Bursting with good intentions and zeal, trade and professional associations
often have that whiff of Head Girl about them that makes some people run for the exit.
But the UK and international communications community has a number of member bodies offering more than just lofty ideals.
PR stalwart the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIRP) has just entered its 60th year, and the appetite for trade bodies seems to be such that new groups such as the European Association of Communication Directors and the Global Alliance have also emerged.
‘The key thing is to identify which ones are talking shops and which ones are committed to driving the industry forward,' argues Adrian Brady, CEO of Eulogy.
According to the CIPR's most recent online survey of members, the primary reasons to join a trade or professional association are status and credibility. ‘People tell us that signing up to a professional and ethical code of conduct shows that they are accountable,' says the institute's deputy director general, Ann Mealor.
Joining an organisation may give organisations and individuals professional clout, new business and networking opportunities, career development and more, but there are other considerations. Not least, the cost, and whether the body is respected and has teeth.
Also, does the Government and the business community listen to what it says? And what happens to members who flout the rules?
However you look at it, a body is only as good as its members, so getting involved is a must. But it could also spice up your professional life and might even be fun. If 2008 is the year you decide to join in, here are some of the bodies you might consider joining, listed alphabetically.
Year started 1994
Number of members 54
Chair Gill Morris
Membership Open to firms offering public affairs consultancy
Annual subscription Varies, starting at £105 per consultant for small firms
The Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) is the representative and self-regulatory body for professional political consultants. Its stated role is to ‘ensure the highest standards of honesty and integrity among its members'.
This is defined by its Code of Conduct, which sets detailed rules based on two principles: transparency and an absolute ban on any financial relationship with politicians or their advisers.
To ensure transparency, the APPC publishes a register of members, their consultants and clients on its website. In addition, last October, the association, the CIPR and the PRCA jointly unveiled a new set of guiding principles for all those who interact with the UK's political institutions, including charities, public sector bodies, NGOs and corporations.
Membership offers peer support on ethical issues and reassurance for clients that their good name will not be abused. The association also organises a number of events with high-profile speakers.
A key benefit for members is gaining guidance in areas such as the application of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Meanwhile, the APPC acts as a voice to Government and other decision-makers around issues such as the current Public Administration Select Committee Inquiry into lobbying.
Year started 1948
Number of members 9,000 plus
President Elisabeth Lewis-Jones
Annual membership fee Ranges from £41 to £204. Most new members also pay a one-off £50 admission fee on joining
Celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) is the professional body for individual PR practitioners in the UK.
The organisation's job is to advance the industry by making its members accountable through its code of conduct. It also devises policies that represent its members and raise standards, including the institute's qualifications, education and training programmes.
While many PROs enjoy the professional status membership provides, others cite the practical support. This ranges from the CIPR's Matchmaker service, which last year brought in £6m of business for members, to a legal helpline and suite of meeting spaces for hire at its grand St James's Square London HQ.
The organisation's website also contains a host of advice and information, from skills guides and best practice case studies to a job shop.
Networking opportunities are on offer for those attending regular events, and these are organised on a national, regional and sectoral basis.
‘I get a perspective on general trends and what's happening in the North West, while I can share issues facing local government with like-minded pract-itioners,' says Ian Ratcliffe, head of marketing and communications at Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council.
Year started 2006
Number of members 750
President Dr Herbert Heitmann
Membership Open to full-time comms professionals in companies (operating in at least three European countries), European associations, European political institutions and other multinational organisations
Annual membership fee 140 euros for full members, 280 euros for supporting members
The European Association of Communication Directors is one of the largest networks for in-house communication professionals working in Europe. Its aim is to establish common standards and advance professionalism. The group also lobbies for the industry and offers legal and practical advice, plus information on communications issues.
With links to Helios Media, the association publishes several ‘Service Brochures' each year, covering topics such as ‘Working with International Financial Media', as well as a bimonthly newsletter. All members receive a free subscription to Communication Director magazine.
In April, the organisation will be hosting its second European Communication Summit, a two-day conference, in Brussels. A series of regional debates will be taking place in capital cities across Europe throughout the year.
Most recently, the association dev-eloped an intranet platform for members.
Based in London, Andrew Vickerman, global head of communications and external relations at Rio Tinto, says: ‘I became a founder member to share my experience and to benefit from services.'
Year started 2000
Number of members 68 PR associations
Chair Colin Farrington
Annual membership fee £250 or £200 depending on national status and size
The Global Alliance (GA) comprises national PR associations from around the world, including the CIPR in the UK. Its mission is to enhance the profession by sharing ideas and best practice.
As such, GA is currently developing a global protocol on ethics and a standard accreditation scheme so that members of each national association have the same competencies.
