There is a post on the very busy Facebook group: “Freelance PRs” in which someone asks: “Just wondering – are many of you CIPR members and do you think it is worth joining?” My instant reaction was: “ Yes I am, and Yes it is worth joining”. This got me thinking about why … my reasons were too lengthy for a response on Facebook … hence this post.
Interest declared: I am on the CIPR Board and Council and chair their Professional Development and Membership Committee. I am therefore very pro-CIPR! I also specialise in PR for membership organisations … so am very pro-membership in general!
I only joined CIPR once I became freelance (in 2004) – I didn’t feel the need when I worked in-house. I believed then (and still do) that having the letters MCIPR after my name gives me added credibility. Most people in business recognise that to be a member of a professional body, especially one that has a Royal Charter, means an individual adheres to a level of professionalism and abides by a code of conduct. There is also recourse if that individual does something unethical … an added safety net for the employer or client.
I did not engage with the CIPR at all for a good few years but still paid my membership fee without hesitation every year believing the ability to use MCIPR and the edge it could give me over the competition was worth the investment (not the expense … a subtle difference). Most of us will only need to work a few hours – less than a day for sure – to pay the annual fee.
PR training and skills
I come across many PR people (in person, stories from clients and when I judge PR awards) who do a shockingly bad job and tarnish the good name of what Public Relations can and does achieve – I get particularly exasperated with those who practice on the basis of Public Relations = Media Relations – and I do not want to be tarred with the same brush. Keeping my skills up-to-date via training makes sure I know what is considered best practice and that I am able to apply this to my clients. Opening my clients’ eyes to the possibilities of PR in its wider sense is what gives me a buzz.
When I joined the CIPR, training was prohibitively expensive and I could not work out a way of completing my CPD without paying circa £500 a day … so I didn’t do any. Now, with the many changes in the CIPR CPD programme, it is easy to complete the CPD requirements for free. Now, when I want to learn about something the first place I turn to is the CIPR CPD library and I have always found something on current thinking and practice which has helped.
The pinnacle of being a member of any Chartered body is to achieve Chartered status. At the end of last year the CIPR amended the assessment criteria to make it far more accessible and I am one of the first to have come through the new process – 24 members have so far been made Chartered Practitioners since November. The assessment is taxing and gruelling, but I am a better practitioner because of the self-analysis and reflection the assessment required me to do.
Some of the comments left on the Freelance PRs Facebook post did make my heart sink – naming no names. Being a member of a professional body, or any membership organisation for that matter, requires more than a pay-your-fee-and-take-your-chances to maximise the benefit of membership and give you the value of the investment. There is lots on offer for members, at no extra fee to that paid as a subscription, but you have to go and look for what you need. Sitting back and waiting for something to happen is a waste of time and money and I am not surprised that people say they found no value in their membership if this is their approach – and this applies to every membership organisation, not just the CIPR.
Be the best you can be
As a PR practitioner you need to continually scan the horizon to make sure that what you know is making you the best you can be for your employer or client, otherwise you will stagnate. The world in which PR people operate is constantly changing and we need to keep up … or we should quite rightly shrivel up and fade from view. By engaging with the CIPR you learn from your peers through reading award-winning case studies, watching webinars, downloading best practice guides, attending networking events, hearing members speak about their experiences at sectoral / regional group meetings, etc. If you think you know everything you need to know, or will ever need to know, then membership may not be for you.
Membership is not all about learning and development. There is also practical help, for example in the shape of the business, ethics and legal helplines. It makes business life a lot easier by having a specialist to turn to for advice and is especially valuable for freelancers who don’t have the resources at their disposal that colleagues working in agencies or in-house have.
Be loud and proud
Some of the comments added to the Facebook post said they had never been asked if they were a CIPR member, so did not feel it was worth being a member. I have never been asked outright, but I always volunteer this information whether the person I am speaking to thinks they need to know … or not! I am proud to be a member and in my creds / pitch documents I make it very clear that I am a member of the CIPR (and also CIM) and give a link to the CIPR Code of Conduct.
My top 5 reasons for being a CIPR member
- Credibility from having MCIPR after my name – this may or may not get me a job, but if it gets my foot in the door which I may not otherwise have had, is worth the membership fee alone
- Credibility from being a Chartered PR Practitioner and this validation of my skills, knowledge and understanding of the context of what I do. Being a chartered PR is a message to those who employ me that I practice to the highest standard and is a badge which shows I am committed to life-long learning and development to be at the top of my game.
- Access to training that I know is up-to-date and reflects current best practice … to be able to access many examples for free is a bonus
- A commitment to personal professionalism – I read a definition of professionalism once which perfectly sums up my reason for being a member of two professional bodies: “Professionalism is a person’s willingness to pursue professional development opportunities that will continue to improve skills within the profession”. I do not want to lag behind and see others getting jobs over me because I was not proactive in becoming better in my chosen career
- Access to free business, ethics and legal helplines and contract templates – rather than engage a solicitor to draw up a legal contract, the CIPR provides a template which I adapt for each new client / project. I had an issue with a client saying they would not pay for work – the legal helpline gave some valuable advice … and I got paid.
What it boils down to for me, and the reason I continue to pay my subscription without hesitation, is that I know I am better at what I do and how I do it because I am a member of the CIPR. I have a wider vision of the PR landscape and what is possible, than the narrow perspective I had before joining. You get out what you put in and for a member to sit back and not engage will mean they get little value for money – I liken this to when I was a member of the National Trust and rarely visited the properties, say only once or twice a year, and wondered why I bothered paying year after year. Why indeed? Well, I stopped paying as my inaction meant I gained little / no value.
64p a day
For what equates to 64p a day, I believe I get immense value out of my CIPR membership. For you? Well, membership means different things to different people, but rather than asking why should you be a member, perhaps you should ask, why should you NOT be a member? I would like to see membership being opt-out rather than opt-in … all people working in PR are members of the CIPR unless they opt-out because they do not want to be a PR professional.