Race in Public Relations – CIPR Report published today

Here are a few personal observations on the report published today, which I was lucky enough to read earlier on an embargoed basis, to reflect on, and begin chatting through with colleagues.

Writing helps me process my thinking, and this was a topic of importance well before the recent peek in Black Lives Matters activity, following the latest of many scandalous deaths in America.

It’ll be important to reflect carefully on this latest report, and discuss it carefully rather than leaping to premature conclusions.  With that said though, did you hear David Lammy earlier this week responding to the Government deciding to set up yet another enquiry, by just listing a string of other recent enquiries, counting their recommendations, and urging that they just be implemented!  I think it was one of the most impactful interviews of the year.

There’s a lot to be said for reflection, without a knee jerk response – but there’s also a lot to be said, as several current/former bosses of mine put it: JFDI.

I’m acutely conscious as a middle class white bloke that I need to be doing more listening than talking on an issue of which I don’t have personal, lived experience.  I’m equally conscious though that I’m a senior leader and have the ability and authority – if not straightforward duty – to introduce change.

So my thoughts on the Race in Public Relations report.

It’s welcome, and timely, and cries out for action.

Although the study was limited to the agency sector, and not to the kind of in-house teams in the public sector in which I work, there is obvious read across.

The report referenced existing work and initiatives, some of which I was more familiar with, like the wonderful Taylor Bennett Foundation, some less so, like The Blueprint.

I’m a practical type by nature, and like practical tools – so The Blueprint is right up my street.  23 well defined and readily achievable steps that might help, from recruitment to organisational culture to nurturing talent.

I hope I’m not overly latching on to The Blueprint from this report because for the public sector, many of these measures are long-established practice – such as aiming to avoid homogenous interview panels and offering structured and constructive feedback to applicants.

One or two of the 23 require more thought – guaranteeing an interview to every single candidate who meets the basic criteria, for example, is simply not practical sometimes when that sometimes runs to hundreds of well-qualified applicants, as I have experienced that at times.  I don’t want to brush that off though – I’ll reflect and would love to hear from others about how best to handle that particular situation, so that sheer volume doesn’t accidentally reinforce a pattern of appointing into a standard image.

I’d also hesitate slightly before signing up to the full Blueprint including committing to buy in to The Blueprint diversity workshop training without first checking that long-established local authority diversity workshop training (often bought in) isn’t already of equivalent value.

But I wouldn’t want what are at most marginal concerns with The Blueprint to be reasons not to embrace it, which I herewith undertake to do on behalf of my organisation.

One other thing the report made me reflect on is statistics.  I admit to being mildly uncomfortable at the report’s use of percentages, when their evidence base was 17 people.  I tend to lend more weight to percentages when they are used as a tool to summarise results from hundreds of data points into a user-friendly comparator.  In my own comms team, for example – being a small district council – it would be easy to take disproportionate comfort from stating that 25% of my comms team is BAME, including 50% of management – because that 25% and 50% respectively, is one person of a team of four, with just me and him being managers.  Instead, I think the report’s value is much more evident from its analysis, clear trends and commentary.

I was surprised to learn a few months back that CIPR doesn’t record the demographic of its own membership – whether that is BAME, gender or any other key indicators.  Although we have evidence from the State of the Profession Survey, I think this is an obvious gap that should be easy to fill, so I hope that CIPR will now do so.  Whenever an organisations starts diversity monitoring, it generates resistance, and it takes a good few years til the returns are sufficiently complete to draw sensible conclusions – but that is never an excuse not to start off that journey, and do the right thing, so I hope that CIPR will introduce this step.

I welcome the trail in the report that more work will come in other sectors, and in in-house teams, and I welcome that.

But I won’t use that as an excuse to not listen now.

In summary then – as a ‘hot take’ on a new report into a long-standing issue – well done to the CIPR and all of the contributors, including the 17 individuals who shared their lived experiences in the PR agency sector.

It wasn’t always a comfortable read, but it was an important one.

What has the Coronavirus taught us about our organisational values?

18 May 2020

It’s often said that to see what values people *really* hold, all you need to do is look at how they act when under genuine pressure. The Coronavirus pandemic therefore offers all sorts of learning potential.

