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22 May 2024


S10 - E6: New study of Census data reveals PR population secrets – Ben Verinder

Ben is managing director of Chalkstream, an agency specialising in reputation research, training and management across a range of sectors.  Ben is a Fellow of the CIPR, a former lead assessor for chartered status and one of 50 Founding chartered practitioners.

Chalkstream has conducted a range of different studies investigating the nature of the UK PR practitioner population, including the CIPR’s State of the Profession series and analysis of 2021 Census data about those who work in PR. Ben’s specialist interests include the use of AI in communication, behavioural science in PR practice and, more broadly, change management

Podcast overview

Earlier this year the CIPR published ground-breaking analysis of census data about PR practitioners, undertaking by Chalkstream.

This is the first study of its kind involving data from the 2021 census and the latest in a series of Chalkstream studies investigating the population of UK PRs.

It covers off all sorts of demographic information, including sex, age, religion, passports and even how many practitioners own second homes.

The results pose a significant challenge for PR, shedding new light on imbalances between genders.

Podcast questions

  • Why did you undertake this study?
  • What are the main findings? 
  • What does the data tell us about diversity in PR?
  • What was the most surprising finding for you?
  • What next for research into the PR population?

Asif Choudry (00:05):

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the You’re my commsHERO podcast. And I’m your host Asif Choudry. Today my guest is Ben Verinder. Ben is managing director of ChalkStream Agency, specialising in reputation research, training and management across a range of sectors. Ben himself is a fellow of the CIPR former lead assessor for charter status and one of 50 founding chartered practitioners. ChalkStream has conducted a range of different studies investigating the nature of UK PR practitioner population, including CIPR, state of the Profession series and analysis of 2021. Census data about those who work in pr. And Ben’s special Ben’s specialist interests include the use of AI and communication, behavioural science and PR practice, and more broadly change management. So Ben, thank you for joining us, and it’s a pleasure to welcome you on the podcast.

Ben Verinder (00:55):

Thank you for having me. Thanks for inviting me along. I thank

Asif Choudry (00:58):

You. Okay, so we’re gonna do a little bit of getting to know you before we get into the main, um, topic at hand, which will tell you what that is shortly. So I’m gonna kick off. Uh, Ben, what’s your most played song on your Spotify playlist?

Ben Verinder (01:12):

Oh, uh, probably dictated by my daughter, I would imagine <laugh>. She’s, she’s massively into, uh, Natashas Bedingfield at the moment, for reasons I don’t, she’s a bit old school. Uh, I think she’s gonna meet her. That’s a long story. Uh, my wife, uh, some of you might know, is a, is the world’s leading Dolly Parton impersonator. So she goes around the world being Dolly Parton, Astrid, sorry. And, uh, so it’s obviously probably a bit of Dolly as well.

Asif Choudry (01:37):

Amazing. I didn’t know that. So there we go. That’s the whole point of the section. Yeah. Yeah. Fantastic.

Ben Verinder (01:43):

So yeah, that, you know, that, that fit. Now we won’t talk about PR anymore, we’ll just talk about Dolly Parton,

Asif Choudry (01:47):

<laugh>, the Life and Times of Dolly Parton. So, okay. So the answer to this question might be Dolly Parton, but which famous person would you invite to dinner and why?

Ben Verinder (01:57):

Well, Dolly, yeah. Uh, we haven’t met her. She’s lovely. She’s a really lovely lady. Um, so Dolly, I, I think I’d be, I’d really like to meet, I would’ve, I would very much like to, if I, if it’s living or dead, uh, I quite like to have met Churchill. Yeah. Um, bit of a fan of Mar Marilyn Monroe. Uh, for lots of different reasons. She was a civil rights activist as, as well as being quite a, quite an amazing person. And, um, um, uh, but I think alive, who would I like to meet? No, actually, the person that I would like to meet more than anybody else, living or dead would be Michael Donah. He who was a poet who died at the age of 50, about 15 years ago, who was originally from the Bronx and moved to the UK and I think is probably the greatest poet of the late 20th century. Early 21st.

