New CIPR Professional PR Diploma: comms with a purpose

About the author

Kevin is a co-founder of PR Academy and editor/co-author of Exploring Internal Communication published by Routledge. Kevin leads the CIPR Internal Communication Diploma course. PhD, MBA, BA Hons, PGCE, FCIPR, CMgr, MCMI.

We are launching the new CIPR Professional PR Diploma in October 2016.  I was part of the  syllabus review group and this is how we went about updating it.

The CIPR’s flagship qualification, the PR Diploma, has been around for nearly 20 years now and it has become established as the leading professional qualification in the industry.

Since 2007 almost 900 students have completed the course with PR Academy and gone on to develop highly successful careers.

Although the syllabus has stood the test of time in many ways, in 2015 it was becoming clear that it needed a refresh. The CIPR set up a syllabus review group led by Bernard Carey that included myself, Heather Yaxley and colleagues from MoL and Cambridge Marketing Company. From the off, we wanted to base the new syllabus on the latest thinking about PR education and input from employers who often fund study.

It soon became clear that the existing syllabus was seen by some as a little too theoretical and based on some old academic models. Employers emphasised the requirement for students to be able to understand core models and concepts, but more importantly to know how to apply them. So, in a nutshell, the newly named ‘Professional PR Diploma’ has much more emphasis on contemporary models and evidence based practice.

The new syllabus maintains a three unit approach. The first unit is focused on PR strategy and planning processes with an emphasis on research that establishes robust communication objectives, related to an organisation’s goals. The second unit is focused on communication and engagement, with an emphasis on content and dialogue, which reflects employers’ views that management of content across the organisation is an essential competence. The third unit is focused on leadership and measurement of PR activities, with an emphasis on management of projects, campaigns and resources, internal stakeholders, the PR team and key suppliers.

The new syllabus is underpinned with a critical evaluation of a range of communication concepts and models. It also emphasises the importance of research that informs communication all the way through the process, from situation analysis to objective setting and measuring outcomes as well as outputs. This reflects the growing appreciation of the use of data and analytics in contemporary communication practice. It will continue to be taught and assessed at Masters level, so all the important academic rigour remains.

The process of updating the syllabus was challenging at times. There was considerable debate in the review group about relevant theory and knowledge and how it is applied to practice. For example, which PR planning model is most appropriate to use today? The answer was not to try to resolve this in a committee but to focus the syllabus on the planning process and how it can be viewed in a number of ways that can be tailored to specific issues or organisational contexts.

The new syllabus also incorporates more emphasis on reflective learning in the teaching and assessments. As the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) states, as a reflective learner, ‘You’ll think about how you’ll use new knowledge and skills in your future activities – so learning is always linked to action, and theory to practice’. This is all part of continuous professional development and learning how to ‘learn’ and add new skills over time.

More details on the new syllabus are available here.