I offer a simple premise for my own workplace, a district council: how we’ve acted through the Coronavirus is a better indicator of what kind of organisation we really are than any statement of our corporate values ever could.

I’m a career communication professional, and in my 25-odd years in the public sector, working all over the UK, and from the NHS to policing to local government there’s been one really consistent challenge: major change.  I worked in one hospital as head of communications for six years – but for four different NHS bodies, such is the state of permanent revolution in our health service.  The logos on the payslips kept changing, but the underlying challenges didn’t, and those of our clinicians who weren’t used to this became dizzy.

One of the things I’ve observed in the 16* organisations I’ve worked in and with is that the values expressed don’t vary that much in content, although expressed in a range of ways and different words.

[* I can hold down a job, honest – averaging around 4 years in each permanent role.  It’s just I’ve got round many more organisations as a consultant, peer reviewer and interim leader for the last 8 years.]

I’ve been in the UK public sector throughout, so this commonality of values probably isn’t surprising – and certainly isn’t wrong.

We’re all committed to public service – we all care about our staff – we all want to be flexibe and responsive to change, and so on.

Communicating these values can be pretty challenging to be honest – especially to staff.  I’ve found there’s often a degree of either tiredness or cynicism amongst employees, and if I could reflect one most common response to the latest statement of these values it’s been something along the lines of ‘Great words – I’ll believe them when I see them reflected in actual leadership behaviour’.

I’d say that the Coronavirus pandemic has represented just precisely that kind of ‘significant pressure’, so I’ve been thinking about how my own organisation – a district council – has shown our values in real ways and actual leadership behaviours.

A caveat of course – I’m the council’s assistant chief executive – so obviously I’m marking my and my senior colleagues’ own homework.  That’s why I’m reaching for evidence rather than just anecdote or my own perception.

But anyway, here are my observations:

  • We say as a whole organisation, that we are genuinely committed to public service.  In reality, during the pandemic, we kept virtually every existing service running (except for things like leisure centres, where the social distancing requirements of lockdown made that utterly impossible).  Sure, we scaled back some service provision on a risk-assessed basis – for example, in the lockdown period, we didn’t consider that site visits were proportionate as we carried on otherwise to handle planning applications.  Other services were scaled up massively, such as our benefit payments teams, which handled a huge spike in benefit claimants.  The same people worked early mornings, late evenings and through several weekends in a row to pay out business grants to local firms desperately needing their support urgently.  We also stood up brand new services quickly, like community hubs coordinating volunteers, delivering food parcels, shopping, medicines and the like to those who needed the help.  Quick and dirty verdict: based on this unarguable evidence of service continuity and expansion, as a whole organisation, we really demonstrated that value in practice, and in spades.  To see the thank you cards and kids waving from the windows to thank our bin crews has shown that the public recognised this too.
  • We say that we want to be agile and flexible as an organisation.  During the pandemic, we flipped within days from being an 80% office-based organisation, to one working 75% at home.  We have 10-20 people a day rattling round a 200 desk office, safely socially isolated, and using specialist equipment or resources not readily transferable to home working.  Everyone else is either still hard at work out and about on the streets (but with revised procedures and PPE determined by our risk assessments) or are working from home.  It took us a while to get the optimal kind of hand sanitiser – who knew there were so many kinds! – but we managed all this with a minimum of fuss, including getting equipment like ergonomic chairs from the office to staff members’ homes where they were needed.  Instant verdict: thanks to the unsung heroes of our IT team (praise be their name!), but mainly our staff themselves, this has worked incredibly smoothly – agility truly demonstrated.  It was a basic test – and the evidence is that we passed it.
  • We say that we honestly and genuinely care about our staff’s wellbeing.  That has long included harder-edged health and safety procedures – we have an in-house refuse collection and recycling service, for example, and the last thing we want at any time is a lost limb or lost life from those operating heavy machinery.  But it’s also for us long included an appreciation of wellbeing and mental health.  During the pandemic, the health and safety assessments have been thick and fast – guided by national standards, but properly applied to our individual local circumstances, procedures and real-life risks on the ground.  For a verdict on how well we’ve lived this, I think I’d really need to reflect objective opinions of our staff themselves as evidence.  Happily, we have a monthly “pulse” survey in place, and in the latest 30-second/5 question survey (4-6 May 2020) they told us:

For those who have new, temporary working conditions, how are you finding things?

