IPR/DTI Report Overview
Michael Murphy FIPR, Chair, IPR/DTI Steering Group
IPR Conference ‘Unlock Your Potential: Key Factors for PR Success’ on
Wednesday 12 November 2003
Note: This speech should be read in conjunction with the accompanying powerpoint presentation, available
from the IPR website at www.ipr.org.uk/unlockpr
When I took a call, back in January, from IPR Director General Colin Farrington
inviting me to lead a Group charged with steering a best practice project on the UK
public relations industry, I was taken aback to say the least but responded positively
and without hesitation.
Colin explained that it had been 10 years since the last major report on the UK public
relations industry and that the IPR had obtained a ‘green light’ from Trade and
Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt MP to jointly fund a fresh study.
We cast our net high and wide to form a cross-representative Steering Group of
As hoped, the Group we established proved to be a highly intelligent, articulate and
demanding bunch, as I’m sure our appointed consultants to the study – the European
Centre for Business Excellence – would agree.
Project objectives agreed by the DTI and the Steering Group were to:
• Examine what constitutes good practice in public relations
• Raise awareness of good practices across the industry
• Recommend actions to support further development of PR good practices
In effect our recommendations, which I’ll outline at the end of my presentation,
provide the blueprint for a 5-year plan to help drive the productivity and
competitiveness of our industry.
At its first meeting in February, the Steering Group agreed a study process designed
to draw out valid conclusions about the state of PR practices across the industry.
Thanks, in part, to PR Week, our call for co-operation, particularly on completing the
surveys, elicited a fantastic response from the industry.
On behalf of the Steering Group I’d like to thank the total of nearly 1,000 practitioners
who, at different stages of the project, gave willingly of their time to make the report
The in-depth interviews we conducted and the industry focus groups we ran across
the UK also provided a rich source of material to back-up the survey findings.
The outcome is a project report that is both statistically valid and reliably supported
by informed opinion.
In providing a generous ‘snapshot of the rolling wave’ that is our industry in the UK,
the Unlocking the Potential of Public Relations report inevitably presents a series of
Before I outline the recommendations the Steering Group has made, I’d like to
present a flavour of the top-line findings included in the report.
I must stress that the many findings should all be regarded as indicative and aimed to
identify themes and trends. We only have time to discuss some of them today, so I
hope that you will download the full report and recommendations from the IPR
Collectively, the report findings point to a management discipline that has come of
age…but still has some way to go.
For example, when asked ‘to what extent PR strategy supports overall organisational
strategy’, a majority of in-house practitioners felt their PR strategy fell somewhat
short of fully supporting their organisation’s overall objectives. And only 4% claimed
that their PR strategy fully supported the overall strategy
From this, and other findings in the report, it is apparent that our transition from
deliverers of messages to having a central role as business strategists still has some
way to go.
The detailed report findings show that, even in respect of news output, public
relations practitioners themselves still struggle to systematically demonstrate
outcomes that directly link cause to the effect of their PR work.
Respondents, however, reported a broad consensus about the main purposes of
Here is what they told us it is about.
On reading the report I was struck by just how many purposes ascribed to PR relate
to internally focused activities.
We undoubtedly add value to our clients and employer organisations but lots of the
value we create is hidden.
We play a tremendous role in building and brokering relationships: often it is only the
CEO and the PR director who have a good helicopter view of what’s really happening
inside and outside the organisation. But how often do we attribute value to this
knowledge-brokering role. Most times, because it is second nature to us, we take it
for granted and allow our employers’ to do the same.
We asked respondents to identify their PR priorities and we were then able to assess
how effectively they thought those same priorities are being achieved.
Overall, we found a broad consensus - a fair degree of satisfaction - that priorities are
But problem areas are also highlighted.
For example, this chart highlights the fact that there is notable room for improvement
and opportunities for consultancies both to provide more and better services in
relation to internal communications and to contribute strategically to the corporate
social responsibility agenda.
This further finding shows that in the public sector there are real disparities between
claimed priorities and the quality of delivery on a number of issues: crises and issue
management , internal communication and, the external promotion of an
organisation’s mission and values
The study demonstrates a high degree of consensus amongst PR practitioners about
what constitutes good practice.
Some 120 individual elements of good practice were identified in the study covering
PR strategy, PR structure, organisation, commissioning and resources; PR research
and planning; PR professionalism, creativity and technology; and PR evaluation.
Taken together, these provide a powerful statement of the principles underlying good
PR practice and form the basis for a self-assessment framework against which PR
practitioners can consider their current practices and identify areas for improvement.
A particular area for improvement, as one might expect, is in the use of research to
underpin public relations activities.
Having rated audience research as ‘quite to very important’ across public and private
sectors, respondents rated their ability to effectively deploy audience research as
pretty average to say the least.
These findings, together with a range of findings about PR objective setting, planning
and strategy development, demonstrate that there is more to be done across the
industry to improve the application of research techniques.
