Ben Lowndes #viewsoncomms

A perspective on PR, development and life in the South West

#StateOfPR: how I’m doing something about it

As tweets go, the responses to my lament that the headlines from the CIPR’s latest research into the profession are depressing were at opposite ends of the scale.

The first one, from Love Bot!

Then former CIPR president Stephen Waddington, whose blog on the ’10 areas of pain’ identified in the research I was responding to.

A bit more robust, although he is pushing the industry to raise its game. It also had the ring of a demanding client or stressed out line manager (of which there are many, if the research is correct). Stephen’s blog post and the headlines in this infographic mirrored my view view that the industry needs to do more to raise standards and improve its reputation. But his challenge got me thinking: where do I – a mere manager in a small public sector comms team – sit within this snapshot? And what am I doing about it?

Well…

#1 Professional development: I’ve undertaken Continuous Professional Development for the last six years and work within the Government Communication Service, who recently said its staff must complete at least four pieces of CPD in a year if they want to get promoted or find another job at the same level. That’s not to say that ‘training for the sake of it’ is the answer, and some training I’ve had hasn’t improved the way I work (and I have fed this back to the training providers). Such commitment from industry leaders needs to be the norm if the issues of skills and professionalism within PR is to be addressed.

#2 Commitment to standards: I support the CIPR’s code of ethics and aim to demonstrate to colleagues how my role supports the wider objectives of the business I work for. The notion that practitioners define professionalism by the extent to which they keep colleagues happy is one of the most depressing findings of the research for me, and is not a view I share. It’s great if you can keep clients and businesses happy, but challenge is a good thing, and having clear standards are important. Every team needs a pain in the backside and I’ll continue to be that person for a few years yet.

#3 Work-life balance: I’ve made a number of changes to address the work-life balance issue over the last couple of years, and bloggers’ advice has been hugely helpful in helping me achieve this. I work from home regularly. I avoid meetings where comms isn’t on the agenda or it’s not clear why I’m needed. I use digital tools to help me work smarter, not harder. I’m ruthless with emails. I’ve prioritised the priorities to make time to do the stuff that matters. And I’ve said ‘no’ more in the past year than ever before, and shared this brilliant advice from Dan Slee with colleagues in our little comms team. I’m overworked, (who isn’t?), but less so than before.

#4 PR = press releases: Media relations represents less than one fifth of my role, which is about the same as my stakeholder engagement activity and a little more than digital. I realise that there are huge opportunities for comms people who can grasp them and that’s why I spend large amounts of my personal time reading blogs, trying new tools (how many? Who knows?) and refining my digital skills. This blog is an example of that, although it has tailed off in recent months. I’d like to pick this up again in the coming months, but…

#5 Career development: In the next few weeks, there will be more changes ahead and I’ll face new situations that will make the aspects I’ve outlined in this post even more important. I’ll be joining a great agency in Bristol, working with a team overseeing a broad range of clients. My own development needs to continue if I’m to be successful in my new role.

To answer Stephen’s challenge, then, I’m already ‘doing’ a fair bit. What I do makes a difference to the projects I support and has never been just about press releases. Set against the scale of the change the research suggests is needed, this is a drop in the ocean though. That level of change is incremental, and painful. It takes time, resource, a few failures and – above all – leadership.

Over to you Stephen…

Here are the key findings from the research.

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