PR practitioners from lower socio-economic backgrounds find barriers to entry to profession but advantages in practice

New research has found that PR professionals from lower socio-economic backgrounds report their social experiences and backgrounds have had a positive impact on their practice.

The report - 'Fish out of water: the experience of PR practitioners from lower socio-economic backgrounds, why it matters and what we can do about it' - was authored by Caitlin Plunkett-Reilly and funded by the Institute's Research Fund. It is based on in-depth interviews with a diverse group of PR practitioners, based on the criteria that neither parent or main caregivers went to university and whose family received tax credits or were entitled to free school meals. Two toolkits have been published alongside the research.

The report reveals that participants from lower socio-economic backgrounds perceive a heightened understanding of the priorities of communities with higher levels of deprivation as well as a deeper connection with "average" members of the public. Notably, participants spoke of their enhanced resourcefulness, resilience, and proficiency in constructing messages in clear and relatable language. 

However, the research also found significant barriers to entry to and progression within the PR profession for practitioners from lower socio-economic backgrounds, with particular characteristics of the industry making it feel impenetrable. Those who do make it into the profession find they lack a full sense of belonging with many reporting having to expend additional energy on code-switching between environments. 

All those interviewed raised the issue of barriers imposed by practical financial constraints, including anxiety about covering expenses for clients and investing in professional development. Nine in ten of those surveyed believe it was harder for them to progress in their PR careers compared to their peers from more affluent backgrounds. Despite these challenges, practitioners found they provided an ability to overcome obstacles and leverage their unique perspectives for the benefit of their practice.

Caitlin Plunkett-Reilly Chart. PR, MCIPR

Interviews with PR practitioners from lower socio-economic backgrounds have highlighted how difficult it can be to get in and get on. For the profession tasked with communicating with a wide range of audiences across society on all manner of issues, this lack of socio-economic diversity poses a threat to its future. Many practitioners already understand this; 95% of PR practitioners surveyed for this project think ensuring socio-economic diversity is important. 

Rightfully, across professions we have seen important strides in efforts to address equality, diversity and inclusion, though socio-economic background has yet to see the same focus as other underrepresented demographic groups. I am grateful to the CIPR for funding this project - along with the publication of their EDI strategy, new EDI resources and achieving the National Equality Standard, it's reassuring to see this is an issue our professional body is taking action to address.

Caitlin Plunkett-Reilly Chart. PR, MCIPR
  • Two accompanying toolkits have been published alongside the research. The first serves as a ‘one-stop shop’ for PR practitioners from lower socio-economic backgrounds to access resources on navigating recruitment, accessing mentoring programmes and networking, and wider support organisations. The second is a toolkit for employers.  Download the report now.
  • The CIPR Research Fund is now in its fourth successive year. The Fund awards grants of up to £2000 to CIPR members at any stage of their career to conduct independent PR research to support the development and advancement of the wider profession, in line with the Institute’s Royal Charter and five-year strategy. Applications are decided by members of the CIPR’s Research Fund Panel. Find out more.

About the Chartered Institute of Public Relations 

Founded in 1948, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) is the world's only Royal Chartered professional body for public relations practitioners with over 10,000 members. 

The CIPR advances professionalism in public relations by making its members accountable to their employers and the public through a code of conduct and searchable public register, setting standards through training, qualifications, awards and the production of best practice and skills guidance, facilitating Continuing Professional Development (CPD), and awarding Chartered Public Relations Practitioner status (Chart.PR).