So you think you’re a marketing or public relations professional? Think again

Stephen Waddington is partner and chief engagement officer at Ketchum and visiting professor at Newcastle University.

Marketing and public relations can have qualities of professionalism but they’re a long way from being professions.

Sky’s chief marketing officer Stephen van Rooyen has recently been promoted to chief executive of UK & Ireland.

It's unusual for a marketing person to get the top job. It'd be even more exceptional for a public relations person – although the British prime minster David Cameron is clearly an exception to that rule.

The leader of modern organisations is typically an accountant or lawyer.

Van Rooyen’s track record at Sky since 2006 speaks for itself, and his education is a damn sight more robust than your typical marketing or public relations executive. He has a degree in commerce and law, an intensive certificate in professional development from Wharton.

But there’s another reason that appointments such as van Rooyen’s aren’t more commonplace. Marketing and public relations lack the characteristics of professions such as accountancy, medicine and law.

I spent some time investigating this issue as president of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations in 2014. There are five defining characteristics for a profession.

1. Barrier to entry

Formal qualifications and a conversion into practice mark out professions such as accountancy, architecture and medicine. There is no such requirement for education and formal training in public relations.

There’s a related entirely contradictory point. A profession should represent the publics that it serves yet the bid to improve diversity by opening up new channels to the profession is inconsistent with creating a barrier to entry.

2. Community of practice

A healthy exchange between academic research and practice enables an industry to continually progress. In marketing and public relations the two areas operate as separate islands with limited interchange. As a result practitioners fail to benefit from a huge body of research and academics rarely see their theories played out in practice. Image if this happened in medicine.

3. Body of knowledge

Accountants and management consultants aren’t shy of sharing predictive or theoretical models.

In marketing and public relations a SWOT analysis is the beginning and end of planning for the majority of practitioners. That has to change.

4. Ethical framework

Public relations practitioners are frequently cited as the conscience of an organisation. Yes we consider the impact on the broader stakeholder environment but we don’t have an exclusive claim on efficacy.

Codes of conduct exist in marketing and public relations are entirely voluntary, upheld by professional member organisations or trade associations.

5. Continuous professional development (CPD)

How do you train in a profession where the skills you learn are likely to outdated before you complete the qualification or training programme? Continuous training integrated with your personal development is the only solution.

My view is that marketing or public relations won’t get more than an occasional seat in the boardroom until its adopt the discipline and rigor of other professionals.

In the last two years the Chartered Institute of Marketing and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations have upgraded their CPD systems. Both organisations offer qualifications, a robust CPD system and a professional development path to Chartered Status and beyond.

It’s a work in progress.

Stephen Waddington is chief engagement officer at Ketchum and visiting professor in practice at Newcastle University. He tweets @wadds

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