Frustrating. That’s probably the best word to describe the chaos that is this year’s CIPR elections. Others I’ve heard used in the last week include shambolic, childish, embarrassing and pathetic. But I’m going with frustrating. For now.
Ahead of Andy Green publicly withdrawing from the presidency election on Friday, I’d already heard heavy criticism for the manner in which both he and Jason Mackenzie (the two candidates) were conducting themselves. The nature of some of the Twitter exchanges and tactics being used was described to me as “playground antics” and “not doing anyone any favours”.
I have to admit, I’d paid it little attention until I read the news that current CIPR President Sarah Pinch was forced to issue a statement stating that the organisation’s complaints and appeals process had been activated. “In this instance we have received notification of matters which, under the rules, will now be referred to an independent panel for adjudication”, she said. “An outcome may include a result or a decision to re-run the ballot.”
Jeesh. Just in case you need reminding, this is from the industry’s ‘professional’ body.
Being of curious nature, I did a little digging; asking around among people I know who may be closer to the election than me. I’ve only scratched the surface, but some of the stuff I’ve heard is nothing short of astounding. Boy, would I not want to be Sarah Pinch right now!
One person, who was originally considering running for presidency and who initially sought out my feedback on their manifesto (they asked to remain anonymous), said to me that they had decided not to continue after “a smear campaign was run against me which I feared would harm my career”.
What?! This is an election for CIPR President, not Prime Minister!
Someone else, who also preferred to remain anonymous, pointed me towards a particularly hostile blog post that instantly swayed their vote to the opposing candidate.
It’s astonishing, it really is!
This behaviour verges on making the public relations representative body a laughing stock. It undermines the entire industry and it’s potentially damaging not only for those involved (like I say, poor Sarah Pinch!) but also for anyone associated with the CIPR.
“This is why I could never join a membership organisation like this”, says communications consultant Sean Fleming. “There could never be enough transparency to reassure me that things are being done properly. There’s also the problem of the same little group of people supporting one another – it starts to look too cosy.
Can you imagine going to the CIPR for help/advice if you were having problems with your boss, and your boss was high-up in the CIPR? No, of course you can’t. With one or two notable exceptions, I wouldn’t trust any of them to do the right thing if the right thing meant not acting in their best interests.”
Matt Anderson, founder of Montage Communications, adds: “I don’t know what has gone on behind the scenes, but the result is something that is deeply worrying for an agency that is associated with the CIPR brand. My instinct is the only way forward is with complete transparency on what went wrong in the process and start the election again, with buy-in from all parties, to rebuild trust.“
This is a fair point. Would you vote for either of the candidates to represent you knowing all of this?
On the subject of transparency, Sarah Pinch was unable to comment given her current role, but pointed me to a Q&A published by the CIPR.
And by the way, the PRCA doesn’t get off scot-free here either. Check out these tweets from Director General of the PRCA, Francis Ingham:
I even received one myself, ironically while uploading this very part!
Smug? Childish? You decide.
Another CIPR & PRCA member said to me that they believe there are fundamental issues with both organisations: “Both have their positives and negatives. It’s sad that more members don’t want to stand for the CIPR presidency [Ed: assuming the result stands, this will be the third year in a row that the presidency will be uncontested], but at the end of the day, what can you really achieve as President?”
It would appear that there’s been a serious lack of perspective this year. What really, really frustrates me personally is that way back in July 2012 I wrote a post entitled ‘I’ll Tell You What’s Bloody Wrong With PR’. Within this post I said: “PRs themselves are to blame for the industry’s poor reputation. We fight, we bicker, we try to redefine ourselves to make ourselves seem relevant when we should simply be getting on and doing the job at hand. Step away from it and look from the outside and it’s like a schoolyard.”
Fast forward three years – THREE YEARS! – and look where we are. Pulling each other’s hair, calling each other names and giving each other wedgies.
Nothing has changed. Nothing.
We have a set of Barcelona Principles that have been revisited and updated but still have no metrics to report on! Huh?!
We have an article in The Guardian outlining how the CIPR has had to launch an(other) investigation following the production of a government leaflet that contained invented quotes from two non-existent claimants stating how great the benefits system is. What?!
We have an industry that still has no professional standard. Any man and his dog can set up as a public relations practitioner. And from what I’ve seen, often do! I mean, seriously?!
I’m sure it’s true that to people outside the industry, no-one cares about the CIPR elections or the inner turmoil. In fact, I’m sure that’s true for many, many people within the industry too. Many I know see both the CIPR and the PRCA as a complete irrelevance. I wish I felt that way, to be honest. Believe me that I wouldn’t be spending my time writing this if that were case! But unfortunately I do care about the industry I’ve been a part of for the last fifteen years. I’d assume if you’re reading this, then you must too.
So I’m going to leave you with a question, and I’d dearly love to hear some thoughts on this: where on earth do we go from here?