Last week the 2016 CIPR elections culminated with Sarah Hall being voted in as President-Elect. Having got to know Sarah quite well this year after working with her on a couple of projects for #FuturePRoof, I asked if she’d answer a few questions on her nomination and the future of the CIPR. I was interested in how she found the election process and her views on how, or indeed whether, the CIPR needs an overhaul.
Here’s what she said…
First of all, congratulations! You appeared to be quite taken aback on the day the result was announced. How many G&Ts did you have that evening?!
Taken aback? I had to get someone else to read the email for me as I couldn’t process the words! And I saved the celebrations for Friday in Newcastle with friends. There is too much going on to get messy on a school night, but suffice to say we made up for lost time.
OK, down to business. There was a lot of controversy around last year’s ‘election‘. How did you find the process and the campaigning?
It’s clear the CIPR’s history with elections isn’t good but it is striving to improve. Admittedly there’s work to do and some of last year’s issues presented themselves again. Right now the Returning Officer is gathering feedback from all candidates (both President-Elect and Council) to understand where changes need to be made. I’ve fed back my views and hopefully the recommendations will be comprehensive. Everyone is united in the need to get this right.
One thing I did notice about this year’s result was that the voting turnout was just 13.5%, which is extremely poor. Why do you think that is?
My feedback to the Returning Officer is that the CIPR does not provide enough platforms for debate between candidates, making it difficult to achieve cut through to the membership and engage effectively.
The live hustings and video statements are to be welcomed but more thought needs to be given to the timings of these and how/when they are published.
Many members don’t know candidates and if we want them to vote, we have to ensure it’s clear what each person stands for and that it’s easy to access that information.
My personal impression is that after a very promising year under Stephen Waddington‘s stewardship, the organisation has failed to progress in the last two years and, if anything, has gone backwards. It seems an odd question to ask the President Elect, but do you think the CIPR has become marginalised and/or irrelevant?
You’re pulling no punches here! [Ed: You’re welcome 🙂 ] My view is that 2014 was a year in which, under Stephen’s leadership, the CIPR finally had a clear direction and members were excited by the opportunity for public relations and responded to his call to professionalise. Stephen returned the organisation to its purpose, as set out by Anne Gregory in the Charter ten years earlier.
Rob Brown shares this vision but while driving it forward has needed to spend much of this year building the Institute’s financial resilience after revenue dropped in 2015.
I’m lucky to be taking the reigns in the CIPR’s seventieth anniversary and I hope to use this as a platform to celebrate the excellent work carried out, widen the offer to appeal to the greater breadth of the industry and, as I’ve seen happen with #FuturePRoof, help practitioners feel proud of the work we do by positioning public relations as a strategic management discipline.
[Ed: easier said than done, unfortunately. Great cartoon below from Helen Reynolds ]
In your manifesto you talked about the CIPR actively demonstrating industry leadership and standing for important issues. What specific issues do you have in mind and how do you think addressing these will restore the CIPR’s reputation?
Well I’m a big believer in leading by example, so number one we need to be seen to embrace best practice. As such I intend to introduce a staff salary scale and diversity register and guidance so members can follow suit.
More than that, however, we need to have a much stronger voice generally on issues that impact us and the wider business community. If we demonstrate the value that PR adds, we’ll be taken much more seriously.
I plan to empower Board and Council members to become really vocal advocates and lead from the front.
As you know, my own area of specialism is digital communications. What’s your impression of how well the industry has and is adapting to the changing technological and media environment? Do you think more needs to be done in this area?
The pace of change and rate of introduction of new technologies has slowed a little but we are continually having to learn and upskill and that’s not going to change.
My view is that we are adapting well but to increase our worth as practitioners we need to concentrate on strategic application in addition to tactical proficiency. The two must go hand in hand.
Outside of your manifesto, you’ve hinted at something of a shake up. What might that involve? And whose arse gets kicked first?!
The long and short of is that I canvassed industry views on the CIPR for six months before deciding to stand as President-Elect.
Three themes emerged.
1) The Institute needs to be much more forward thinking, demonstrate stronger leadership and underline the value it adds.
2) It needs to collaborate more on the bigger issues.
3) Greater transparency and accountability is needed.
It’s hard to argue with any of that, so hopefully no arse-kicking required! But on a serious note, those who work at the CIPR and who volunteer with it only want the very best for it, so I’m keen to work in collaboration with everyone to ensure all those things happen.
Your work on #FuturePRoof has been outstanding. It feels like you really lit a fire and I’m sure it gained you a lot of support in the election. But with the CIPR gig coming up and the small matter of your own consultancy to run, will the #FuturePRoof project have to take a back seat for a year or two?
It’s true my family, partner and business are my key priorities right now but the #FuturePRoof community gives me real insight into the future of the public relations industry and I’m keen to continue this work. Plus I’ve already signed up some contributors for Edition Three! Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
And finally, once you’ve knocked the CIPR into shape, can I put in a request that you sort out Brexit? Oh, and while you’re at it, the FA needs some attention too…
Yikes, football? Not my thing! Brexit however…