It’s a breeze – 24%; It’s OK – 58%; Not so good – 9%; It’s a struggle – 8%.

Without drowning you in statistics, let me also share that every month in this survey we ask our staff whether they would recommend to a friend or relative to apply for a job with us – a classic commercial proxy satisfaction indicator. The results to this have improved during the pandemic on pre-Coronavirus months.

You might have seen online a message from the Canadian Government to their civil servants, acknowledging that they weren’t ‘working from home’ so much as doing their best to work at home in extraordinarily difficult circumstances, where normality is accepted as being out the window.  It sums up our own approach as an employer pretty well.  We told staff that we’d rather that they did their best to work around childcare arrangements from home, than pretending that these were normal times, and that we wouldn’t measure hard work by presenteeism.  As a result of that mature, honest and up-front conversation with our staff, delivered face to face by our chief executive just days before lockdown began, we’ve found our faith repaid.  Our productivity has not collapsed in the slightest, and the odd school age child appearing and demanding attention in our video conference calls has been a common, welcome and humanising experience that has put smiles on our faces.

  • We say that we want to work in genuine, open and respectful partnership with our stakeholders, because we achieve far more together.  During the pandemic, this has been tested in extremis.  I don’t think I can offer an objective analysis of how well we’ve done here either, and don’t have a handy and recent set of survey results to quote.   But I can point at some proxy indicators.  We have over 70 Parish Councils in my district, and hundreds of voluntary groups, many operating at a hyper-local level.  We are one of eight councils in the county, and have close working relationships routinely with other public sector organisations including the NHS and the police.  Our private sector in the area ranges from farming to world-class high-tech engineering hub centred around Silverstone’s Formula One track.  The proxy indicators I’d offer in evidence of this value being lived for real during the pandemic are these: our whole-county, multi-agency centre for handling the pandemic itself has ridden the wave of challenges around PPE, testing and even (behind the scenes) things like ‘do we have enough mortuary space?’ quietly and without hitting the headlines around perceived or actual failures.  I hesitate to suggest that the lack of being monstered in the papers is a measure of success in and of itself, but we all know that failures are more often trumpeted than successes.  That our Parish Councils and voluntary sector just quietly and instantly reached out to those in our villages to check that they had support with food, medicines and loneliness left incredibly few gaps for the (slower to get off the ground) national or county-wide schemes, was an absolute tribute to how empowered and responsive our partners are.

We’ll have lessons to learn over our handling of the Coronavirus.  No-one will have got everything right.  As a challenge, it comprised the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity represented in the VUCA model of leadership all in one messy and vast, unwelcome package.

But my conclusion – as of 18th May 2020 at least, as we begin the baby-steps of moving from lockdown into the recovery phase – is that our organisation values have been demonstrated through actions.

Before the Coronavirus came along, we were already well along the road to my organisation merging in April 2021 with neighbouring councils; eight existing authorities in the county will be abolished, and two new councils will take over the responsibilities the very next day.  I can’t overstate the scale and complexity of this challenge – well, I could, but that would make an article all on its own, so just take my word that it has countless thousands of moving parts, and involving thousands of staff. 

This process added an explicit commitment to our workforce to our routine vocabulary: that we will make sure that every staff member is in the best position possible to make the most of the opportunities that this massive change will provide.  Being part of a much larger organisation will obviously provide chances to gain new skills, wider perspectives, additional responsibilities, and straight forward promotions.  Although most staff will simply be transferred into the new employer, for a minority it will be the moment to move elsewhere or into retirement – and we want to do what we can to make this an empowering choice rather than an enforced and unwelcome consequence.

This Local Government Reorganisation process carries its own significant weight of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity too.

Unexpectedly, but in a hugely welcome way, I can see the next 11 months of managing that transition to be smoother precisely because of our shared experience of the adversity of the Coronavirus pandemic.  When our staff in particular ask predictable and entirely-reasonable questions about the future, but which at the time we simply can’t answer, we are in an even better position than usual to fall back on our shared and lived values, to give some reassurance that we will reach the right answers appropriately, together, and with integrity.

