Leading from the Front: A Chat with PRCA’s Francis Ingham (Part 1 of 2)

November 13, 2019

In this special two-part episode of #MsInterPReted, Kelly and Mary Beth welcome their first overseas guest to the podcast… a London-based leader at the helm of the world’s largest membership body of public relations professionals.

Francis Ingham, MPRCA is Director General of the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA), operating out of London, Dubai, Singapore and with a new, just-announced office now in the Western Hemisphere, in Buenos Aires. He is also Chief Executive of the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO), operating in 66 countries across the globe.

Representing over 30,000 practitioners, the PRCA is the largest PR association in the world, while ICCO includes 41 national associations, collectively representing over 3,000 PR firms.

As a new PRCA and ICCO member, Fletcher PR is honored to welcome Francis.

In Episode 9 (Part 1 of this interview), Kelly Fletcher, MPRCA, and Mary Beth West, MPRCA, welcome Francis Ingham, MPRCA – global leader of PRCA and ICCO – who explains many issues of critical importance to the global public relations profession…

. . . Issues like the importance of nonpartisanship in professional associations, ethics in strategic communications, mental well-being among professionals working in high-pressure PR jobs, diversity & inclusion (and how D&I must factor into meaningful workforce development strategies to go beyond mere lip service in the PR field).

  • Francis tackles all of these issues, including:
    • How PRCA’s explosive growth is impacting the industry;
    • Why having an international outlook in the public relations profession is essential today, to help tackle the global industry’s shared issues and challenges;
    • Why “taking a stand on issues that matter” is one of PRCA’s most important tasks… and how PRCA most recently helped forge a positive reversal-of-decision by an elected member of the Scottish Parliament who planned to serve part-time for a lobbying firm (an overt conflict of interest);
    • Why professional membership associations that use their platforms toward overtly political or divisive ends have “lost their way”;
    • How PRCA is undertaking the issue of mental / emotional well-being for public relations professionals, conducting its own research on this topic and providing tools to help agencies and employers to address these matters for their teams;
    • How PRCA’s Apprenticeship Program and its just-announced Schools Outreach Programme (to younger ages) seeks to bring diverse communities into the PR workforce;
    • Why the U.K. Government tasked PRCA-UK with assisting in Brexit preparations (and how PRCA is undertaking this task in a non-partisan manner).

Listen for Part 2 of this Interview with Episode 10 of #MsInterPReted, when Francis explains the tough realities – and shocking repercussions – of taking a stand in the Bell-Pottinger ethics-violation case in 2017.


Announcer:  Welcome to Ms. InterPReted, her podcast of public relations and strategic communications demystified by Kelly Fletcher and Fletcher Marketing PR.

Francis:  “I think that a membership body that becomes political is a membership body that has really lost its way, and that’s something that we are determined not to do.”

Kelly:  Welcome, listeners to the Ms. InterPReted podcast. I’m Kelly Fletcher, CEO of Fletcher Marketing PR and I’m here with my colleague, Fletcher Senior Strategist Mary Beth West.

Mary Beth:  Hey there, Kelly. And it’s just really great to be here, as always. Today, we are hitting a noteworthy milestone for our new podcast as we welcome our first international guest on Ms. InterPReted. And this particular guest leads the world’s foremost organization of public relations professionals, so it’s an honor, indeed, to have him joining us today.

Kelly:  Yes. I’m so excited.

Mary Beth:  Yeah.

Kelly:  We’ll have the big introduction unveil in a moment, but we want to frame a few core issues first. I will say that our guest’s organization is a global organization

Mary Beth:  Mmhmm.

Kelly:  Celebrating its 50th year and with more than 30,000 members. That’s impressive.

Mary Beth:  Yes. It is.

Kelly:  So congratulations to them. And it’s growing in prominence as a world authority, not only on PR best practices, but also on ethical compliance.

Mary Beth:  Mmhmm.

Kelly:  Which reminds me, and just as a reminder to our listeners, we dedicated our second episode of Ms. InterPReted to the subject of PR ethics.

Mary Beth:  Mmhmm.

Kelly:  So if you’re interested in that, please check it out. Our episode roster is growing. We’re picking up steam on subscribers and downloads. If you’d like to hear more on a topic, please message us on LinkedIn. Ethics is a very hot topic right now.

