Prof Anne Gregory November 2014 outside Whitehall FEATURE

Meeting the demands of the public relations and communications industry

There has never been a more challenging yet exciting time for the public relations and communication industry. Its rapid growth in recent years has resulted in the need to identify and develop talented professionals to work in this field.

Industry growth

In 2014/15 public relations agencies alone experienced a global growth of 7% and are now worth some $13.5bn, up from $12.5bn in 2013.

The UK is currently leading the way in this sector with communication contributing massively to its exports around the world. According to the latest UK Government figures Advertising and Marketing, which currently includes public relations, is the second largest category in the UK Creative Industry with 153,000 people exclusively employed within it, and a total of 482,000 employed in the more widely defined Creative Economy.

Talent attraction and skills development

To meet the increasing demands of this growing industry two key challenges have been identified: talent attraction and skills development.

Research by Professor Anne Gregory is tackling issues such as establishing credibility for the profession by standardising what are regarded as the essential capabilities on an international level, with the eventual aim of bringing it in line with other professions such as law, medicine and accounting, all of which have internationally recognised standards.

Government communications

Professor Gregory has worked with the Cabinet Office since 2004 when she was asked to develop their first capability framework for communication professionals working across government. Her work has continued since then to help them develop their skills, knowledge and behaviour. As the Home Office appears in at least one of the top three news stories every day its level of exposure in the media is constantly high making the need for professionalism all the more important.

With a clear focus on the 4,000 permanent communication civil servants, rather than what is commonly known as the political ‘spin doctors,’ this can include those who work for central government as well as those who work for linked organisations such as the DVLA, the Environment Agency and NHS Blood and Transplant. These professionals work on major national campaigns such as attracting blood donors, safe driving, free child care, attracting teachers into their profession, keeping the UK safe and informed during the recent Ebola outbreak.

Turning point

The coalition between the Conservative and Liberal Democratic parties was a recent turning point for the profession as government communication came under intense scrutiny. Professor Gregory has worked with the Cabinet Office throughout all these changes and has developed the Senior Talent Programme as well as contributing to the Early Talent Programme. These two key initiatives are designed to identify those civil servants with the potential to take that first step up in the profession right through to being members of the senior management team working at the highest level with Ministers and the Boards of their Departments.

For the Senior Talent Programme Professor Gregory has designed and delivers a Master’s course which was co-created with the Cabinet Office providing a bespoke course for their Senior Talent staff. And a mark of its success is that 50% of those who have completed the programme have been promoted or moved on to more challenging roles.

Future global research

As a former Chair of the Global Alliance of Public Relations and Communication Management, Professor Gregory has just instigated a major piece of research to develop a Global Capability Framework for the profession worldwide.

With cultural and political differences between countries, the aim is to specify the core skills, knowledge and behaviours required to work in this profession, whilst taking into account the significant differences in the way it is practiced in different continents and countries.

Working with the Global Alliance, it is planned to set up a research project on a hub and spoke basis. The University of Huddersfield would be the hub, partnering with a small number of Universities and professional associations globally from each continent.

The Global Capability Framework will be a benchmark against which national professional bodies and employers internationally can measure the capability of their professional communities. From it they will be able to achieve a long-standing ambition which is to establish continuing professional development programmes which have common currency and recognition around the world.

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