You should never waste a good crisis, and I do think that the Coronavirus has brought out the best of my own organisation, and its leadership at both an officer and elected level. Of the many organisations I’ve worked in, with and for, I feel as proud of this one as any.

Proud of my profession

As I put finger to keyboard to get this off my chest, I’m not sure quite how frank I feel able to be in this post.

See yesterday, I was immensely proud of the actions of several people in my profession, who I’ve never met. I won’t name them or risk identifying them, as I wouldn’t blame them for a second if they’d be worried about a negative impact on their future careers.

See, yesterday I was asked to take down any uses of the Government’s ‘stay at home’ messaging ahead of the Prime Minister’s announcement this Sunday (May 10th 2020) that we’d used on our website and social media feeds at my council.

Now god knows, I’ve not always been a fan of these varying images – but design appreciation is often subjective, so I’ve used them anyway. The above image is still up on the PM’s own official Facebook page as I write this, on Friday May 8th.

Imagery described by others as channeling the 28 Days Later zombie movie, or else a 1990s rave.

Now, on the face of it, I can see the sense in preparing space for new imagery – and actually getting advance notice in local government of central government’s messaging plans is truly a wondrous novelty. And we weren’t asked to ditch the imagery immediately that Thursday, just before Sunday. Not that there was any replacement messaging or collateral offered, of course – so compliance with the instruction meant leaving a vacuum.

It’s absolutely not that I object to having to work on a Sunday. This is an international crisis – we’re all working long hours without a murmur.

It’s that, as of the day the message was sent, we’re about to enter a three day Bank Holiday weekend, with great weather predicted for the start. And we’re being told that ‘stay at home’ is out.

As I said to the person relaying that request on to me – of whom I make no criticism whatsoever: “Not to shoot the messenger, but seriously?!?”

Because you see – these were the newspaper headlines from that morning.

I categorically refuse to believe that these headlines were not the direct result of briefing from within the very heart of Government. Where else do you think they got this message, and all the other specific details?

And this is the day after the PM told the Commons that the announcement couldn’t be made to the House first, as the necessary information wasn’t yet in, but would be by Sunday, and he wanted people to be able to act on it by Monday. No wonder Speaker Hoyle told him off, albeit to no avail.

I’m outraged that the Government through it’s advance briefing of papers on Weds for Thursday headlines, and the instruction before the three day weekend to remove the ‘stay at home’ messaging, is giving badly mixed messaging.

These things matter. I think thousands possibly millions of Brits are going to start relaxing immediately, through the weekend, well ahead of whatever the PM actually says at 7pm on Sunday evening.

Rowing back then, with a more modest, phased step down will be too little, too late. Shut the stage door why don’t you, three days after flinging it open with gay abandon and shooing the horse out. Said horse is now already half way to the next county town, and funnily enough isn’t responding to your calls to return.

And then hearing a Cabinet Minister on the radio this morning, Friday, appearing to chide the media for having got ahead of themselves.

Nice of the Government to show some belated self-awareness of what it has done, and its very wrongness, but the appropriate response is an apology, and probably some resignations/dismissals, not a cheeky spot of finger-wagging.

So I’m proud of colleagues I’ve never met. I’m so hugely proud of those people I heard of and from saying that no, thanks very much, they’ll be sticking with the ‘stay at home’ messaging.

Comms professionals get a bad rap as spin doctors, but I saw colleagues instead doing the right thing for the health of the public.

I just dearly hope that those who briefed the national dailies on Weds and generated all those front page stories on Thurs were Ministers and SPADs rather than civil servants; I’m sure they will have been, because I have far too much respect for the GCS to believe that this will have been sanctioned.

Maybe I’m too naive to do what I do in central government. Prob just as well, as once I press ‘publish’ on this blog, I don’t imagine it’s worth me applying for a job there anytime soon!

The Lockdown Cupboard-to-Cocktail Challenge continues: the Belle Martini Sour and the Canny Librarian

Welcome to episodes five and six of my own personal Coronavirus creative distraction – a series of cocktail invention videos.