Chair Colin Farrington (who is also director general of the CIPR) is currently driving international corporate social responsibility initiatives and positioning PR at the heart of organisations worldwide.
This means CIPR members get access to international conferences and seminars, case studies, awards programmes and research at reduced rates, and free access to the regional ‘PR Landscapes' on the GA website.
Toni Muzi Falconi of the Italian PR Federation (FERPI ) says: ‘Being a member of the Global Alliance allows us to understand that every country has its specific issues, but that some of them are generic and common to all.
This helps us not only in feeling less isolated, but also in finding better solutions by capitalizing on others' experiences.'
Events to look out for include the World Public Relations Conference and Festival in London on 23-24 June this year.
Number of members 26 full members, three observers
President Lou Capozzi
Membership Trade associations repres-enting independent PR consultancies
Cost to join and membership fee Currently under review
The International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) is the voice of PR consultancies across the globe, providing a forum for senior management of the world's best PR consultancies to meet and address issues of mutual interest.
Members work together to raise standards of quality, address ethical issues, harmonise practice and share knowledge.The organisation's online database also acts as a matchmaker between consultancies in different countries.
In the UK the PRCA is a member - chairman Richard Houghton sits on the ICCO's board - and he claims practical ideas ‘really are implemented'. For example, support from the ICCO means more than 200 PR firms in 15 countries have now adopted the PRCA's Consultancy Management Standard.
Other benefits include access to country reports, regional newsletters, networking opportunities and best management practice.
‘Softer benefits include the opportunity to raise standards internationally,' says Houghton, adding that the PRCA's high standing within the association has a positive knock-on effect on the UK market as a whole.
Year started 1955
Number of members Approx. 1,100
President Robert Grupp
Membership Senior PR practitioners and academics
Annual membership £190
The International Public Relations Association (IPRA) is a network of senior professionals that aims to promote standards and ethical conduct. Members gain support and potential partnerships through online magazine FrontLine, position papers and programmes, including a campaign for transparency.
In addition to collaborating with bodies such as the UN and the European Union, the association organises a number of events. These include the World Congress, taking place in Beijing in November, examining topics such as the rise of Asian economies.
Meanwhile on 9-10 June, the organisation is hosting its PR Summit in London, where representatives will meet to discuss the future of global PR and preview winners of the association's Golden World Awards for Excellence.
IPRA's UK chapter has 250 members and regularly organises local events - all free to members - to discuss hot topics and issues. Recent themes include UK libel laws, while the next gathering will look at communications in Russia.
‘We're not a huge organisation, but you get to meet the right senior communications professionals, who stretch your understanding and knowledge and give practical insights into how they conduct communications,' says Jennifer Hardie, volunteer council chair for IPRA UK.
Year started 1967
Number of members Approx. 1,000 member companies and organisations
Chief executive Wayne Drew (Drew resigned the post at the end of January 2008, but is staying until a replacement is appointed, expected to be by April)
Membership Open to commissioners of services, business and public sector communicators, producers and creatives
Annual subscription £35 to £1,200 depending on level of membership
With a strong emphasis on ethical issues and social inclusion, the International Visual Communication Association (IVCA) is a professional body for business and public sector communicators, creatives and their suppliers.
Members are leaders in every aspect of communication strategy, from design and technology to content management, entertainment and education. This includes experts in film production, video, interactive media, web development, live events and experiential communications.
PRWeek readers will be familiar with the association's Clarion Awards, which promote the best communications in CSR. But the body also represents its members to Government, the European Parliament, the Bank of England and industry bodies, while hosting events, courses and business development opportunities.
Benefits for members range from financial, business and legal services to discounts on car hire and travel, advice for freelancers and recruitment services.
‘It's where we go for our information, recognition and networking,' says Katy Eyre, founder of independent production company Jacaranda.
Year started 1969
Number of members More than 130 member agencies
Managing director and director general Francis Ingham
Annual membership Ranges between £2,600 and £18,000 depending on fee income; observer members pay £1,000
The Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) is the voice of PR consultancies in the UK and seeks to help them in all aspects of their business. Benefits for members include free professional advice on issues such as tax, payroll, National Insurance, health and safety, plus commercial and legal matters.
The association runs a professional development programme, with courses covering areas such as presentation skills, crisis management and social media.
One of the most popular initiatives is its eight-part Consultancy Management Standard (CMS) - recently expanded to include an international element - that helps members maintain a sustainable business model and assures clients a PR business is well run.
‘The PRCA runs the only scheme in the UK that says to the marketing industry: "Here's how to benchmark PR consultancies",' says Adrian Brady, chief executive of Eulogy.
Other services include publications, a recruitment website, a raft of social networking events and conferences, plus discounted services from suppliers.
Importantly, the association addresses the needs of junior practitioners working up to account director level through its FrontLine initiative, which includes an annual awards scheme.