Future skills, influence, Romans and cement

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Apart from sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, public health and social media what have the Romans ever done for us?

Eagle-eyed Monty Python fans may notice that I’ve taken a bit of licence with that quote to get into the spirit of a fascinating and wide-ranging session with Stephen Waddington (@wadds) on the future skills needed by professional communicators.

It was great to hear from the new president of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) at what was once the frontier of Roman Britain and talk through PR issues as varied as the Roman origins of social media and this week’s cement-gate on the London Underground.

It was great to have such a senior figure in Newcastle, with Wadds making good on his commitment as president to empower the regions right across the UK.

He told an enthusiastic audience that PR has reached a tipping point where it was essentially splitting in two – with the traditional craft element on one side and the strategic advisers in another.

Skills and professionalism were the two key themes of the session and despite the challenges and pace of change there’s a real feeling that now is the time for the industry to get on the front foot.

As practitioners strive for greater professionalism the modern world means that skills are becoming just as important as experience, with PR techniques and social media increasingly having an impact on different parts of the business like HR and finance.

One of the key opportunities comes with the explosion in metrics now available thanks to social media and this now means that it’s easier than ever to understand the motivation of audiences in real time.

However, he urged PRs to move away from the meaningless, “proxy measures” of the past and ensure that comms work demonstrably reflects what the business wants to achieve.

There was another look back to history talking about the pioneers of early PR who were much more interested in using psychology and the social sciences to influence publics – skills which social media is bringing back up the agenda.

He identified the key challenges as creating new workflows that meet the speed and demands of social while moving to a multi-media, multi-platform world for professionals who are largely more comfortable with crafting words rather than images, videos and content.

The key message though was one of skills and it’s clear that Stephen will build his presidency around the mantra ‘never stop learning.’

We’re in safe hands.

The presentation was arranged by CIPR North East ( @CIPR_NorthEast) and you can see more details from Stephen Waddington here

6 thoughts on “Future skills, influence, Romans and cement

  1. Great post Ross, it sounded like a constructive conversation and good event. I saw a couple of Tweets about it and contacted Stephen yesterday with a follow up question and to get his thoughts. I’ll get to that discussion shortly but first, I recently read a couple of articles relevant to your post and Stephen’s mantra of ‘never stop learning’.

    The first was by Euan Semple on the comms2point0 blog about local authority. In it Euan, suggests that public sector organisations will increasingly need to change if they want to stay relevant. This is perhaps relevant for other organisations, businesses and PR agencies too. No shocks there then but what struck me in his post is Euan inadvertently described what my job in PR/comms has morphed into; “encouraging engagement in topics or activities, helping people find their way around subjects and encouraging them to take responsibility”. That could apply to a fair few people I know.

    The second article was by Tim Rayner. Titled ‘Becoming a meaning maker’ it includes the following;

    “We get caught up in being this or that kind of professional identity. We define ourselves through our jobs and roles. While we can and do find meaning in professional roles, we should never forget that they don’t define our full scope of possibility. We must be prepared to disrupt ourselves every now and then in order to see the unexpected opportunities in daily events and take our lives in new directions”

    I identify with that.

    I see the tipping point and identify with Stephen’s reference to PR splitting into the craft side and the strategic adviser role and the blurring with HR and finance, specifically contributing to organisational development and culture change. Perhaps working in a more collaborative and networked way will bring about a blurring of professions? Does it matter if clients get added value from engaging in our wider skills and experience. I’m thinking the emphasis on how we are found will change so that we are increasingly located by ‘what we do’ and ‘how we can help’ more than by the traditions or by job titles? And how does this affect the separate chartered bodies.

    I respect the CIPRs role in striving for greater professionalism; I was a member for a few years but for various reasons including my perception of reduced relevance, I didn’t renew my membership last year. This might be semantics but perhaps the use of the term ‘practitioner’ and referring to people as ‘PRs’ actually doesn’t help. Does referring to people as ‘PRs’ even make sense? Is this part of the ‘meaningless’ that needs to be removed, part of the new learning.

    My question to Steven yesterday was specifically about this. As that was a private discussion I’ll not disclose the conversation. Maybe Stephen would like to expand here.


    1. Thanks Phil, I think this is the longest comment I’ve ever had on a post.

      Some great thoughts, ideas & questions in there (most of them I probably can’t answer!)

      Completely agree with the two points you make around change and identity – I feel that happening every day in my own role.

      Having worked in just about equal parts private & public one thing I would say about that is we often worry too much on job titles & strict definition of roles at local authority. At the extreme end of the scale it’s why we regularly get those ‘non-job’ headlines about stupidly officious job titles.

      In honesty I’m less worried about what I’m called – whether I’m a PR or practitioner or comms person makes no odds to me (but that’s just a personal thing).

      I can’t answer for the CIPR but I certainly take your point about that. I know Stephen and the new chief exec have some exciting plans for the direction of the organisation. Personally the thing I find useful are the networks and connections I make through membership & the excellent local events like the one yesterday.

      As ever Phil – Thanks for thoughtful debate.


      1. The majority of my comment came from a similar post on my own blog. http://wp.me/s2toTS-700 I agree with you about a useful network and connections but think there are alternatives for that aspect. Comms2point0 and LGcomms for instance offer content, shared learning, events; less fomal professional development maybe but that works for me and possibly others too, public and private. Chartered bodies have to recognise that. I still respect what the CIPR tries to achieve. I never say never, but not relevant enough for me at present.


  2. Thanks for the blog Ross, and the comments Phil.

    I have a similar story to Phil.

    I fell out with the CIPR when former director general Colin Farringdon dismissed social media as a fad in 2006.

    I resigned and spoke out critically for a couple of years about the organisation and its’ failure to embrace social forms of media as part of professional practice.

    Jay O’Connor’s appointment as President in 2010 marked a turning point. She asked Rob Brown to set up the Social Media Panel and I re-joined.

    There is much to do to modernise the organisation and ensure that it delivers value to members.

    I made a start last year when I set out then pledges to tackle as President. Please see: http://wadds.co/17ug8ki. This kick started an online conversation about the CIPR’s vision and purpose last year, and I was elected as President.

    As you so rightly point out Phil, in 2014 when it is so easy for people to form communities online, a professional association has to have a very clear vision on purpose.

    My view is that the CIPR’s purpose lies in helping public relations shift from a craft to profession.

    The what-do-we-call-ourselves debate is rooted in this issue in my view.

    We reject the populist notion of public relations as spin and recognise the need to professionalise, but we aren’t wholly confidence of our value.
    We therefore lack clarity in describing our profession.

    My view is that public relations will become incredibly value to organisations by tackling the issues that it faces.

    We have never had such an opportunity to prove our value.
    Reputation is one of the most critical issues facing organisation. Advertising, digital and marketing simply haven’t got the skills to advise organisational leaders on how to tackle reputational issues.

    Secondly, as social forms of media impact every operational area of an organisation from customer service to sales, and from human resources to product development, public relations practitioners should be front and centre.

    We need to seize the opportunity. That’s my focus day-in day-out in my professional work at Ketchum, and ultimately as President of the CIPR for 2014.

    Please be sure to check in throughout the year. We won’t achieve everything that I’ve set out but we’ll make a good start.

    Thanks again for the write-up and comment.

    All the best,


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