Or it’s as much a social lifeline. I live alone, and am on my tod for the duration – but I don’t like to drink alone. Solution: by making up a new cocktail from the closest equivalent random ingredients I have in my home to match what a socially-distanced mate tells me they have in theirs, and then drinking them however many (hundreds of) miles we are apart, it’s feeling good not bad.

Plus. Ya know. Cocktails. What’s not to love?!?

So here is a boozy equivalent of the humble crunchy nut cornflake, in episode five: the Belle Martini Sour.

And here in episode six is an Englishman’s allotment version of the brassy New York staple, the Cosmopolitan – named the Canny Librarian. All thanks to my mate from my Newcastle days, David Fay, and his fine selection of booze, fridge and cupboard ingredients.

Remember to drink responsibly – as you’ll see, I made one of these two in the most diddy proportions, as both videos were recorded (and both cocktails drunk) on the same evening – a school night, no less.

Stay safe, and do keep in touch! And there’s only a modest waiting list for you to join before I’ll create you a bespoke cocktail if you send me photos or a list of your booze, plus mixers (sodas, tonics, juices), fruit (fresh, dried or tinned), sauces, spices, herbs, syrups, cordials and squashes, dairy or equivalent (e.g. coconut cream), sweets & candies, jams (+ marmalade’s, honeys and curds), pickles, nuts, teas & coffees (and other beverages), and even salad veg. So get to it folks!

The lockdown cupboard-to-cocktail challenge continues …..

Here are episodes three and four of this new way I’ve found of reaching out to friends, far away, during the Coronavirus lockdown.

I don’t generally like to drink alone – and yet I’m locked down, living alone, with the biggest and most obscure booze collection you ever did see.

So this challenge is the solution. A mate tells me what they have in their cupboards, and I try and invent a cocktail from those ingredients, working with whatever I have in my own home.

For the final time, I’m using ingredients from the cupboards of old mate Rebecca Gray, miles away in her North London home.

We both end up drinking the same drink, after catching up and sharing the exploration together.

Today then, the Tracey Paul, after our mutual friend, a delicious little number flavored with plum, raisin and walnut, and channeling the German Christmas markets that Tracey loves.

And in episode four, the David Cairns, after our late, lamented, much-loved friend. A proud Scot – and former Minister of State for Scotland – David of course favoured Scotch Whisky. I once went to the Bushmills distillery with him, when he was a Northern Ireland Minister, and despite being very diplomatic in the tasting room about how nice their wares were, he resolutely insisted he preferred Scotch.

This recipe though features Bourbon instead, remembering the tales he told of his road trip to Gracelands, in Memphis Tennessee.

It’s likely that Elvis would have enjoyed this drink too, mixing bourbon with maple syrup and more for a rich but balanced sipping drink.

Enjoy – drink responsibly – shout out if you’d like to take part in my next lockdown cupboard-to-cocktail challenge, and stay safe in these difficult times.

Lockdown cupboard-to-cocktail challenge

So we’re each in our own Coronavirus lockdown. Good luck to those who are using the time to learn new skills (I still haven’t tuned the ukulele I bought) – but this challenge is instead dedicated to those of us normal folks who are just about holding it together.

So: if you’re a key worker, a new home worker, furloughed, trying to keep your business afloat, forced onto benefits, worrying about money, homeschooling the kids, lonely on your own, had too much of who you live with, or worried about illness for yourself, family or friends – and if you unashamedly like an occasional drink – this is for you!

Here’s the deal: gather together what booze you have, and send me pics or a list of that, your fridge and cupboards, and I will create you cocktail ideas.

Episode 1 – The Oldroyd – a long gin cooler with smashed cucumber and early grey tea

I need to know about: booze; fresh, frozen, dried or tinned fruits (and salad veg, like cucumbers, tomatoes and sweet peppers – even frozen peas); fresh or dried herbs and spices; sodas, juices, squashes and cordials; sweet baking ingredients (like candied ginger, vanilla essence, peel or sultanas); sweets, fudges, caramels and candies; sauces (Worcestershire, Tabasco etc); jams, honeys, curds, marmalades; syrups; pickles, olives, capers etc; seeds, grains and nuts; teas, coffees and other beverage mixes; sugars; dairy products or alternatives (like condensed milk or coconut cream).

