It's a question that baffles undergraduates and even young PR practitioners. What's the difference between the CIPR and the PRCA? Because the question begs another: why does a small national industry/profession of some 50,000 practitioners need more than one professional body?
Historically, the PRCA (founded in 1969) split from the CIPR (the then IPR was founded in 1948) in order to represent the interests of public relations consultancies.
So for several decades, the difference was easily stated:
- The CIPR is a professional body representing individual members (up to 10,000 of them)
- The PRCA is a trade association for large PR consultancies (over 100 of them, employing some 5,000 people)
The distinction was a real one. This left the CIPR responsible for professional qualifications (such as the CIPR Diploma) while the PRCA focused on its Consultancy Management Standard.
Yet while understandable, it was not entirely satisfactory for an ambitious PR consultant whose employer pays one membership to the PRCA, but who still faces the individual choice of paying extra to join the CIPR. Nor was it necessarily in the wider interest of the professionalisation of public relations.
It's time to ask the question again: what's the difference between the CIPR and the PRCA because the distinction between consultancies and individuals no longer remains. Here's how the PRCA describes itself in its latest press release: 'the PRCA is the professional body that represents UK PR consultancies, in-house communications teams and PR freelancers'.
That includes individual members; that extends that definition of a consultancy to include in-house teams. So who does it exclude? Individuals working in-house in the public sector? Public relations lecturers?
Let's be clear. What's going on is a turf war. The CIPR has a Diploma; and so does the PRCA. One offers special interest groups; so does the other. There's a struggle to become the dominant professional body in our industry.
In this age of austerity, while it's fashionable to crush quangos, how much longer can we accept our money being spent on two London headquarters, two sets of management salaries, two overlapping initiatives in every aspect of the business?
In terms of free market competition, the winner is likely to absorb the loser. In terms of the wider public interest, it's a nonsense to have two competing bodies doing one thing (it weakens representation).
I call for a banging of heads together (except that the CIPR lacks a permanent head at present).