Mary Beth:  Mmhmm. Right. And I’ve just had the opportunity to have a very close association with our guest’s organization over the past year, really thanks to his direct assistance, so I’d love to give a little bit of backstory here, Kelly, if that’s okay?

Kelly:  Yes. How did you all connect?

Mary Beth:  Yeah. Right. Well, I first indirectly met our guest via a Twitter chat early this year hosted by a mutual colleague of ours, a woman named Ella Minty who is a fantastic public relations thought leader based in the UK. And I do invite our listeners to follow her at Twitter handle @EllaMinty, and that’s E.L.L.A.M.I.N.T.Y. Shameless plug, Ella has just released a new book entitled Social Media and the Islamic State: Can Public Relations Succeed Where Conventional Diplomacy Failed? Absolutely fascinating read, really. You can order it online.

Kelly:  I’m going to order it today, for sure.

Mary Beth:  Yeah, yeah. Well, and I can share my copy. I just got mine shipped in recent weeks, too. Ella hosts a weekly Twitter chat at #powerandinfluence. And I truly recommend our listeners check that out. It’s each Wednesday at 8:00 PM, British time, 3:00 PM, US Eastern.

Mary Beth:  So Ella’s topic that week was PR ethical compliance, and our guest today was chiming into that power and influence chat as I was chiming into it or just watching the feed of different comments on that topic. And he was just putting forward so many compelling comments, many of them so on point with a lot of the observations about ethical problems I’ve been struggling with here in the US just as an observer since 2017. And so my immediate reaction after seeing one or two of his tweets was who is this professional? Who? You know what-

Kelly:  Who is this guy?

Mary Beth:  Yeah. Who is… You know what is his organization? And where has this type of leadership voice been here in the US that you know really encapsulates this fear of all of my you know struggle with some of these issues in recent years? Because I had not had the privilege of hearing him speak before. And so when I was looking through the Twitter profile, I found out right away who he was. I reached out to him, and he has graciously maintained dialogue and shared insights with me ever since. And I’m just profoundly grateful for that.

Kelly:  Yeah, it’s amazing how the power of social media and, in this case, just a simple Twitter chat

Mary Beth:  Right.

Kelly:  Can connect people all over the world.

Mary Beth:  Absolutely. And completely to that point, and my thanks to Ella Minty, I’ve connected with so many people all over the world and just like our guest today, many in the UK.

Mary Beth:  As a preface, I’d like to let our listeners know, as well, particularly those who haven’t closely followed my journey in recent years, I’ve become a rather vocal proponent for public relations ethics. If you follow the #PRethics on Twitter, you’ll find numerous comments from me on that subject, both solicited and unsolicited.

Kelly:  To some people’s chagrin. I mean, you have some supporters, and you have some dissidents.

Mary Beth:  Yeah, that’s right, or detractors or, yeah, fill in the blank. Guilty as charged. I mean, to be clear, I’m not an ethics enthusiast from a posture of zealotry, or at least that’s not my intent to come across that way.

Kelly:  Oh I don’t think so either.

Mary Beth:  Well, and you know and you get a little bit of you know all kinds of comments from that perspective when you’re out there being vocal on things, because I am not perfect and certainly I’ve made my share of mistakes in my career, as is well documented, but I do have strong feelings about PR being purposely misused to deceive people and drive decision making in ways that are misinformed. I mean, it’s a huge problem today, although I think a lot of it comes from non-PR people, to be, just from my observation, or people only posing as PR people.

Mary Beth:  Separately, I think that, in some very specific circles, our profession here in the US is being dis-served, at times, and that happens whenever any leader or any organization allows untruthful information or bad faith to stand at the heart of how they operate and how they represent themselves to others.

Kelly:  Yes, and I couldn’t agree more. We are living today in an era of digital media where there is nowhere to hide.

Mary Beth:  Yeah.

Kelly:  When any leader or, frankly, anyone is exposed in corrupt behavior or is lying to their stakeholders.

Mary Beth:  Right.

Kelly:  And so, we do, in PR have an obligation to be the voice of integrity.

Mary Beth:  Mmhmm.

Kelly:  And to push our management teams and the management teams of our clients, even, to make decisions that pass the smell test, to use a little analogy, and a smell test that hasn’t simply been hosed down with designer impostors.