I’ll assume you have ice. No special glasses are necessary – a teacup will be fine. I’ll also assume you’re neither allergic to nor dislike anything you’ve listed for me. Oh – and totes drink responsibly.

Send me your clear photos or lists, and maybe even either suggest a theme or I’ll choose one, based on how we know each other (if we do). I’ll then create a recipe, making the closest alternative I can with whatever I have available in lockdown that matches or approximates those of your available ingredients that I choose to work with.

Episode 2 – the Laxmi Margarita- a twist on the classic, fusing Indian spices with Mexican kick

Then all we need to do is toast each other distantly! And get through this together, apart.

Making the most of Coronavirus isolation: interviews with friends

I’ve lived all over the world (from Nigeria to Singapore to the UK) and worked all over the UK (from London to Sandbach, Newcastle to Dorchester, Bristol to Paisley, Truro to Oxford, and Belfast to Towcester) – and I’ve made lasting friendships all over.

Obviously the Coronavirus isolation is getting in the way of my usual prodigious traveling and catching up face to face, so like lots of people, I’m relying a lot on voice and video chats. Like many, I’m missing the quality time together though.

So, here’s my idea. One at a time, I’m going to reach out to far flung friends, and book in a time to catch up with them remotely. To make this some real quality time, and get to know even more about them in the way you do when you’re away on a trip, I’m going to record and publish interviews. Unhurried – somewhere north of a half hour each.

As a way into getting to know them even more, and getting them to talk about their lives, I’ll be asking about music – both tastes and memories, like the earliest musical memory, the first record they bought, their favourite live gig and the first tune they danced to at their wedding.

I’m a big movies fan, so we’ll be chatting about favourite films and actors – from childhood, to the first X/18 they saw, to a maybe obscure recommendation to their go-to feel good movie to watch in isolation.

Sport, art, culture, cooking, travel – I’ll be getting my interviewees to talk about whatever they’re passionate about. Family, friends, achievements and career are all in bounds, but it’s each one’s character I’m looking to find out more about.

I’m not an investigative journalist, and I don’t want to accidentally lose any friends along the way, so all my interviewees will be able to steer me away from any sensitive topics both in preparing the interview, and after recording it to edit bits out before publication.

Once complete, I’ll publish the interviews, along with any photos, images or clips they’d like to share to help bring it to life. Each interviewee will then have something they can share with their own family and friends – just like celebs who end up on Desert Island Discs.

So my question is: who’s up for it?

If you are, why not drop me a line at peterholt99@yahoo.co.uk, I’ll send you a preparatory questionnaire, and start booking in interview slots?

A big year for CIPR – time for some more long-termism in our structures?

Maybe every year is a key year for an organisation you care about, but 2020 certainly qualifies in this regard for CIPR, my professional body.

I’ve written before both about how much good CIPR does for the profession, which is why I’ve been an active volunteer member for a majority of my getting on for twenty years of membership.  I’ve also shared though some criticisms of a range of specific CIPR policies and practices, and how CIPR has lost its way a bit, so in 2020 I’ll redouble my efforts campaigning for change.

I am excited for what lies ahead this year too though.  I think that the newly-installed CIPR President’s plans are genuinely exciting.  You can read more of Jenni Field’s thoughts here – and I make it a point of rarely arguing with anyone who so liberally quotes Aaron Sorkin to illustrate their writing.

Jenni’s inaugural Volunteer Conference is a great idea, and that she is holding that in Manchester, with the CIPR AGM in Scotland both speak to one of my central complaints: that CIPR is too London-centric.  If we could just see that embraced in CIPR’s working generally, rather than token signal events, we’d be cooking on gas (as precisely no-one under the age of 50 says any more).

So I’ll carry on as a member of CIPR’s Council (an advisory body – the key decisions get taken at Board) and as a member of the Board’s Finance Committee to press on a range of specific issues, from making monthly direct debits available to new members to sticking to the Institute’s prudent financial reserves policy; from embracing more openness and accountability to our members to doing a more focused job of marketing membership to students; and from making the shift from operating as a predominantly commercial body to one where providing direct member benefits are the largest element of our activities.

A lot of these changes I’m campaigning for aren’t sexy – but each one should make a pretty immediate and positive impact on our membership.