The study reaffirms the need for public relations practitioners to be more capable
across a wide range of competency areas.
Interestingly this chart shows that an understanding of business strategy, planning
and budget management were seen as less important than other communication and
This may, in part at least, explain some other findings on perceived problems relating
to the consistent alignment of public relations strategy and business objectives, the
commissioning of public relations consultancy and the use of research.
There is also a need for real progress to be made on education and training.
The study found that less than 50% of consultancies and in-house organisations
appear to have formal training and development programmes.
Investing in PR talent – particularly in difficult economic times - is essential if public
relations is to become more effective at contributing to organisational goals and to
bottom line success.
Smart employers continue to invest in staff, in order to reap the benefits today when
competition is tough, and tomorrow when the market inevitably picks up.
And it seems from the study that better times may be not too far around the corner.
Respondents expressed an upbeat assessment of future prospects for industry
In-house practitioners were generally bullish about the future commitment of their
organisation to Public Relations. Around half in both the private and public sectors
expect resources devoted to in-house PR will increase, while one in six or fewer
expect they will decrease.
The cost-effectiveness of PR versus advertising and the increasing emphasis on
CSR were felt to be important factors.
Similarly, and I hope our next speaker Charles Watson agrees, there is a high
expectation amongst PR consultants that fee income will increase over the next five
years, with only 5% anticipating a decrease and 11% predicting that there will be no
However, it is clear as an industry that we have many issues and I believe that the
relative optimism expressed across all sectors of our industry can only be realised if
the challenges outlined in this report - its findings, conclusions and the Steering
Group’s recommendations - are collectively and systematically addressed.
I’d like now to outline the recommendations our Steering Group has made to
address the challenging issues the study has identified.
First, the Steering Group agreed that there is a massive need right across the UK for
greater understanding of the potential role of PR in improving business performance,
supporting the achievement of business objectives and in enhancing strategic risk
management. In short we need to raise awareness and understanding of the
importance of public relations as a management discipline.
The Steering Group has recommended 5 key actions to help meet those objectives,
The collation and promotion of resources and best practice on PR Return on
Investment and how Boards of directors and management teams receive and utilise
public relations advice and support to meet their business objectives.
Second, the report findings consistently identified the need to extend best practice
work on PR purchasing and supply to improve the quality of PR briefs and objective
setting, and ultimately the quality of client/consultant relationships..
Third, the Steering Group felt that more could be done to promote learning about
what PR can really achieve. So we have recommended the establishment of a UK
PR best-practice case study bank to be developed in association with the European
Case-Study Clearing House, which adapts case studies across all business
disciplines to fit MBA and business course requirements.
In July the IPR, in association with Business in the Community and MORI, published
a leading-edge report on private sector non-financial reporting. This report pre-empts
changes to company law being announced in the Queen’s Speech later this month.
As the legislation is expected to affect both the public and private sectors, the
Steering Group recommends that the IPR also commits itself to a project developing
non-financial reporting best practice across the public sector.
Finally, the Steering Group recommends new initiatives on PR planning, research
and evaluation – the tools by which the true potential of PR can be unlocked and
The second area addressed reflects the report findings about how PR is generally
The negative PR spin stories of recent years have tarred our entire industry with one
brush – damaging relationships and reputations, and undermining our perceived
value and intrinsic worth.
Good PR is only credible when it develops the trust and integrity upon which
relationships depend. We all know that, by developing dialogue, PR has the potential
to be a powerful force for good in society: communicating awareness and
understanding of business and organisational goals, communicating governance,
and communicating transparency. These factors greatly affect consumer spending;
regional, national and international investment; and the prospects for longer-term,
The Steering Group therefore recommends that:
The PR industry bodies should agree and promote standard ethical clauses in client-
consultant and employment contracts
A PR ethics module should be included in the IPR’s Continuous Professional
The IPR should commission a UK PR Industry Corporate Social Responsibility report
– an objective to which Chris Genasi, who was recently elected IPR President for
2005, has already committed
The Steering Group was very conscious that many of the findings in the report reflect
excellence in the public sector, where efficient and effective use of taxpayer’s money
translates into best value and best practice in communications.
The impact of news stories that have appeared during the lifetime of the report, made
our Steering Group acutely aware of the impact of the Government’s own use of
communications on civil service communicators and public perceptions at large.
We believe that the Government has a responsibility to improve the proper role of
strategic communications within business, in public life and with regard to the
provision of public services.
