PR workforce grows by a fifth but industry has 'boardroom skills' gap, says CIPR

The CIPR's latest State of the Profession report has revealed a 22 per cent rise in the number of PR practitioners in recent years, but also suggests a lack of "boardroom skills" among the industry's more senior figures.

The institute's president says that improving those skills could ensure the industry moves from playing a tactical to a strategic role, improving the industry's standing.

In addition, the State of the Profession report underlines concerns around the industry's gender pay gap and its mental health.

Size of the profession

This is the first year that the annual study has been run by Chalkstream - the CIPR previously used Survation. For the first time, it was able to use ONS data to develop its understanding of the population of PR practitioners.

The size of the workforce has risen from 58,441 in 2014 to 71,027 last year, with the biggest single year-on-year jump of 11,000 extra staff in the profession coming between 2014 and 2015. In this time, the proportion of the profession who are women has dropped steadily from 63 per cent in 2014 to 56.8 per cent last year.

The CIPR figures differ from other estimates - the PRCA's PR Census for 2016 suggested 83,000 people working in PR, while the Press Gazette last year cited 54,000. While the Press Gazette suggested this meant the number of PRs was likely to outstrip the number of journalists soon, the media commentator Roy Greenslade said this had happened in 2016.6.

The CIPR's report shows that 27 per cent of the industry works in London, and an additional 10 per cent in the South East. Practitioners in these regions and the Channel Islands have the highest incomes; those in Northern Ireland and the East Midlands the lowest.

The 2016 version of the report showed a widening of the divide between those inside the M25 and those outside of it.

Boardroom skills gap

The CIPR surveyed 1,752 practitioners, with around a third of these answering questions on skills they looked for when recruiting.

Almost two thirds of recruiters 65 per cent said they looked for evidence of resource and people management in senior hires, but 25 per cent of senior practitioners ranked those abilities amongst their strongest skills. Similarly, 66 per cent of recruiters reported looking senior professionals with business acumen, but only one in three of those respondents ranked the skill amongst their strongest competencies.

However, there is a clear desire among senior professionals to play a strategic role - 62 per cent of senior PRs said 'strategic thinking' was one of their top attributes, making it the most common answer in this section, and it was also the attribute most valued by recruiters, by a considerable margin.

CIPR president Sarah Hall said: "Practitioners remain predominately tactical. The CIPR’s role must be to equip them with boardroom skills. There are two outcomes to achieve here. By focusing on financial, business management and consultancy competencies we can command the respect of management teams by speaking their language and by demonstrating the true value of public relations, increase investment in it."

A similar conclusion can be drawn from additional data from the report around public sector comms, given exclusively to PRWeek.

Among non-managerial staff, recruiters' expectations are broadly in line with the skills, attributes and knowledge staff have - the one significant mismatch is that while these practitioners also rank knowledge of comms models and theories as one of the strongest areas of professional knowledge, recruiters again wish they had business acumen.

Gender pay gap

The report also examines the gender pay gap, outlining an average gap of £11,156 in 2018, lower than last year.

However, a regression analysis, which produces a "true" pay gap by stripping out factors including seniority, prevalence of part-time work or years of experience, shows that pay disparity has actually risen from last year's figure of £5,784 to £6,725 this year.

This week several UK companies, including large PR firms such as Edelman, are releasing their first statutory gender pay gap report, ahead of the April deadline. WPP posted its report earlier in the month.

Mental health

Around one in six (16 per cent) of PR practitioners stated that they have a mental health condition. This figure has more than doubled in the last year, when only six per cent said the same.

Hall said: "The increase of practitioners reporting a mental health condition is a reminder for us all that PR is a very demanding business and the priority must always be a people-first strategy and wellbeing."

The full report is available online, and results are also summarised in a video below.

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