I’ll be spending more of the time I have available as a CIPR volunteer in the first half of 2020 though leading on this exciting project developing a report and best practice toolkit to support professional communicators in handling safeguarding issues.  We’re now taking evidence for this project, so do get in touch.

I also welcome that there is new blood on the CIPR’s Board – six new members I think out of something like eleven in total – details here.  I interviewed one of the new Board members recently – you can read that here.

But hold on – why am I thinking just about whether any individual year is more momentous than another?  Obviously because of our annual switch of Presidency.

Although there is some continuity on the Board, with each CIPR President serving on it for three years in a row (first as President-elect, then for their year as President, then for a third year as Immediate-past-President), six of the other eight Board members serving two year terms, with the last two serving just one year.   Personally, I am used in governance terms to there being longer-term planning, and with membership of the key governing bodies serving longer terms.  I have sat on charity boards, for example, with a four year term, and a term limit of two terms (ie eight years).  This allows for a greater retention of knowledge, and focus on more effectively longer-term planning, and allowing for succession planning over a longer-period, with fewer cliff edges in terms of people leaving at the same time.

Combine this average two years of Board membership with the secrecy surrounding the Board operations (not even elected Council members like me are allowed to see papers or minutes from Board meetings) and we have an institutionalised short-termism that in my opinion represents a substantial governance risk.

I strongly suspect that some staff members are also tired of having to revisit the same kind of issues with a distressing frequency because of this fast turnover and lack of organisational memory that comes with it.

To be fair, we have just adopted a 2020-2024 strategy, but the problem with this is that the closer we get to 2024, the fewer people we will have left on our key decision making body that were personally involved in developing that strategy (quite possibly none at al for its last year or two), and therefore the decision makers of the time will be less familiar with and feel inevitably less ownership of a strategy they simply inherited.

I don’t have a simple or instant recipe for addressing this short-termism, as it would require both a series rule changes and a much harder shift in mind-set, but I do think it is something that we should at least begin a debate on if we are determined to flourish as a membership body, where our challenges are rarely as simple as can be sorted in the short term.  Maybe we need an elected administration with a four or five year term, with or without an annually-changing President?

Who knows – maybe this all got discussed just two or three years ago, and I’m just raking over old ground – though that would rather prove the point, no?  Comments are open below – what do you reckon?

Making membership of your professional body a ‘no brainer’ – Q and A with leading PR industry figure Mike Browne

Q. Tell us please a bit about you, your career, and your membership in CIPR, as well as the membership body you now work in, and your role there?

A. I’ve been in communications for nearly 30 years. My early career was leading comms for local authorities including two London Boroughs. Consultancy interim and work then took me to other authorities, regulators, an Ombudsman and even a Pension Authority. For the last five years I have been Director of Brand and Communications for the Law Society. I arrived as an interim, but love the issues rich brief and the breadth of our work, so agreed to stay.  I joined CIPR early doors in my career.

Q. What would you say are the most obvious similarities between CIPR and your body, and what are the biggest differences?

A. The biggest similarities are those shared by all membership bodies, the struggle for share of mind and demonstrating value to time poor members. A clearly expressed and delivered offer based on insight into what members need is the best way to achieve this. The biggest difference between CIPR and The Law Society (TLS) is that Solicitors have to be a member of the Law Society at the moment, but we want to get to the point where if membership became voluntary, it would be a “no brainer”. We are doing this by focusing on tackling five core member needs and consistently demonstrating our impact. Member satisfaction has risen by 8% in two years as a result.

Mike Browne

A. Like CIPR our member research has shown us that we are perceived to be London centric, despite the fact that there are large concentrations of members in many other parts of the country. We now run a number of key events such as our anti money laundering conference in multiple centres and are doing more to make event content available through webinars and podcasts so that they can be accessed anywhere and at times to fit members’ busy lives.

Q. What’s your experience of the CIPR’s membership offer in comparison to what your organisation has for its members?

A. Our member research tells us that the more different types of our activity our members engage with, the more satisfied they are, the better their value for money perception and the more likely they are to speak favourably about us. It also tells us that engagement and satisfaction vary at different career stages. Thinking about different stages in my career I have expected different things of CIPR. In early career it was primarily networking and practice sharing through my sector group which I went on the chair, later on I engaged by lecturing on the CIPR diploma, now it is mainly through CPD. At some stages it has simply been through the letters on my CV. At the Law Society we have developed research based personas for different types of member to help focus our offer and our communications, this is helping to clarify where we put our effort and how we spend members’ money.