Mary Beth:  And like I said, it’s often not the PR people who are doing bad things. It’s untrained and unethical operators who are not communications professionals who nonetheless use communications tools to deceive and mislead and all of those things.

Kelly:  Yeah. I really think the vast majority of our US professionals in our business do conduct themselves ethically.

Mary Beth:  Right.

Kelly:  So this is not a blanket accusation on our profession, but there can be issues. And for better or worse, it only takes a few bad apples in our business to reflect badly on all of us.

Mary Beth:  That’s completely accurate. Which finally brings me to our fantastic guest who is leading an organization that has made a real commitment toward changing the status quo, and I can say without question that he is the most effective and authentic leader I think I’ve ever seen lend such a voice of authority to ethics and professionalism issues in our field.

Kelly:  I’m so excited to have him as well and thank him for giving us a few moments here to set the stage for why his comments today are so valued and much needed.

Mary Beth:  No doubt about that. Listeners, please allow me to welcome our guest today. Francis Ingham, director general of the Public Relations and Communications Association based in London, also known as PRCA. PRCA is the world’s largest public relations professional body, well more than 30,000 professionals and with offices in the UK, Singapore, Dubai, and with another opening in South America, which Francis can tell us about momentarily here. Francis is also chief executive of the International Communications Consultancy organisation or ICCO, which is the voice of public relations consultancies around the world, in 66 countries and with more than 3000 PR firms, Kelly. It’s very impressive.

Kelly:  Wow.

Mary Beth:  Francis and his team with PRCA changing the entire conversation about PR ethics and what it means to serve as the voice of the global industry. And PRCA is making ethics and quality practice real and relevant. I’m so thrilled to have him here with us today.

Kelly:  This will be our very first podcast that will be delivered in two parts. So today is part one. We have a lot to cover. So we decided to split this one into two episodes.

Mary Beth:  Yeah, it will really be good to hear this guest’s input because there’s just so much detail that we really thought that having it in two parts will help our audience be able to get their arms around all of this content. So, excited to have a part two coming out in the next week. Francis, welcome to Ms. InterPReted.

Francis:   Well, thank you very much indeed and it’s great to be with you from London. You know just to pick up a couple of the comments you made already, Mary Beth, you are certainly vocal and that is a great thing. We need people to speak out and I would just be more, more and more and Kelly, nowhere to hide. I absolutely agree. You know your comments are that unethical practitioners have nowhere left to hide, absolutely accurate, absolutely welcome. And I agree also that the vast majority in our industry, all around the world, it’s ethical and it’s professional and it’s our job to keep on raising those standards and so thank you for having me on your program today.

Mary Beth:  Well, thank you and quick sidebar shout out here and I have to just mention it because the members of your team with whom I’ve had the opportunity to interface and interact, they have been just an absolute dream to work with. I mean, we’ve got Izzy Aerosmith and Harry Gardner with the PR cast podcast, which listeners you have got to start downloading their podcast on iTunes or Google play, wherever you download your podcasts. I had coffee with them recently in London. I was there on a trip with my family and had the chance to meet both of them in person and they were just terrific and they are very talented with how they deliver their podcast. And I know that one of my favorite episodes, Francis, was the one that you were on.

Francis:  Yeah.

Mary Beth:  I think that was episode three. But yeah they do a great job.

Francis:   I need to give them an immediate pay raise as soon as I get off the phone.

Mary Beth:  So Francis, I know there was a lot that I missed in your bio when I introduced you just now. So please give our listeners a bit more background about your professional career path and what led you to take on the top executive post at PRCA some years ago.

Francis:   So I’ve been the director general of the PRCA for 12 years, and before that my background was in politics and in lobbying public affairs. So I left Oxford and went to work for the conservative party.

Mary Beth:  Mmhmm.

Francis:   Which were then in opposition in the UK. And after that… In a political campaigning sort of role. And after that I worked for the CBI, which is the Confederation of British Industry. It’s the main employer’s lobbying organizations. So lobbying for changes to the law in a kind of pro-business pro-enterprise way. And after that I moved into the IPR, again, CIPR, which was at the time the main body for PR people in the UK, and then into the PRCA in the main role for the last 12 years, as I say.

