry figures agreed that two trade bodies fighting for market share was an undesirable situation, but many went further in calling for a single body to represent the industry.
Ian Wright, comms director of Diageo and a former CIPR president, said the two bodies came close to merging a decade ago (see Trade bodies open to co-operation despite differences): 'It was the right solution then and it is the right answer now. There really isn't space for the two to compete.'
Will Whitehorn, former Virgin Galactic boss and now non-executive chairman of Loewy Group, agreed: 'They should merge and develop one voice.' He added: 'Industry bodies should not compete and the really good ones speak with a unified voice on behalf of their members'.
PRCA chief executive Francis Ingham countered: 'As an industry with more than 60,000 people, there is room for more than one voice. We are convinced the predominant voice ought to be the PRCA.'
HOW I SEE IT
David Gallagher, CEO, Ketchum Pleon Europe; vicechairman, PRCA
My view is that the UK PR industry would be best served by a single, inclusive voice, from a perspective that is global, responsible and social by design. Neither body is quite there yet and I hope both can get there together - one way or another.
Julian Tanner, CEO, AxiCom
While the PRCA and the CIPR have arrived from different origins, they now overlap in many ways, providing similar training, networking events and issues management. A single unified body would be in the interests of the individuals and the agencies, and provide a clearer voice for the PR industry.
55% CIPR members who work in-house, with the remainder in PR consultancy
280 The number of PRCA agency members worldwide
£120 Annual fee for an individual PRCA membership (organisation-funded)
£175 Annual fee for an 'associate' CIPR membership
Source: CIPR and PRCA websites