Q. Has your membership body had any successes in promoting diversity that you think might translate well to CIPR?

A. The solicitor profession is increasingly diverse with more than 50% now being female, but a significantly smaller percentage of women at board level, so there is a way to go. Similarly, BAME solicitors are less well represented at senior levels in large firms. We run two schemes, our Diversity Access Scheme helps fund and mentor 10 candidates per year from under represented backgrounds as they train to enter the profession. Our Social Mobility Ambassadors Scheme features the stories of ten people per year who have overcome challenges to enter the profession from non traditional backgrounds so that people considering a career in the law can seeand learn from role models.

Q. What’s your one favourite thing about CIPR membership, and what one thing (if any) would you most like to see change in CIPR?

A. My favourite thing has to be simply the sense of belonging to a wider community. In terms of change, I think wider and deeper membership. I spoke to one of my press team, who is early in his career the other day and he was not aware of the existence of CIPR. Naturally encouraged him to join, but I would like membership to be a “no brainer” and to bring obvious value to members so that we all advocate for it.

Q. Can you pass one please one piece of wisdom or learning from your career to people starting off in PR?

A. As the great philosopher Chumbawumba said many, many times, “I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down. Any career setback is an opportunity to learn and grow. When you look back on difficult times, these are the things that have made you a better, more rounded professional.

Localism, diversity and braveness – what could CIPR maybe learn from other professional bodies?

I think we have potentially a lot to learn from the experience of other membership bodies, as well as a lot to offer, so to help jump-start that debate, here is the first in an occasional series of interviews with long-standing CIPR members who have leading jobs in other such associations.

First up, a few questions to Rob Yeldham.

Q. Tell me please a bit about you, your career, and your membership in CIPR, as well as the membership body you now work in, and your role there? 

A. I am a chartered PR and have worked in different areas of PR (public affairs, campaigns, press relations and strat Comms) since 1989. I work as Director of Strategy, Policy & Engagement for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.  

Q. What would you say are the most obvious similarities between CIPR and your body, and what are the biggest differences? 

A. Both the CSP and CIPR as Chartered bodies offering charter status to qualified members. Both are voluntary to join.  Unlike the CIPR the CSP is also a trade union and we don’t have any competitor bodies speaking for the profession. We have a much higher density of membership than the CIPR. The CSP with 58,000 members is also larger.

Q. What practical steps does your membership body take to handle the challenges of serving members based all over the country?

A. The CSP is embarking on a “localism” programme to make members feel we are alongside them wherever they live, work or learn. I am the director leading this. Key elements include supporting regional and local groups and refocusing our staffing to provide regional virtual teams to work with active members locally.

Q. What’s your experience of the CIPR’s membership offer in comparison to what your organisation has for its members?

A. The two organisations are quite different. Apart from being a union as well as a professional body, the CSP also offers professional liability insurance as part of the basic membership package. We do a lot more to be the voice of the profession with policy and decision makers, but as a much bigger organisation we are better resourced to do that. Where CIPR scores in comparison to CSP is the accreditation of third party CPD providers.

Q. Has your membership body had any successes in promoting diversity that you think might translate well to CIPR?

A. For the CSP the diversity of the profession and diversity of our members are directly related. But within the “pool” we can recruit from we’ve found targeted events and opportunities for overseas qualified physios useful in addressing their under representation. But we have a way to go.

Q. What’s your one favourite thing about CIPR membership, and what one thing (if any) would you most like to see change in CIPR?

A. CIPR provides me with a professional  identity. For the first part of my career I couldn’t fit what I was doing into a label. Being a chartered PR practitioner now gives me a status with other qualified professionals. I would most like to see CIPR being a braver voice for the profession challenging those who see it as an overhead or nice to have, not a core strategic function. 

Q. Can you pass one please one piece of wisdom or learning from your career to people starting off in PR?

A. Perfection is the enemy of good – don’t angst about getting everything 100% theoretically correct.

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