Francis:   And over that time we’ve changed the organization a great deal. I mean, when I… I do have a significant experience of directly in PR as well. And when I was at Oxford I was the press officer for the Oxford Union. So I dealt with speakers like Henry Kissinger,

Mary Beth:  Mm.

Francis:   [Inaudible 14:23] Jordan and other people like that. And that’s my background. So I like PR. I like PR people. I may understand the pressures that we’re all under and I’ve always had this international attitude and outlook that I think has helped us and the organization grow it and look outside of the UK, which I think is impressive and important.

Kelly:  Francis, one of the things that Mary Beth has mentioned to me on many occasions is this explosive growth that PRCA has experienced under your leadership and with the team you have there in London and also with the staff and so many volunteer leaders across the globe. And full disclosure here for our listeners, Fletcher PR is a new member of PRCA and we’re tremendously excited that our full agency team are now PRCA members. And under our new agency membership we plan to add the letters MPRCA under our names to show the affiliation, member PRCA. So Francis, what is the secret sauce to PRCA’s success and why so many professionals worldwide, particularly those who are ethics enthusiasts or heads of agencies and thought leaders. Why do they flock to PRCA?

Francis:   Well, I mean first of all, Kelly and welcome to Fletcher PR as one of our newest corporate members. Great to have you on board.

Kelly:  Thank you very much. We’re excited.

Francis:   And I look forward to working with you. Why we grow. For a bit of context, 12 years ago, we were a really small organization, four members of staff, about 120 agency members. We have lost members like Edelman and Weber and Fleischman and we were going rapidly downhill and today, as you very kindly noted, we’re the largest PR association in the world. Why? Well, partly hard work, honestly. But also taking a stand on issues that matter. When I took the role, I said to our members, many of whom were thinking of leaving quite honestly, that we would always stand up for the industry and for its best interests.

Francis:   And they might sometimes disagree with what we said, but that on balanced, they would be happy that there was somebody being a cheerleader for them. And that’s what we’ve done, the whole host of areas, whether it’s extending social diversity or reporting gender pay down, getting more mums back into the industry, standing up for the industry’s business interests around copyright law. Or probably most importantly, and I’m making the case that the industry is ethical, and when people who are our members or aren’t our members do something unethical, being very clear about that, calling it out, and if we have to, reluctantly rescinding their membership.

Mary Beth:  Mm.

Francis:  So I think our growth has been because we are seen as the legitimate authoritative voice of the PR industry in the UK and increasingly, internationally. And PR people want that and respect it and are happy that we are their voice.

Mary Beth:  Right.

Kelly:  Absolutely.

Mary Beth:  Yeah. I think respect of course being the key word and Francis, as you know, our podcast is called Ms. InterPReted because we set out to dispel myths and misunderstandings, not only about PR but about societal issues that all of us share, but they’re also very central to what we do in public relations to help, I guess, build better connections with diverse communities and try to overcome obstacles of misunderstanding.

Francis:   Mm.

Mary Beth:  I think there is a lot of misinterpretation nowadays across countries, across cultural boundaries. There’s so much us versus them,

Kelly:  Yes.

Mary Beth:  I think, that’s predicated on little information or real knowledge.

Mary Beth:  And I really kind of have to own up to something myself. I mean, having worked in the US public relations professional community myself for about 25 years. You know I’m a past national board member of PRSA, and on a footnote on that, that board role that I had was many years ago. I now feel that I existed for many of those years in a bit of a United States PR bubble, truthfully, and was largely oblivious to the growth and the evolution of the profession, internationally. And shame on me.

Kelly:  Yes. We get very insular as Americans sometimes.

Mary Beth:  Yeah, exactly.

Kelly:  Ugly American syndrome.

Mary Beth:  Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And it’s, yeah.

Francis:   So do we in London. We really do, as well. We struggle against it too. We’re in the same boat.

Mary Beth:  Okay. Well, and that’s good to know actually, because I mean, it’s not that I thought that US public relations was better by any stretch. It was just that I had very little exposure to the larger global scope of the profession because our US organization just didn’t serve as a window to the global PR community, much less any kind of conduit for real interaction and networking. But now, thanks to PRCA, I’ve had the opportunity to make terrific contacts, make genuine professional friends around the world, and I’m continuing to learn so much from their insights and wisdom.

