Public relations seen as more transparent than any other profession, says new report

Public trust in professionals is "still strongly held” according to new research by the Professional Associations Research Network (PARN). The report finds public relations is viewed as more transparent than any other profession. However, public relations is viewed as the least trustworthy profession. The report was funded by a number of professional bodies including the CIPR.

Promoting Professionalism’ examines the challenges professions face including the rise of populism, the emergence of new technologies and concerns surrounding sustainability. 

Chapter 5 - ‘Perceptions of Professionalism’ - explores what the public thinks of professionals as well as how professionals in different fields rate each other. 48% of the public say they have checked whether someone offering services to them belonged to a professional body, highlighting the value of membership. 65% said they would trust them more if they knew they were a member of a professional body.  

The public’s view of PR 

Public perceptions of PR professionals are mixed. PR ranks highest of all the professions for transparency, and the most positive traits associated with PR professionals are ‘competent’ and ‘knowledgeable’. Despite this, PR is still viewed as the least trustworthy profession, with the most common negative traits being ‘biased’ and ‘misleading’:  

The most common positive traits PR professionals are viewed as having is ‘competent’ and ‘knowledgeable’. PR is viewed as the most transparent profession but the least trustworthy. The most common negative traits associated with PR professionals are that they are ‘biased’ and ‘misleading’: 

  • 40% see PR professionals as ‘competent’ (higher than 31% for health professionals and 33% for doctors)  
  • 35% see PR professionals as knowledgeable (higher 26% for health professionals and 33% for doctors) 
  • Although only 12% of the public view PR professionals as transparent, this is still higher than any other profession.  
  • Only 11% of the public believe PR professionals are trustworthy, the lowest compared to any other profession. 
  • Only 16% of the public see PR professionals as ethical. 
  • PR professionals are viewed as biased and misleading, more than any other profession. 

How other professions view PR 

Amongst other professionals, public relations professionals are seen as the most ‘reflective’ but, reflecting the public’s view, also the least trustworthy. Other professionals view PR professionals as more knowledgeable than the public do but less ethical. They also see PR professionals as significantly more biased and misleading, although the least rigid of any other profession:  

  • 24% view PR as ‘reflective’, significantly higher than any other profession. 
  • 44% view PR as ‘knowledgeable’ - the least of any profession but higher than the public’s view. 
  • Only 13% of other professions view PR professionals as ethical, although this is higher than how accountants, asset managers, engineers, management professionals and project managers are viewed. 
  • According to other professionals, PR professionals are the third most caring profession, only behind health professionals and doctors.  
  • The most negative attributes associated with PR professionals are that they are ‘biased’ and ‘misleading’ - reflecting the view of the public although both significantly higher. 
Professor Andy Friedman, CEO of the Professional Associations Research Network (PARN)
Evidence from Ipsos MORI surveys since 1983 shows a substantial and steady rise in the proportion reporting they generally trust professions to tell the truth (with the exception of clergy/priests). To say the public has had enough of experts is not borne out by these findings. Not only doctors and nurses, but also scientists and professors are highly trusted for telling the truth.

However, from our survey of 2001 individuals for the Promoting Professionalism project, the professions on average were most positively associated with being competent and knowledgeable as well as diligent; and substantially less so with being ethical, trustworthy or transparent.
Professor Andy Friedman, CEO of the Professional Associations Research Network (PARN)
CIPR President, Jenni Field Chart.PR, FCIPR
This research does a great job of moving us on from the unending conversation around how public relations is viewed as a profession. The truth is we are respected and, compared to other professions, we are not perceived as lacking competence or ethics by the public or other professionals. There is, as always, room for improvement but I’m encouraged that the focus of this research points to the growing value the public see in professionalism. Particularly the fact that the majority of the public would look to membership of a professional body, like CIPR, when choosing who to work with. As we grow into a predominantly Chartered profession I look forward to seeing our ethical practice and trustworthiness match our knowledge and competency.
CIPR President, Jenni Field Chart.PR, FCIPR

The report surveyed 2001 members of the public and professionals from ten professions; Accountancy, Allied Healthcare (dietician, occupational therapist), Asset Management, Banking and Insurance, Healthcare (doctors), Engineering, Law, Management Professionals, Public Relations and Project Management.

  • The report is available for purchase or free to PARN members via the PARN website.

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 in the UK and overseas with nearly 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).