Danny Rogers: Industry needs to broaden talent base

This week, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations announces new membership criteria, giving voting rights to practitioners who have recently transferred to PR from an 'allied' profession (analysis, page 3).

Danny Rogers: Industry needs to broaden talent base

The examples it gives are professionals from journalism, marketing, advertising, social media and corporate strategy.

The CIPR is wise to embrace such inductees and relax membership criteria (previously full members needed to have worked in PR for at least six to ten years) because it must reflect a fast-changing industry.

Ten or 20 years ago, when the PR business was young and growing fast, the big challenge was to raise overall standards of experience and professionalism. Indeed, the CIPR only received chartered status six years ago.

But while raising the overall reputation of the PR profession is still important, today the more pressing battle is to hold on to comms budgets. And the fight for this investment is precisely with these allied professions.

As Next Fifteen boss Tim Dyson said earlier this week, the demand from the budget holders is to make their brands 'more social, more engaged, more measurable'. It is something with which professional marketers, ad agencies and digital specialists are all grappling.

Fortunately, many PR practitioners have risen to this challenge, which is why much of the industry remains buoyant despite the tough economy.

Comms professionals had an inherent advantage in this new paradigm; their background in media relations had made them experts in 'conversational' marketing techniques; and they were used to daily, tactical battles using only rigorous ideas.

However, the successful comms departments and agencies in this area have often chosen to recruit fresh talent from other disciplines.

If one looks closely at the teams that were winners in the 2011 PRWeek Awards recently, there is often a healthy mix of experienced PR stalwarts, digital specialists, ex-journos and former corporate advisers.

Indeed, I would argue the only way the PR business will continue to grow is to adapt to digital with a steady influx of fresh talent. No easy feat in a tough economy. And this talent intake must be a mix of graduates who are trained in PR, and specialists from other, complementary disciplines. The alternative is a reverse 'brain drain' from PR into the other disciplines.

The stakes are high for the brands, which now care little from where their digital solutions come; they are high for the PR teams who are fighting for their budgets; and they are high for the CIPR itself.

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