The CIPR: Everything You Need to Know

The leading professional institution for public relations in England is the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).

If the name rings a bell, it’s probably because their definition of public relations is quoted in PR blogs and articles around the world.

‘Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. Public Relations […] maintains goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.’

The CIPR is one of the most influential PR groups in England, so it’s worth learning about them. This post will cover everything, from their history and Code of Conduct, to their awards, and more.

But first, let’s look at what the CIPR is.

What is the CIPR?

CIPR discussion

The CIPR’s about us page says:

‘We are the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. We are the world’s only Royal Chartered professional body for public relations practitioners, with nearly 10,000 members.’

So let’s break that definition down.

A ‘professional body’ is an organisation for a specific profession. The Science Council, which licenses professional bodies in the field of science, maintains that professional bodies provide ‘an oversight of the knowledge, skills, conduct and practice of that profession or occupation’. An example is the Royal College of Nursing.

But what does the chartered bit mean? It’s the first thing you see in the CIPR logo and name, so it’s clearly important.

A chartered institute is an organisation that’s been granted a Royal Charter: ‘instruments of incorporation’ granted by the Queen and handed out by the Privy Council.

Each charter is different, but they’re only given to groups that are ‘pre-eminent in their field’. As a result, being a chartered institute is a mark of distinction. Many chartered groups, including the CIPR, give ‘chartered’ status to some of their members to indicate a high level of training and expertise.

In return, a Royal Charter contains objectives that the group has to follow. The BBC’s charter, for instance, says they have to stay impartial and represent a diverse range of views. Similarly, the CIPR has to:

  • Train PR specialists
  • Hold members to ethical standards
  • Act as an authority in case of industry disputes

This is what the CIPR is. Now here’s what it isn’t

For one thing, it’s not a union. The CIPR won’t organise a strike if a client stiffs you. For that, you want the National Union of Journalists. (Despite the name, the NUJ also supports PR workers).

It’s also not a trade association. A 2015 joint interview with the heads of the CIPR and the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) outlines the difference clearly. The CIPR’s Royal Charter means it serves the public, not businesses. The PRCA, however, can directly lobby the government on behalf of PR companies.

To learn more about the CIPR, let’s head back to 1948.

History of the CIPR

CIPR HQ building plaque

The CIPR was formed in 1948 as the Institute of Public Relations (IPR). According to the CIPR’s president, it was first proposed by Kenneth Day, who worked for Erith Borough Council. The IPR was a success, and grew from 125 to 3,000 members in its first 25 years.

As you’ve probably noticed, there’s no ‘C’ in ‘IPR’.

The Institute was rejected by the Privy Council in both 1956 and 2003. It took until 2005 for the Privy Council to decide that the Institute met the following criteria:

  • Representing the PR industry
  • Operating in the public benefit
  • Training and educating members
  • Using a Code of Conduct to keep members in line.

As a result, fifty years after its creation, the IPR finally became the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. Since then, the CIPR has continued to grow and now has around 10,000 active members.

It grew so much, in fact, that by 2019, the CIPR headquarters in London’s Russell Square was too small, and it had to move to the 85 Tottenham Court Road address nearby.

Despite CIPR’s London roots, the institute has sub-groups all over the UK. CIPR Northern Ireland and CIPR Wales, for instance, each have hundreds of members.

How the CIPR works

The CIPR is governed by a Board of Directors and a larger Council that advises the Board. Both the Board and the Council are elected from regular members.

CIPR membership breaks down into six ranks:

  • Affiliate: you’re interested in PR but don’t currently work in the field
  • Global Affiliate: same as above, but for non-UK residents
  • Associate: you’ve been working in PR for less than two years
  • Member: you’ve worked in PR for two years or more
  • Student: you’re currently in higher education
  • Fellow: you’ve been nominated by CIPR itself for a ‘significant contribution’ to PR

Most people fall into the affiliate, associate, member or student grade. The CIPR’s membership fees are based on rank: member is most expensive and student cheapest. But everyone has access to mostly the same benefits.

For example, every member goes on the CIPR’s ‘Public Relations Register’. The public can use this list to check the credentials of CIPR members, or anyone claiming to be one. Similarly, members gain access to CIPR CPD (also called MyCPD), a revolving door of personal development opportunities that can build into accredited status.

You can also work for the CIPR. Jobs with the organisation are home-based. Roles include helping CIPR members advance in their personal development or working on the group’s publications.

What does the CIPR do?

So what does the CIPR actually do? It can be hard to get your head around the concept of a group like the CIPR. But here are some concrete things the Institute does:

  1. Influences the industry with reports, conferences and publications
  2. Offers qualifications and training courses
  3. Uses award shows to celebrate good PR work
  4. Ensures members behave appropriately with the CIPR Code of Conduct.

Let’s look at each of those points in detail.

1. The CIPR’s influence on industry

The CIPR’s Royal Charter means they have an obligation to push the PR industry in the right direction. One way they do this is by producing reports that highlight industry issues. Their 2020 report, for instance, found a growing pay gap between men and women in PR agencies, while their 2019 report found that 21% of agency PR professionals suffer from severe stress. These reports give the industry clear goals to work towards, and also show the general public that PR isn’t the wild west: it’s regulated and measured like any other industry.

The CIPR also holds events to influence the industry. In 2019, for instance, CIPR Inside (a sub-group focused on Internal Communications-flavoured PR) held a conference which pushed practitioners to focus on case studies to drive success, rather than just talking about the same topics over and over.