Mary Beth:  As you mentioned, PRCA started out in the UK, you’re based there in London, but you know, tell us about how your growth as a global organization began to unfold and why it matters so much for PRCA to have global reach and influence. And also what, you know what your observations too are about the US PR market, relative to how we engage with the larger global community maybe how we need to improve?

Francis:  Well, PRCA started up in 1969, so we’re 50 years old in November. It always had an international outlook. So when it was set up, it had written into its rules that we would help establish other PR associations around the world. And that’s why for example you’ve got PRCA, India and PRCA, Nigeria and PRCA, Ireland. So we’d always had this international outlook and helping the industry attitude. And then at some point that died. And when I took the role over, we decided to revive it.

Mary Beth:  Mm.

Francis:  So for the last seven years we run ICCO, as you very kindly pointed out. 41 associations operate in 66 countries and three thousand agencies.

Mary Beth:  Wow.

Francis:  So we try and bring this… ICCO and PRCA, we try and bring this global network together because I genuinely believe the challenges we face are so common that we ought to address them together.

Francis:   I think one of the differences between the UK and the US market is the UK market simply isn’t big enough domestically to accommodate the desire and the appetite and the skill that’s there. Whereas the US market is so much bigger.

Mary Beth:  Mmhmm.

Francis:  So I think that may explain why there’s a slight difference in outlook, but I’ve always been very clear that the two market leaders in the world are the UK and the US. In the data that we publish annually about the state of the market. The two closest markets by far and away are the UK and the US. But as I say, I think we have these common challenges around evaluation, around the strategic comms, around improving the value of what we do. We’re attracting the very best people into the industry, about proving that we are ethical and professional.

Francis: I also think we have this common challenge, if you don’t mind me saying so, we’re never going to be loved as an industry.

Mary Beth:  Hmm. Yeah.

Francis: And some people hunt that down and they’re never going to achieve it.

Mary Beth:  Right.

Francis:   What we need to be is respected. You know and that’s about improving the value that we deliver to organizations. And that is the area where we as practitioners leading our industry can make a difference and add value and do our industry a service. And I think that’s why we look internationally from London. We’ve established in Dubai, in Singapore, Buenos Aires next week and international [inaudible 23:46] all around the world, including yourselves in the US. And that’s a very significant development for us. So I genuinely think there is a global community out there. And it needs to be serviced and helped.

Kelly:  Yeah. Francis I couldn’t agree more and what I love about what you’re doing is you are starting or trying to dispel some of the myths that we fight against as PR professionals every day, and it seems like any strategic communications association in today’s world can’t simply focus on tools and techniques of communications and management, the tactics so to speak. That one dimensional model is dead and everyone in PR today must be constantly informed and that means cross-disciplinary and multi-dimensional.

Kelly:  And from my vantage point it seems like that dynamic framework is where PRCA is taking lead in so many areas. Francis, your team is convening global discussions about the state of mental wellbeing in the PR profession. Given that we are consistently ranked among the most high stress lines of work, my friends are very surprised when I tell them that in the US we usually come in third behind firefighters and airline traffic controllers. The level of-

Mary Beth: Yeah. The level of pressure daily.

Kelly:  Yes. In the US. And I can relate to that. I can also relate to the mental stress that comes from running an agency-

Mary Beth:  Oh, it’s a pressure cooker, for sure.

Kelly:  Going through the burnout. And so I’m so excited to look into what you’re talking about on the state of mental wellbeing and the resources that you may have to offer.

Francis:   So we’ve done our own research on mental wellbeing, PR practitioners over here say that they are more stressed than members of the army or the Navy.

Mary Beth:  Wow.

Francis:   Now that is quite remarkable given you know people are putting their lives on the line, literally. I think we’ve got a great deal of work to do here. What was interesting with our research was that people felt really uneasy at telling their bosses if they had a problem and asking for help. And the number of people who said they’d reported they had a problem and nothing was done was incredibly high. The same was true actually, at a survey we did on sexual harassment in the workplace. People burying their heads in the sand and employers trying to ignore the problem and hope it would go away. And I genuinely believe in these areas, we have got to show leadership because if we don’t, we’re letting down the people who work in our industry, we’re also deterring people from joining it and we’re chasing people away from it.

