Polly Cziok, director of communications, culture, and engagement at the London Borough of Hackney, said: "The CIPR is losing members, especially in the public sector, as organisations during austerity have been unable to support individual memberships."
In addition, "pay freezes have made it more difficult for people to find the money themselves", she warned.
As well as a joining fee of £55, members pay an annual fee of £235 to belong to the trade body.
The financial concerns, raised in a post by Cziok on LinkedIn last weekend, were echoed in a comment by Giuseppina Valenza, head of comms and customer experience at Tandridge District Council.
"People in the public sector are leaving the CIPR as it does not give them value for money or they are choosing not to join because the cost is too high. The CIPR needs to review its membership strategy."
Head to head
The membership slump comes amid a fiercely contested election for the next president of the CIPR, with voting set to close next Monday.
The two candidates, Rachel Royall and Mandy Pearse, are both from public sector comms backgrounds.
Pearse describes herself as a "highly experienced strategic adviser regularly working with chairs, politicians and CEOs with my roots in business, marketing and research".
Royall portrays herself as an "experienced board-level communications and engagement director" who is "passionate about promoting communication excellence".
Pearse has worked in a variety of comms roles at a number of councils, including 12 years at Exeter City Council, where she was comms manager.
Pearse left to set up her own agency, Seashell Communications, in 2012.
She is a board director and fellow of the CIPR, as well as a member of its council and chair of the Local Public Services Group.
Her "vision for the CIPR" is to "lead a modern PR movement that values diversity, positions public relations as a profession integral to organisational success and ensures the sustainability of the CIPR".
She has six key commitments, such as ensuring "membership represents value for money" and positioning the CIPR as a "thought leader on business issues such as AI and big data".
On her campaign blog, she addressed concerns expressed by some public sector comms members by suggesting that the joining fee be dropped and that there should be a "discount on membership for those whose earnings fall below a threshold".
Royall spent almost 20 years in public sector comms and was appointed comms director at NHS Digital in June 2017 before entering the private sector earlier this year as comms director at IBM’s UK healthcare and life sciences team.
She is a member of the CIPR’s council and finance committee, and chairs the health group.
Royall has "three key commitments", which are to "champion PR’s role in leadership, improve access to PR education and skills, and listen, learn and grow our membership".
On her campaign website, she states: "I will welcome diverse views and embrace debate from all people working in PR and communication management so that the CIPR learns about the issues that need to be addressed."
Royall also pledges to "focus on member engagement, making it easier than ever to reap the benefits of membership, and promoting opportunities to get more closely involved in the institute’s work".
This year I’m standing for @CIPR_UK President-Elect. I have three priorities building on the hard work of the CIPR team & volunteers#PRLeadership#PREducation#PRCommunity— Rachel Royall (@RachRoyall) August 19, 2019
You can read my full statement on my website - Voting starts 2 Sept #CIPRElectionhttps://t.co/RBsWy4eqsj
Commenting on the decline in public sector members, Phil Morgan, deputy chief executive, CIPR, told PRWeek: "The public sector element of the CIPR membership has changed over the years in terms of size and shape and that is due at least in part to the austerity measures that had a downward effect on the numbers of people working in communications and the support available for their professional development."
He added: "But we continue to support a very large number of them as members. Our Local Public Services Group has a membership of more than a thousand and local authority teams consistently receive recognition for their professional standards in our Excellence Awards."
Click here to subscribe to the FREE public sector bulletin to receive dedicated public sector news, features and comment straight to your inbox.
Make sure you register for the site to access more than one story per month.
To submit a news, comment, case study or analysis idea for the public sector bulletin, email Ian.Griggs@haymarket.com