Other CIPR conferences include the yearly National Conference, which gives a big-picture view of issues facing the PR profession. The 2020 event focused on how practitioners should respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

CIPR’s social media efforts include a host of Twitter accounts and profiles on LinkedIn and Facebook. The institute also runs a YouTube channel, with videos on their strategy for the coming years and teasers for CIPR training courses. An official podcast, named Engage, brings together PR experts to talk about topics like Covid-19 and racial discrimination in the industry.

As for old media, there are dozens of CIPR books, including several PR handbooks and the flagship Planning and Managing Public Relations Campaigns, plus their online Influence magazine. These publications keep members up-to-date with the world of marketing and current best practices.

Let’s now look at one of the most important parts of any professional body: getting a CIPR qualification.

2. Getting certified in public relations with the CIPR

CIPR graduates

You don’t need qualifications to start working in PR, but they show clients you know what you’re talking about. They’re only as good as whoever’s offering them, however. As the only chartered PR body, CIPR courses hold weight that nobody else’s do.

As a result, a CIPR diploma can open up doors to higher-paying jobs. According to CIPR president Sarah Hall in 2018, a CIPD qualification can add as much as £17,000 to your average salary.

If you’re not sure how getting a qualification ties into a PR career, read: How To Get Into PR.

The CIPR, of course, has its own reasons for getting people qualified. Besides enhancing their own reputation, it protects the industry by raising the bar for quality PR work. That’s why in 2018, for example, it joined forces with the PRCA to offer volunteering opportunities for young people.

So what qualifications does the CIPR offer?

One of the CIPR’s most popular courses is the general Professional PR Certificate (previously the CIPR Advanced Certificate in Public Relations). It’s aimed at building communication skills with practical, real-world assessments. Although it’s a post-grad course, you don’t need any prior qualifications to apply. Two years of employment in PR can also get you on the course.

There are also specialist courses, like the CIPR Internal Communications Diploma. Rather than covering PR as a whole, this degree focuses on internal PR within an organisation and its unique challenges. Similarly, the CIPR Public Affairs Diploma covers topics like government structures, democratic policy-making and political campaigning.

You don’t have to jump in with a post-grad degree like the CIPR Advanced Certificate, of course. There’s an A-level CIPR course, named ‘Foundation’, that takes just 20 hours to complete. It’s aimed at newcomers looking to break into the industry.

In terms of structure, CIPR training courses include a mix of online and in-person learning. Because CIPR qualifications are recognised worldwide, there are learning centres outside of the UK, in places such as Bahrain, Greece and Nairobi.

3. Getting awarded for your work by the CIPR

CIPR awards

Awards ceremonies are how professional bodies recognise good work in their industry. Awards are particularly important in the PR industry, as it’s a reputation-driven field. Winning an award will give you kudos among your peers and clients. Even if you don’t enter, CIPR events are great networking opportunities for meeting other PR professionals.

Here’s more on why awards matter: The Lowdown on PR Industry Awards

The CIPR Excellence Awards are the highlight of the CIPR’s year. Held in London, they recognise the best PR campaigns of the year. Winning campaigns excel in planning, creativity and how well they meet the client’s brief. You don’t have to be a member to enter, but there is a fee to apply. You also have to submit a 1000-word essay.

When it comes to the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, London is the main stomping-ground. The capital, however, can easily overshadow the good work done in the rest of the UK, which is why there are also the CIPR PRide Awards, which celebrate regional PR work.

In 2020, for instance, CIPR Midlands gave gold medals to small firms like WPR and Stone Junction, who wouldn’t have received any attention in a fully national competition.

Winning a CIPR award is a common point of pride for PR agencies. Cambridge firm Luminescence, for instance, made a front-page post on their website after their win.

4. Staying on the straight and narrow: CIPR’s Code of Conduct

Due to its Royal Charter status, all CIPR members have to follow its Code of Conduct. Barring members who break it is a way the PR industry regulates itself.

As an example, in 2019, the CIPR terminated the membership of Gillian Waddell. Waddell was the head of Fuel PR, which in 2015 pitched a story to newspapers featuring ‘Esme de Silva’. The story said Esme overcame a medical condition of excess sweating with an antiperspirant from Fuel PR’s client. De Silva, however, was a fake: they were actually one of Fuel PR’s senior executives.

Needless to say, this broke pretty much every rule in the book.

While it took the Institute a few years to make a judgement, the CIPR’s influence is so strong that her dismissal from the group completely slashed Waddell’s reputation.

The actual Code of Conduct isn’t difficult to follow. Here are the main points. You:

  • Can’t cheat or lie to your clients
  • Have to follow the laws of your client’s country, not just the UK
  • Can’t bring the profession into disrepute
  • Need to encourage professional training among other PR specialists
  • Have to report other members for breaking the code.

That said, these rules are the bare minimum. The CIPR has heaps of other ethical standards and best practices for its members to follow. These include a 2013 handbook on social media campaigns, a 2016 guide on using statistics honestly in PR, and a 2021 report on properly evaluating the outcome of a PR campaign.

CIPR and Wikipedia

In addition, the CIPR prides itself on taking editing online sources very seriously. This became relevant in 2019, after an advertising firm working for The North Face uploaded pictures of Brazilian landmarks to Wikipedia showcasing the brand’s logo.

That’s why the CIPR has a book on avoiding Wikipedia PR disasters, which covers topics like making articles for clients, disclosing conflicts of interest, and handling negative information on your clients’ pages. They’ve also produced a shorthand list of rules for using Wikipedia ethically.

Thanks to the CIPR, UK practitioners have a great set of resources for doing PR in a way that’s ethical and keeps their clients happy.

To find out more on the importance of ethics in PR, read: Ethics and PR: The Charlie Gard Case

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