CIPR needs a preacher to convert us

These are tough but heady times for public relations. Tough because of all the change that’s going on around us as the greater commercial potential of what we do becomes clearer, and heady for the very same reason.

Which is why the election for the presidency of the CIPR this year is seeing more comment and seems to have attracted greater focus then in recent years. The contest between Dr Jon White and Stephen Waddington seems to pit two different kinds of practitioner against each other. Similarities perhaps, but one very much a moderniser prepared to stick his neck out, and the other seemingly favouring leadership by consensus.

Firstly, let me identify – loud and clear – a reason why this post may well be tainted: I have known and worked with Waddington for the best part of 20 years, while I’ve never even met Dr White. Big, fat, overpowering disclaimer right there.

For that reason, I’ve hesitated in writing this post. I couldn’t see a way of doing it without urging ‘Stephen knows what he’s doing, has the industry’s best interests at the centre of his heart and won’t rest until he has made a difference’. But I’ll try.

Here’s a honest assessment of the two candidatures on pixels. Firstly, Jon White’s statement impressed me by being progressive and shrewd. It touts a balanced, measured and sensible approach to capitalising on the CIPR’s progress of recent years by listening to members, assessing needs and then acting on them accordingly. It centres on the PR 2020 report, which seems wholly comprehensive and charts in good outline the challenges that opportunities of public relations today, and how to address them. In short, a proven methodology and it leaves no stone unturned.

By some contrast, Stephen Waddington’s statement is starker and, dare I say, bolder. I’d expect nothing less from him. Phrases like “shift from a craft to a profession”, “assert the role of public relations as a management discipline” and “displace Max Clifford as the mouthpiece” are vintage Waddington. He has also been true to his ‘manifesto’by engaging in debate with the industry rather than just publishing a manifesto– sleeves rolled up, dived in head first. Compare the extent to which the two have engaged in debate in the industry in recent years and Waddington clearly has an extensive track record with probably more content contributed and more ground covered than the very vast majority of his peers. Even if I had to tell him occasionally that the world might get fed up of seeing that big bald head on their screens all the time.

Anyway, it’s a competition between two guys who clearly know their onions and have set their sights on driving further change within the CIPR to build on its transition in recent years. Bring it on. Waddington, though, seems to have set our more clearly not just what we would do, but how he would drive through change and why that continued evolution is needed.

Waddington is one of the biggest preachers we have in PR about the opportunities this industry faces and what it needs to do to capitalise. He’s preaching, though, to an audience that may get it, but needs to be persuaded to sign up fully to the heady changes that are, I believe, inevitable.

The preacher is often preaching to the converted, but he’s got a good deal more people to convert yet.

Best of luck to both and thanks for giving us a contest worthy of an industry in transition.

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