Elisabeth Lewis-Jones: It's time for the industry to claim a little of the limelight

Without doubt, the public relations industry has come a long way. Testament to the industry's progression is its professional body, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.

Celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, the Institute has developed considerably within its lifetime, although perhaps most notably in the last decade. During this time it has grown its membership to over 9,500 individuals working across industry sectors; has approved an increasing number of PR degrees; and has developed and expanded its training courses and professional qualifications nationally and overseas. Only three years ago the Institute achieved Charter status, recognition from Government that it is the professional body to lead the industry.

These achievements demonstrate the success and maturity of the CIPR and the PR profession but, and there is always a but, there is still much to do.

One of the biggest challenges for the industry is the general misconception about what public relations is and does. What it is about is building lasting relationships with different groups via effective two-way communication. In a business setting, it is about helping an organisation achieve certain objectives, but its function is far wider. Tied to freedom of speech, public relations can provide a voice to those who wouldn't necessarily have one – which is why true public relations does not exist anywhere other than in a democracy.

The general lack of knowledge about public relations has a lot to do with the fact that most PR work goes on under peoples' radars. While increasingly media savvy, and quick to spot campaigns with an obvious commercial or political objective, people often fail to see the vast amount of PR work carried out in the charity and public sectors. They might be aware for example of the anti-smoking messages they come into contact with on a daily basis, but not the PR campaign behind these.

That's not to say that there is anything wrong with this. Many practitioners say that public relations and those practising it aren't supposed to be the "story". That said, perhaps it is time that public relations claimed its share of the limelight. Perhaps it is time that all those in the industry championed their good work and the valuable contribution they make to business and peoples' day-to-day lives.

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