PR profession must work harder to “level up” – new CIPR research finds

The UK public relations profession must work harder to become more diverse or risks a skills and recruitment crisis warns new research from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).

The public relations industry employs nearly 100,000 people adding £16.7bn to the UK economy, but the research found it is facing a skills and recruitment shortage at the same time as being seen as out of reach by many potential recruits or simply not understood as a career by others.

The ‘Levelling Up Public Relations’ report – led by Nottingham-based communications consultancy BakerBaird and supported by Sheffield Hallam University – was funded under the CIPR’s Research Fund.

The research presents an in-depth examination of the make-up of the public relations workforce which focuses on the education and background of people in the profession and students hoping to join it. It finds a lack of diversity in public relations not just in terms of social class, ethnicity, gender, disability and age but also geographical location, education and accent. It finds;

  • 86% of respondents had a university education
  • Nearly a quarter of respondents feel that where they come from has an impact on career progression
  • More than half think being too young or too old also limits progress
  • A majority were unaware of public relations as a career until they were either at university or already working
  • There is a shortfall of around 13,500 people from wider socio-economic groups (over 10% of the entire workforce)
  • The majority of PR students think that they will have to move to a large city to find meaningful work

The report includes a number of recommendations as to how the industry can address this lack of diversity.

We know from the work of the UK2070 Commission, that regional inequalities are one of the greatest hurdles to opportunity, productivity and progress in our country.

The research carried out by the CIPR, BakerBaird and Sheffield Hallam University, is therefore welcome and important, and I hope it sparks a debate about how the industry can do more to give people and places across the country opportunities in PR and communications and ensure the richness of UK voices are properly heard.

A central purpose of communication is to give voice to a diverse range people and it has to be a cause for concern many of the people crafting those messages and leading the industry are from a comparatively narrow strata of society. This is not just about gender and ethnicity – it’s also about where people come from, because place matters and is a decisive factor in identity and outlook.

 The danger is that this has an unseen impact on the perspectives presented by that communication, failing to provide a full picture and risking its own form of exclusion.
Lord Kerslake, chair of the UK2070 Commission

Ours is an industry which communicates on behalf of clients to people from all backgrounds and all places. 

The most effective way to do that is to ensure that those backgrounds and places have a voice in the industry’s workforce, and that means bringing in policies and practices that enable greater access to the profession from a wider range of people. Stuart Baird, director of BakerBaird Communications, co-authored the report

Public relations is one of many professions that has a skills shortage. Yet this research suggests that a more diverse approach to the background of candidates may hold the key to both solving that shortage and ensuring that the messages the industry gives out more accurately reflect all of the perspectives in the world around it.
Natalie Gasson-McKinley MBE of the Federation of Small Business

Our research showed that over half of public relations students have parents who didn’t go to university and while these students are aiming high they may find that they still face barriers due to their social class or accent.

Practitioners who recruit and promote need to understand and be aware of potential bias in the recruitment process and draw from the widest pool of applicants if the business of public relations is going to thrive.
Elizabeth Bridgen, Principal Lecturer in Public Relations at Sheffield Hallam University

Visit the CIPR’s website to find out more about the Research Fund and to apply for a grant to conduct research. The deadline for the 2023 Fund is February 24.

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