Kelly:  Right.

Francis:   So membership bodies like our own, you know we’ve got to step up and do something about this in the interest of people who work in industry and in the interest of the you know the long term interests, the industry as a whole. And I think that’s a place where common challenges of UK, US and everywhere else around the world, probably.

Kelly:  Yeah, I think we need to be talking about it more here in the US.

Mary Beth:  Uh huh.

Kelly:  I don’t hear a lot of conversation around that. So PRCA is also leading conversations on important areas like AI, digital media, profitability, which is always a big one in the agency, business. Creativity, public affairs and the list goes on and on.

Mary Beth:  Yeah. And I’ve been very impressed by that. And Francis, you may want to speak to just that breadth of topics.

Francis:   Well, you know what can I talk about the public affairs a bit?

Mary Beth:  Please do. Please do.

Francis:   We’ve had a bit of a story today. A few days ago, one of our… The main newspaper for London, the Evening Standard had an exclusive, that Ruth Davidson, who I’m sure none of your listeners have heard of, but she’s most senior conservative politician in Scotland, had taken a job with a lobbying public affairs company. We spoke out against it as unethical conflict of interest and so on. We had a bit of a… There’s been a lot of media coverage for the last couple of days and earlier on today she announced that in response to the public and industry criticism of that decision, she wouldn’t be taking the role

Mary Beth:  Wow.

Francis:  And well yeah, why we opposed it is it’s like a Congressman saying he’s going to work two days a month directly for a lobbying company.

Mary Beth:  Right. I’m balled over that someone would think that that’s appropriate and it’s just, it shocks me the extent of which people can’t see beyond their own self interest or… I’m just absolutely flabbergasted.

Francis:  Well, you are right. And so were we. I mean, this sort of thing happened 20 years ago, but it hasn’t happened for the last 20 years.

Mary Beth:  Mm.

Francis:   So we led the industry criticism of this and there was a Twitter chat only last night with her employers and me arguing opposite sides of the debate. And my final tweet for the evening was Ruth Davidson being [inaudible 28:59] shouldn’t take this job and say that she’s announced that given public opposition, she won’t be taking the job. Now this is great because it shows the power of, legitimate power of membership bodies if they use it correctly and with discernment. But also the fantastic thing was the industry as a whole rode in behind us.

Mary Beth:  Mmhmm.

Francis:  And said, “This is wrong. Don’t do it.” And so what we’ve got is an industry body setting standards and people coalescing around those standards. And I think it’s a great example of what industry bodies can do if they have ambition and determination and speak out.

Mary Beth:  Right. Well, and I think that what you have embodied in this is a nonpartisan approach to it because you’re applying the ethical rules regardless of what party or regardless of what political leaning an individual or an organization is. And that’s very clear that you all are bipartisan or nonpartisan, I should say, in your approach.

Francis:   Well, and I’m glad you raised that because as it happens, so Ruth Davidson is an elected politician for the conservative party. I used to work for the conservative party.

Mary Beth:  Mmhmm.

Francis:   I’m still a member of the conservative party. So the fact that we were so vocal in saying that she had done the wrong thing despite the fact everyone knows I’m a member of her party is important because you’ve got to call people out where things go wrong regardless of personal link or political leanings.

Mary Beth:  Right. Well and yeah, as Kelly mentioned, here in the US our US-based association has really ratcheted up quite a litany of criticisms within the political sphere and you know charges of ethical violations and things like that. The only problem is every single one of them have been directed only to one side of the aisle. There has never been criticism of the opposite side of the aisle and the politicization, unfortunately of the organization has become very divisive for the organization itself.

Mary Beth:  And I actually proposed a bylaw amendment to the US association bylaws stipulating that the organization should be nonpartisan and leadership successfully were able to defeat that proposal. Under the auspices that they said, “We’re already nonpartisan. We really don’t need any bylaw around it and we’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing.” And unfortunately we keep marching down this pathway here in the US and again, it’s creating this divisiveness that’s very unfortunate and unnecessary and it’s all because, you know the agenda is so clear. And I feel like our intelligence is being insulted when we’re told that, “Oh, this is all nonpartisan.” But the track record says something completely different.