Asif Choudry (02:44):

Okay. Brilliant. I’ll have to, it’s always, uh, an interesting, quite an eclectic mix, uh, of, you know, ’cause it’s such a personal thing. So it’s brilliant. Michael Donny, I would Google him afterwards actually.

Ben Verinder (02:55):

Donny yeah, he’s a great man. And he was a, he’s a, he’s a man, I’m a poet, so I’ve got a couple of books out and he, he taught, uh, the people who have taught me, he taught my, my sort of favourite tutor. So I’ve got some indirect connections with him, and I sort of, he was, he is also just a genius. Yeah.

Asif Choudry (03:11):

So you’ve got a couple of books you said there, Ben. Come on, give you a shameless plug. Let’s plug those books then. Yeah.

Ben Verinder (03:15):

Shameless plug. So you can find my Poetry world. If you just Google Benbo, it’s on my website. It’s So I’m, um, I’m a nature poet, so I’ve got a couple of pamphlets out. One called Botanicals, my first one, and the second one is called, uh, we Lost The Birds with, um, uh, nine Pens Press, which was out March last year. And I’m in the middle of, uh, just, um, I’ve just finished a collection and I’m, I’m in negotiations with some different publishers for that.

Asif Choudry (03:42):

Brilliant. Maybe you’ll, um, write a poem for Comms Hero, the community. That would be amazing. Uh, we’ve had songs written for Comms Hero, so we’ve never a poem. So let’s just wait and see.

Ben Verinder (03:53):

All right. I’ll, I’ll go away and think about that one.

Asif Choudry (03:56):

<laugh>. Uh, okay, so final one. So three words to describe you, Ben. It’s always a tough one. This, the best thing is you ask your family, but you might not like some of their responses. <laugh>?

Ben Verinder (04:08):

Well, I’m a bit, I’m glowing at the moment ’cause I’ve just, I’ve just been on a road. So just finished running <laugh>. I think it’s probably just, yeah, that’s, that’s my, I’ve like sitting here going, I wish I’d done more stretches, Joe. Yeah. Just finished running. Love

Asif Choudry (04:23):

That. Not had that before. So a break from the norm. So, fantastic. Thanks for sharing that. And we, we’ve learned loads. Um, Mrs. Verda Dolly person in per Dolly Parton impersonator, and yeah,

Ben Verinder (04:35):

So her name’s Kelly O’Brien. There’s another plug for you. So if you, if anybody, if you, yeah, so, so if you, it is a dolly show. It’s a, it’s a excellent, it’s a website part. People are interested.

Asif Choudry (04:44):

There we go. Good job. We’re not on any royalties from Comme, Ben. You’ll be the sales gonna fly in. Um, so we’re, we’re here now because earlier this year, CIPR published groundbreaking analysis of census data about PR practitioners undertaken by your agency, Ben Chalk Stream. And this is the first study of its kind involving data from the 2021 census and the latest in a series of chalk stream studies investigating the population of UK prs. So it covers off, uh, all sorts of demographic information, including sex, age, religion, passports, and even how many practitioners own second homes. And the results pose a significant challenge for pr shedding new light on imbalances between genders. And it’s, uh, genuinely a privilege to have the Ben too. ’cause there was lots of, we were talking before the recording and there were lots of stuff on socials on LinkedIn when the report came out.

Asif Choudry (05:37):

And, um, it was a post by Steven Waddington name check for him. And I said, oh, it’d be great to have you on. And he actually said, no, you need to speak to Ben because he’s the, he’s the guy behind it. And, and here we are now. So, really appreciate you, you coming on and helping unpack some of that report for people who haven’t read it yet, um, or even the ones that have read it, it’s always nice to get a behind the scenes insight as well. So first of all, to kick off then, Ben, why did you undertake this study?

