Why more internal communicators should 'get chartered'

by Martin Flegg

October 15, 2017

About 8 years ago I set out on a journey to ‘get professional’. At the time, I didn’t know where the road would lead and there have been some interesting twists and turns along the way. On 13 October, I and seven other CIPR members were granted Chartered Public Relations Practitioner (Chart.PR) status at an assessment day in Birmingham, the latest milestone in my journey.

I think I’m probably number 207 out of around 212 CIPR members to achieve chartered status so far and I’d wager that only a few work in internal communications. That’s not many people out of a membership of over ten thousand, and I know that CIPR is aiming for a significant number of us to ‘Get Chartered’ in the coming years. As CIPR Inside is the largest sectoral membership group of the CIPR we could make a big contribution to increasing the numbers of chartered practitioners overall.

So why should you as an internal communicator take the plunge and get chartered?
Firstly, don’t think as I did for a while, that working in internal communications means your experience is too narrow for you to become chartered. It isn’t, and the assessment is designed to be non-specific with regard to the sector, circumstances and the specialism that you might work in. If you’ve got the right level of knowledge and experience in internal communications theory and practice within your own area, you’ll be able to demonstrate your competence within the three assessment day themes of Leadership, Strategy and Ethics. The real question is, how do you obtain that knowledge and experience in the first place?

Before I joined CIPR, I’d been working in a variety of communications roles for a number or years, mostly in internal communications. The way I practiced internal communications back then was very different to how I practice it now. I went with what felt ‘right’, churning out content and building communication channels without really understanding why things worked, and more importantly, why they didn’t.

I decided to join a professional communications body and picked CIPR because it was the only one I had really heard of. At the time I wasn’t even sure whether or not internal communications was PR. Of course, just signing up didn’t instantly make me a better PR practitioner or internal communicator and I decided that I needed to get the necessary ‘bits of paper’ to prove that I was good at what I was doing. This meant confronting the daunting prospect of doing some kind of structured study after a number of years out of formal education.

I enrolled on, and passed, the CIPR Internal Communications Certificate and subsequently the Diploma course. What got me through it was being continually inspired by discovering the way that theory informed internal communications practice and being delighted that I was instantly able to apply what I was learning to my day to day work and improve it. The best part of the experience was that I finally understood why the methods I had thought were right, actually were right.

I got the pieces of paper that said I was qualified in internal communications, but more importantly doing those courses demonstrated to me the value of professional development. I’m not saying that getting formal qualifications in internal communications are a pre-requisite for getting chartered. They aren’t, but the experience of getting them will definitely help you.

Since getting qualified I have been committed to the CIPR Continuous Professional Development (CPD) programme and participation in this is one of the eligibility criteria for getting chartered. Achieving chartered status is true recognition of what you know and the breadth of your experience, and is a big incentive to keeping that up to date for the benefit of your clients and organisation.

The chartered assessment day is a tough but thoroughly enjoyable experience. I found the Ethics part of the day particularly challenging, and I know some of the other participants did too. It gets right to the core of your ethical values and beliefs, both personally and professionally. The assessors are looking to establish your moral compass and how that fits with the CIPR Code of Conduct. In essence ‘what would you do’ when presented with an ethical dilemma. It’s an uncomfortable experience to be deeply questioned about what you would do, or have done, in difficult circumstances and then have that cross examined and picked apart. I survived it and so will you!

I think it’s right that ethics is the most difficult discussion you will have during the assessment. As internal communicators and CIPR members, whether chartered or not, we have a duty to uphold the professional standards in public relations and practice our craft in an ethical manner. Achieving chartered status is true recognition that you are able to do that and are committed to being accountable for your actions. In the light of some recent and notable ethical PR scandals, we all need to understand and adhere to the standards in the CIPR Code of Conduct for the benefit of the PR profession (including internal communications) and the public.

Hopefully I’ve given you some food for thought and some good reasons for getting chartered if you are ready to take your professional development to the next level.  I’m not going to go into how I prepared for my chartered assessment day as other chartered practitioners such as Katie Marlow, Lindsey Collumbell  and Rachel Miller have already given some great advice and insights on how to do that.

Finally, no one made me go and get chartered and I paid for it myself. I did it for me and to support the CIPR with its ambition to increase the number of chartered PR practitioners, simply because that’s good for my personal professionalism and that of the wider PR industry.
If you are ready, go for it. The only thing stopping you is you!

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 (The views expressed in this article are my own)