Kelly:  And it has the trickle down impact.

Francis:   Let me just…

Kelly:  Oh, go ahead Francis.

Francis:  Yeah, let me frame my words carefully. You know I’ve got no desire to intrude your politics at all, but I think it’s vital that membership bodies are not political.

Mary Beth:  Hmm.

Francis:   We deliberately do not take a political stance one way or another. It doesn’t matter, the political preferences of the people running the PRCA at all. We’d just speak up for the industry. We call out things when they’re wrong. We praise things when they’re right. And I think that a membership body that becomes political is a membership body that has really lost its way.

Mary Beth:  Mmhmm.

Francis:   And that’s something that we are determined not to do.

Mary Beth:  Right. And if I can just also look at one of the topics you mentioned just a moment ago regarding diversity in the PR workforce, I’ve been very impressed by how PRCA is really engaging in this topic of talent development for the global industry. PRCA directly handles PR apprenticeships, and from what I gather, you place about 80% of your apprentices into permanent employment.

Francis:   Yeah.

Mary Beth:  You’re also, yeah, you’re also seeking to integrate diversity and inclusion efforts alongside that apprenticeship program to help impact tangible DNI workforce outcomes for companies. I thought that that was very… That’s a very impactful and relevant thing.

Francis:   Well, you know the key thing that my members say, their number one issue is talent. Recruiting talent, retaining talent, at every level through the industry. And they’re also very aware that they need to have a broader pool of people who understand the people that they are communicating with and selling to. So they want to get, particularly entry level, a much more diverse range of people coming into their doors. We’ve run the apprenticeship program on behalf of the UK government for quite a long time now.

Francis:   Apprentices are people who don’t have a degree, so they haven’t been to a university. And what we… How we help them is we train them up at the same time as they’re in full time employment. So they’re learning and they’re earning and it’s brought people into the industry that who would never have considered entering it before. And that’s good for all of us. And so 80% of the people that we place in this program get a full time permanent job at the end of it.

Mary Beth:  Mmhmm.

Francis:   At our 50th anniversary party on the 5th of November, just coming up, we’ll announce a big program to reach out into schools. So kids who are under the age of 18, predominantly 16 to 18 year olds, telling them about PR as a career.

Mary Beth:  Mmhmm.

Francis:  And helping to get more diverse range of people with different talents into the industry.

Mary Beth:  That is fantastic.

Francis:   Because that’s what the industry is calling out for. I think so.

Mary Beth:  Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, and that’s very tangible. It goes beyond the lip service that is really so prevalent I think in the industry about simply talking about DNI as a value proposition and really doing something that’s action oriented. And speaking of action oriented, I also wanted to mention, I was very impressed by this, that the UK government in recent weeks has enlisted PRCA to facilitate Brexit preparations for the public relations professional community, which incidentally, I thought that that says a lot about the government’s sense of credibility for PRCA and the trust that they have in your team.

Kelly:  Absolutely.

Mary Beth:  It’s very impressive.

Francis:   Oh, well thank you. I mean, the most divisive issue in the UK at the moment is Brexit. We’ve got a country where 52% of people voted to leave. 48% of people voted to remain and the parliament, where the great majority of MPs want to stay.

Mary Beth:  Mm.

Francis:   And wrestling some very difficult issues. And our own industry, we told them ahead of the vote, 80% wanted to remain. So we have a very clear direction of travel of preference within our district. And it goes back to what I said a few minutes ago, there was a very clear majority for remain, but our job as a membership body is not to be political or to take sides, it’s to be practical, pragmatic, and principled.

Francis:   So when the government came to us and said, “Will you help us communicate to your industry what Brexit means?” Of course we said, “Yes.” And we’re communicating that. Because it is a fact of life regardless of what our individual members might think. And it’s, again, one of those areas where as a professional body representing the whole of the industry, you’ve got to work in the interest of the whole of the industry and not take a particular point of view.

Mary Beth:  This concludes part one of our interview with Francis Ingham of PRCA. Follow PRCA at Twitter handle @PRCA_UK. You can also follow Francis Ingham on Twitter @Ingers1975 and that’s I.N.G.E.R.S.1975. We will be picking up with part two of our interview with Francis next week, so be sure to tune in where we will be focusing more on the Bell Pottinger case study.

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