WEDNESDAY 3 JAN 2018 3:08 PM

FIVE MINUTES WITH JASON MACKENZIE

Jason MacKenzie has completed his year as president of the CIPR and has been succeeded by new president Sarah Hall. In an interview, MacKenzie discusses professionalisation, membership and the changes for the better the CIPR has undergone over the past year.

What were your key objectives for 2017?
There were three things that I set out to achieve because I was very mindful of the limitations of being a president, running an organisation which has got 30 staff, hundreds of active volunteers, 10,000 members in 85 countries. And yet you’re trying to do that in addition to doing a day job. And the three things, in this order, were: number one, the drive to professionalism, number two, greater member engagement, and the third thing was membership growth.

What did the CIPR do to encourage a higher level of professionalism in PR?
The PR industry needs to transition from being a craft to being a profession, and right at the heart of professionalism is ethics. For the CIPR, professionalism means an emphasis on continuing professional development. And I’m glad to say that more people are doing CPD now than have ever done CPD before, not just as a tick box exercise, but as a means with which we can continually evolve and challenge ourselves to be better practitioners, both in terms of our skillsets – whether that’s leadership or management – and in terms of the ethical dimension. Because we’re being called on increasingly to make judgement calls and to make decisions which aren’t always as clear-cut as we would like them to be.

How did the CIPR revamp its qualifications programme?
Professionalism also means qualifications and, during this year, we completed a full syllabus review of six of our seven qualifications; we’d done the diploma last year as a pilot. I’m delighted to say that those qualifications are, I believe, world leading. They are thoroughly theoretically robust. They are also absolutely practically aligned with extensive feedback from industry – from employers, from the students from a wide range of stakeholders.

How has the CIPR capitalised on its chartered status once again?
We became the Chartered Institute for Public Relations more than a decade ago now. In 2009, we were given the right to confer individual chartered status upon people, and there was great enthusiasm in the first few months; I think we had 26 chartered practitioners come through in one short time frame.

But we set the bar too high because we didn’t look at how other chartered bodies positioned their chartered status. What you had to do back in the day was a nine page statement of experience, at which point we failed a great number of people. Then a 3-4,000 word academic paper, which is not everyone’s cup of tea. You might be an incredible practitioner, but not used to writing papers of that nature. And then there was a face-to-face presentation and assessment.

We made it harder to become a chartered public relations practitioner than it was to become a Jedi Knight.

We decided that we wanted to make chartered status again rigorous and robust, but normative and accessible…What we’ve done now is we’ve recalibrated the chartered assessment days so they do just that. They focus on leadership, strategy and ethics as the three core components and we’re at something like 250 chartered practitioners with a prospect of 100s more coming through next year. As it’s beginning to gain pace, we’ll really see it scale and we have an ambition to become a predominantly profession within the next nine years.

How did membership evolve in 2017?
What I’ve found is that there is an increasing number of people who are actively involved in the CIPR. One of my stock statements was that we have 10,000 members and for a significant number of them, they get a magazine once a quarter, they get an email once a week, they get an invoice once a year, and they probably attend the Excellence Awards or the Pride Awards or they do training or they go to an AGM or they go to networking, but actually they are the lifeblood of the chartered institute.

I’ve been delighted to see more and more members getting actively involved in events right the way across the country and across the sectors from public affairs to internal communications to the STEM Group through to the construction and property specialist group. We’ve got this amazingly varied and diverse group of people who are all doing different things in different ways that share some commonality. There’s the drive for excellence and a passion for professionalism.

How has the membership changed?
We’ve been fairly static, as an institute, in terms of member numbers for years now. But, I just took a temperature check a couple of days ago and I found that 1,172 new and rejoining members have come to the institute this year so far, which is 20% up year-on-year. I am utterly delighted that there are more people joining us for the first time and there are more people coming back to us who’ve been members before but who see that the institute is in a really good place and recognise its value to them. Membership retention is at an all-time high. Not only have we grown in terms of attracting new members and people rejoining, our membership retention is stronger than it’s been since keeping records.

What remains to be achieved in 2018 and beyond in PR?
Ostensibly the drive to professionalism is certainly not complete and we’ll need to continue for many years to come, until it’s driven to every corner of the PR business, until we really embrace strategy and ethics and leadership. The member engagement programme has gone very well this year. Influence and Influence events have all helped to make membership a bit more sticky. And that’s something my successor Sarah Hall is keen on doing, continuing to strengthen the links between members around the country. She’s keen on doing more events throughout the nations and throughout the regions of England and the Channel Islands. And finally the numbers are there.

What are the CIPR’s plans on a business level?
We’re in a great position in terms of people now actively joining and staying and we’re also in a great financial position. After years of being in Russell Square in a building that costs us a lot of money, we are very hopeful that in Q2 of next year, we’ll be moving into smaller premises which will accommodate all of the staff and will still host all of the events except for training which we will outsource. That will enable us to reinvest a lot of money into the membership and also to build up our reserves. So, in terms of corporate governance it’s been a great year as well.

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