Walking with dinosaurs?

SimonGeneral9 Comments

I’ve just joined the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). I paid my dues a few weeks back and a thick membership pack arrived on my doorstep on Friday.

Over the past month a lively debate has been taking place among bloggers, triggered by comments made by the institute’s director-general Colin Farrington. His initial piece was published in the institute’s magazine and is available here.

In the latest issue of Profile, the institute’s magazine (and my first as a member!), Colin continues the theme in a similar vein.

I’m not going to go into the pro-social media (and especially pro-blog) arguments here as they’ve already been far more capably articulated by others – including Neville Hobson, Simon Collister and Richard Bailey.

Stuart Bruce raises an interesting point in his post – he questions whether as director-general of the institute, Colin has the right to put forward such arguments without the members or decision-making parts of the organisation having agreed a policy. I guess in much the same way as the government and civil service work – politicians set the policy, civil servants deliver it.

For me the question isn’t the rights and wrongs of the debate, although as I’m writing this on my blog you’ll probably work out which side of the fence I’m on. My concern is more how this reflects the thinking and direction of the organisation I’ve just joined. I wanted to join the institute as my work is more and more PR-led now, having started off with a pure marketing background (and having been a Chartered Institute of Marketing member for some years).

I joined CIPR to further my professional development in the PR field, and to become more connected to the PR scene. All the way through my career I’ve enjoyed working at the leading edge of marketing and communications channels. I like the challenge of applying emerging technologies to mainstream communications challenges.

I don’t know enough about the way the organisation works to know whether Colin’s comments should concern me or not. He’s entitled to his opinions, and there’s nothing wrong with sounding a note of caution just as some very wise people probably did before the internet bubble went pop.

I’d like to think that Colin’s views are trying to stimulate a wider debate among CIPR members about the way PR can use social media. At the moment the discussion is probably among people who are already using social media, making the conversation somewhat one-sided. The fact that the CIPR president, Tony Bradley, blogs and that there’s a suggested (light-hearted) tension there, points to an attempt to push a discussion I suspect.
I’m just not entirely comfortable with Colin pushing his views in this way. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be representative of the membership, and being director-general isn’t a personal platform for image making. It’s about running the organisation for the members (and doing it very well from what I understand).

So in joining CIPR am I really walking with dinosaurs? Many of the bloggers I read and respect their professional views are CIPR members so I doubt it. I just hope I’m proved right and my annual fee is worth it.

9 Comments on “Walking with dinosaurs?”

  1. Simon Collister

    Thanks for the link, Simon.

    I think your views are spot on. There is so much wrong with the whole situation it does dishearten me – especially as a CIPR member.

    Things such as I haven’t been on a CIPR training workshop in over a year and now find all that I need and want to know via the internet and blogs in particular is starting me to question whether is membership worth it?

    As a member I certainly don’t want to hear its DG mouthing off – and that’s simply what it was. True. Criticism of social media and its real value in PR is worth every word, but Colin’s piece was like an oped from the Mail!

    This time I haven’t posted about his comments. Partly because he demonstrates his own ignorance capably, but partly because after the last efforts he emailed my boss asking questions as to an employers responsibility over employees who blog – specifically me. I didn’t want to create more agro for my employer.

    The CIPR needs to think about Colin’s continued personal tirade and ask whether he is accurately representative of the CIPR and its memebrship.

  2. David Phillips

    Perhaps it is time for the games to stop. Being provocative about blogs a year ago was OK. Today blogs are a fact of a communicator’s life and our interests should now extend to the many other forms of Social Media.

  3. Paul Roberts, Head of Membership, CIPR

    Welcome to CIPR membership, Simon. The Institute takes social media seriously – that’s why in the very same issue of Profile there were two articles (by Stephen Davies and Torin Douglas) about the communication opportunities and benefits of blogging. That’s also why we’ve launched PRvoice, the CIPR President’s blog. But we also recognize that debate is healthy and we want to inform our members about blogging by giving them various viewpoints so they can make their own decisions on the subject. Colin Farrington is voicing his own personal opinion in his Profile column – it’s not CIPR policy and doesn’t claim to be but it does give members another opinon to consider.

  4. Simon Wakeman

    Thanks for the comment Paul – the fact that you picked up my post and took the time to reply is a positive sign for me.

    While I take your point about Colin’s views being his own, not CIPR policy, owing to the position he holds his views are naturally seen by most audiences to represent the organisation.

    There aren’t many instances where an organisation’s senior leader can express a personal opinion without it being seen as representative of the organisation’s view.

    I look forward to contributing to the debate from within CIPR – after all blogs are only one form of social media that are rapidly being added to toolkits of PR practitioners.

  5. Simon Collister

    Good to see the CIPR joining the debate. And Paul is right: members do need to weigh up the arguments for and against social media – I think everyone who has expressed concern at Colin’s views has (or I’m sure would) agree.

    But Colin’s views in the current Profile don’t actually express a reasoned argument. He just dismisses blogging out of hand which has been one of the main problems.

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  7. David Brain

    Paul it is indeed good to see you here and joining in on behalf of the CIPR, but the position that the Director General’s views in an editorial piece in the Institute’s own magazine are somehow totally separate to those of the organisation he is leading is ridiculous. Blogging and social media are the biggest new opportunities we as an industry have had for as long as I have been in it, but we are competing with ad agencies and management consultants and our industry leaders need not to be aware of this. Colin’s remarks paint us in a bad light and I believe disadvantage us in the competition to be seen as the best guide for our clients in these new areas.

  8. Simon Wakeman

    Hi David – thanks for your comment. I agree entirely with your comment about industry competition in social media.

    Having come into this business from a marketing background, I’m very aware that marketing agencies and indeed some tech players are also trying to position themselves as social media specialists.

    The commercial winners in this space will be those who can combine strategic understanding of the channels, with the creative and technical ability to deliver.

    I think public relations agencies are well-placed to do this, but need industry and professional body support to do achieve this in the eyes of their clients (and potential clients).

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