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Re-evaluating the CIPR membership offer for new entrants

Re-evaluating the CIPR membership offer for new entrants

Hello and welcome back to CommsLabHQ, today I’m pleased to publish a co-written piece with Peter Holt Chart. PR, FCIPR, on how we can make the CIPR more attractive and accessible to new entrants in the PR industry.

This short thought piece on the topic is offered following discussions between two CIPR members – one a relatively new entrant to the profession and joiner of the Institute, and the other a longer-serving member.  It is intended as a provocation on some issues perhaps warranting further and wider discussion, rather than as a comprehensive analysis nor detailed manifesto for change.

‘Catch them early, keep them for a lifetime.’

This a simple, straightforward and intuitive proposition for a membership body.  Attract new entrants to the profession to join the Institute, to take an active part therein, to realise both immediate and ongoing benefits of membership, and they are likely to stay members – active members – throughout their professional careers.

When considered in the context of a relatively unregulated industry, in which entry to the profession and right to practice does not depend on being a member in good standing of the self-regulating professional body (like, say, solicitors and the Law Society via the SRA), this puts the emphasis for CIPR on both recruitment and retention as a constant challenge, with no room to rest on our laurels.

In our handful of informal discussions, we threw around a handful of key questions:

Could we make it easier, more affordable and more attractive for new entrants to join the profession? 
Should we abolish the £55 admin joining fee as it feels like it’s from a bygone era, and is in reality a barrier to joining?  Should we introduce lower membership fees for people on lower salaries – both benefitting younger people/new entrants to the profession, but also returners to work and part-timers.  Neither of these ideas is new.

It is only months since new members were allowed to pay by monthly direct debit our previous policy was to only allow members to pay monthly from their second year of membership – meaning that a new member had to pay £235 up front in one payment – a massive hit for a self-funding member on probably a low wage at the start of their career and what intuitively feels like a sizeable barrier to entry.  This was a change proposed by one of this paper’s co-authors, against initially stiff internal opposition, showing that it is possible to achieve such change.

If we want CIPR to be welcoming to newer entrants, then are we equally serious about including them in our decision-making structures? 
These internal groups are currently more dominated by longer-serving, more experienced and generally more senior practitioners.  There have been initiatives to involve more new entrants on key decision-making bodies in recent years, including by recent Presidents during their terms, on which to build, but which have not yet become fully embedded.

Is the student offer for CIPR members in need of a refresh
Most members don’t come in to the Institute through the student route, so we don’t imagine this is a silver-bullet solution, but it is a positive contribution to the broader issue.  A short comparative study carried out by one of this paper’s authors just last year compared CIPR’s student offer to that of nine other UK professional bodies, and identified much room for improvement and learning from elsewhere.

How welcoming are we to newer members when they do join? 
Once someone has joined, are they left to work out how to get the most out of membership, or do they get inducted?  A membership body is often described as being like a gym: you don’t get fit just by paying a gym membership – you have to turn up and put in the hard hours, sweating.  But a gym tends to give you a gym induction, so show you round, how things work, and to welcome you.  Should we be sharpening our act there too – maybe an informal buddy system?  And how about involving more newer-entrants in shaping our Institute’s priorities – it’s a rarity to see a newer member on any of the CIPR committees or groups, so shouldn’t we be making more of an effort there too, to bring through the next generation of talent into CIPR leadership roles?

Naomi MG Smith MCIPR & Peter Holt Chart. PR, FCIPR

As you may be aware, the CIPR elections are in full swing. For transparency, Peter Holt is standing as a candidate for President. This blog post is not an endorsement of Peter or any other candidate.

Please check out the CIPR elections page for further information about the candidates standing for election.

If you are a CIPR member, please remember to have your say and vote by Friday 16 October.