MONDAY 5 DEC 2016 2:02 PM


Rob Brown discusses how global political uncertainty has created unprecedented challenges and opportunities for public relations

The public relations industry is no stranger to change. It has embraced change zealously over the past decade. As early adopters of emerging technologies, PR practitioners have proved adept at harnessing innovation to deliver better communications.

In 2016, we have witnessed political and socio-economic change on an unimaginable scale. Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, coupled with Donald Trump’s presidential victory in the US, has sent shockwaves around the business world.

Trust in business, politics and institutions is at low ebb. Fragmented societal relationships have created deep divisions which transcend traditional demographics. Industry lines will be redrawn and as PR practitioners, we need to face the challenge and seize the opportunity to elevate the role of the communicator in the business world. Now more than ever, we have a chance to demonstrate the business value of our work. But how do we as individuals seize our chance to drive change rather than simply respond and react to it?

Communicators need an increasingly diverse skillset. Gone are the days when PR professionals could rely solely on their relationships with journalists or their copywriting skills. The modern business landscape is more nuanced, and demands a broad range of competencies, including business and financial skills.

The CIPR’s 2016 State of the Profession research uncovered some fascinating findings on this challenge. More than two thirds of PR recruiters (68%) revealed that they looked for budgeting and financial planning skills in senior hires. Yet only 2% of practitioners ranked those skills among their strongest. The message is clear – we need to acquire those skills and broaden our offering if we’re serious about influencing organisations and businesses at a senior level.

That’s why the CIPR recently announced its collaboration with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW). We’ll be delivering financial courses for public relations professionals, equipping them with the business acumen they need to lead strategic change across organisations. ‘Introduction to Budgeting’ and ‘Introduction to Financial Management’ have been designed by ICAEW to equip PR practitioners with the financial skills needed to deliver to strategic value within senior levels of businesses.

Public relations is evolving into a strategic management discipline that is valued at the boardroom table. But in order to continue our march to professionalism, we need to venture outside of our comfort zones and acquire the generic financial and business skills that will allow us deliver greater value in the boardroom.

We need a considered and mature approach to professional development. The business world is still reeling from the effects of Trump and Brexit. Despite living in an era of unparalleled access to information and the ability to engage across society, the prevailing mood is characterised by uncertainty and anxiety. Public relations is about building trust and reputation and that comes through understanding. As intermediaries, it’s our responsibility to promote mutual understanding between organisations and their stakeholders.

We need to act quickly. The #StateofPR research also revealed 76% of PR professionals are working more closely with dedicated social and digital, marketing, advertising and sales teams compared with two years ago. The increasing convergence makes collaboration imperative. From internal communications, to political campaigning and digital media management, the modern PR profession can and should play a leading role in helping organisations navigate uncertainty.

Rob Brown is president of the CIPR