While welcoming the Government’s commitment to a Civil Service Act and the interim
recommendations of the Phillis Review of Government Communications – which
should both help promote the role of civil service communicators - the Steering
Group has made the following recommendations:
The Government should commit to improved investment in communications
evaluation, communications training and professional body representation for all civil
service government communicators
Government should enhance the role of the National Audit Office to scrutinise public
expenditure on government communications – and this should be replicated across
the devolved nations and by other regulatory bodies
Government should also commit the new Permanent Secretary, Government
Communication to reporting annually to Parliament via the Public Administration
The Office of Fair Trading should examine the impact of the licensing and collection
agencies on the free-flow of information in the public relations industry
In respect of Government communications, the Steering Group wants our industry
bodies to commit to:
Continued dialogue with the Central Office of Information regarding its
communications agency roster
Working with the Office of National Statistics to improve information on PR industry
The report shows our Steering Group that more needs to be done on training and
skills acquisition - perhaps the single greatest challenge to our industry.
A lot of quality training is of course being provided and funded by PR employers, in-
house and in the consultancy sector led by the PRCA , as well as by the IPR through
its own diploma and higher education approved courses, and its Continuous
Professional Development programme for members.
But unlocking the future potential of PR requires a bigger commitment across every
sector of our industry, so that the quality of entrants to the profession and the quality
of work being undertaken both improve dramatically and consistently across the
The Steering Group has therefore identified the following recommendations for
A UK Practice Development Centre should be established to develop and promote
public relations management, practice standards and professionalism, and improve
relations between public relations academics and practitioners.
Clearly, there is lot of best practice out there …but we need a joined-up-and-thinking
profession that strives to improve the quality and status of what we do collectively.
Secondly, we need to do a lot more to vigorously promote ethics; planning, research
and evaluation; and procurement training
We ALSO felt that the public relations industry bodies should develop and share best
practice on human resources management .
Similarly, we believe the Institute of Public Relations should recommend work
placements on all its managed and approved public relations undergraduate courses.
Many courses do already include work placements but we need greater consistency
across all PR courses on offer so that graduates intending to enter the profession
realise what PR is like before they commit , and PR employers can spot and help
nurture PR talent on the way up.
The Steering Group also felt that the public relations industry bodies should develop
a ‘work placement charter’ for organisations offering undergraduate work placements
Too many PR employers take on thirsty young work placements but delegate only
the most menial of tasks.PR work placements should not be a way of obtaining
Finally on these issues, the Steering Group feels that more needs to be done to get
messages of best practice across to all of our students before they enter the industry.
The Institute of Public Relations should co-ordinate an industry ‘road show’ to
approved undergraduate courses – this should detail work on big issues like PR
planning, research and evaluation; PR ethics; and PR procurement. We’ve also
suggested that an annual competition element – for example, on developing a PR
campaign - is built into these events to really engage students’ attention.
The Steering Group also looked at the issue of industry representation.
As you are probably aware this report has been funded entirely by the IPR and the
DTI. However, it has been an industry wide effort - the PRCA Chairman has been an
active member of the project Steering Group and other PRCA members have
contributed a huge amount as have the CBI, members of the academic world and
We are a relatively small industry and given the many challenges we face it is
essential that all of us work together as we have done on this project to secure our
However, I think it is important to stress that working together does not necessarily
mean our industry being represented by only one organisation.
The PRCA and IPR play very different roles and I personally believe there is a need
for both of them to co-exist but work much more closely together minimising
duplication of effort.
I am delighted that there is a renewed spirit of co-operation ,led by the two current
Chairmen, John Aspery and Graham Lancester, and I hope that this report provides
additional impetus to that co-operation.
Importantly, the Steering Group felt that the industry bodies – including organisations
representing service providers to the PR industry - should develop a strategic plan to
improve how our industry is represented.
The Steering Group was interested to hear about and discuss the Institute of Public
Relations’ aim to develop the profession and obtain Chartered Status.
We feel that the IPR is already well down the road towards the granting of Chartered
Public recognition of professional status is a tremendous prize and one that we feel is
worthy of the Institute and its members, provided the Institute and its members - and
the wider industry - accept the many challenges that this report has identified.
We are keen for the industry to take time to consider the report and
We’d welcome further debate about the way forward and about how the IPR and
other industry partners can put into action a strategic 5-year plan that could be
formed from the Steering Group’s recommendations.
The IPR will widely disseminate the Unlocking the Potential of Public Relations report
and we encourage professionals and organisations to respond – through the IPR
website - to the Steering Group with views and thoughts on the report by January 12th
next year .
TheIPR/DTI Steering Group will meet again towards the end of January to consider
feedback and to discuss with the IPR its response to the recommendations.
IPR President John Aspery and Colin Farrington have already committed the IPR to
producing an Action Plan on the implementation of the report recommendations by
I welcome that resolve and hope the wider industry will also rise to the challenge.
This report and the recommendations it has produced have provided a blueprint for
sustained industry growth over the next five years. I’m confident that the industry –
working together - can unlock the full potential of public relations for the benefit of PR
clients and employers, and importantly PR professionals themselves.
All that remains for me to do is to thank our DTI funding partners, our consultants –
the European Centre for Business Excellence – and the Steering Group for their
tremendous collective efforts.