The CIPR’s annual State of the Profession report was published last week. As you may have read in the trade press, the headline finding was that Public Relations is a profession dominated by privately educated white people. Who would have thought!
Twenty years or so ago I worked briefly in a PR consultancy in central London. My colleagues were exclusively white, posh and quite frankly not very good at PR. One morning in the office I mentioned an interview I’d heard on the Today programme and was told by a senior colleague that he never watched that show. I remember a young woman called Tamsin asking me what plans I had for the weekend. I mentioned something about going to the cinema or a curry house and she replied that she was off to a hunt ball!
I’ve spent most of my career in the public sector where PR staff generally come from a wider social range, but even here there are issues. In the press office of one of the London local authorities I worked for I was surprised to find that I was the only person there who had attended a state school. In case you were wondering, it was a solidly Labour inner city borough.
It’s hardly surprising that the public view our profession as elitist and out of touch when far too often that is the reality. There are a number of reasons for this. For a start most PR jobs, particularly in the agency sector, are filled via the old boy network rather than by being openly advertised. I’ve even come across this practice in the public sector.
I am also very disturbed by the recent growth in unpaid internships which even some public and voluntary sector bodies are now offering. This obviously discriminates against those people from poorer backgrounds who understandably can’t afford to spend several months working full time for no salary.
The best PR operations are those which reflect society and have staff from a wide range of backgrounds. We can hardly put out messages to the public which promote inclusivity and equality of opportunity when we as a profession obviously haven’t got our own house in order.