Ben Verinder (06:05):

Uh, well, it’s, it’s part of a longitudinal set of studies that we, we started in, I think 2016 looking at different data provided by the Office of National Statistics. So in a former life, I, uh, was a, um, a comms director for an organization that dealt with quite a lot of, uh, ONS data in related to demographies, particularly in relation to skills. So I’ve got a background, sort of data analysis around this kind of data, and I wondered what we, we wondered as an agency what might be available, um, in relation to PR practitioners because in order for us to understand and improve the profession, um, in order to improve the profession, and, and, and we need to understand it, we need to know where we are in terms of, you know, practitioners, uh, populations and, and, and, but also their working lives, which is something that state of the profession looks at.

Ben Verinder (06:58):

So yeah, we, we started looking at, at trends in, um, different, uh, national studies, um, uh, in 2016. And, um, we waited until the census of 2021 and then, then went knocking on the door of the OS again and said, look, can you give us the data for PR practitioners? And they kindly supported us and the CIPR in, in, in producing a lot of data in relation to, to the PR population. And yeah, because if we don’t, it’s, it’s essential for us to understand, uh, you know, uh, the factors of the population in order, particularly if we want to focus on and improve diversity in particular, which is a particular interest of mine.

Asif Choudry (07:43):

Brilliant. So that tells us why the, why behind the undertaking the study. So can you tell us what are the main findings then from the study itself?

Ben Verinder (07:54):

Well, um, one of the things to mention is some of the limitations before we go to the findings, because they do shape the findings to some extent. So this was, um, March, 2021 when the census was undertaken, if you remember, was coming after the pandemic. And that’s affected, uh, some of the results. Um, it also meant that in the sense of working from home, for instance, so, um, in, uh, in most state of the profession surveys prior to 2021, um, other studies, we had about 80, uh, 85% of the population PR population, uh, went to the office full time. And actually, that flipped on its head by March 21. So it was, it was about 85% of us were working from home as a result of the pandemic. So that changed some of the answers, but it also meant, uh, the, the, the pandemic meant that the way the sensors was conducted was slightly different in Scotland and Northern Ireland than in England and Wales.

Ben Verinder (08:51):

And that meant that we’ve only got data for England and Wales at the moment, which means that we can tell you that there were sixties, about 64,000 rounding up, 64,000 PR practitioners, uh, practicing in England and Wales, um, on the 21st of March, I think it was 2021, uh, which is a little bit lower than we thought. Again, we think that some, that, that figure’s been slightly reduced by the fact that, uh, we had people on furlough who weren’t registering themselves as PR practitioners because of the mechanics of the census, how it collects data, but much more, perhaps more usefully than the overall number. We can see that, uh, there’s a split between males and females. 60% of practitioners are female and 40% male. Now, um, disturbingly that flips on its head when we look at more senior practitioners. So 46% of the director groups, so the more senior practitioners are female, and 54% of male a male.

Ben Verinder (09:53):

And that reflects broader challenges in public relations. We’ve seen in other studies, including the statement profession, where we see in particular females leaving the workforce in their, um, particularly in their thirties. Uh, often studies suggest this is, um, directly related to childcare responsibilities. And of course there’s lack of, um, you know, it’s, um, uh, there’s a, um, a challenge there in terms of fairness about why should females have to bear that particular responsibility. But there’s also lots of, um, evidence including this, that signpost is that, um, there’s not enough support for, uh, females wanting to come back into public relations, and there’s certainly not enough flexibility within, uh, within job roles. So that was one of our major findings, this, this, uh, really solid data set about the fact we’re losing, um, uh, female practitioners, really talented female practitioners. Um, uh, and they’re not, uh, in vol, they’re not moving into directorship or, or senior roles in the same volume of males as males.

Asif Choudry (10:59):

Okay. It’s quite some startling facts. It’s probably stuff we know and we see, we hear, um, on LinkedIn timelines and social media timelines. It’s, it’s not something that hasn’t been commented on, but it, when you talk specifically there in terms of the hard facts, the 60% male, 40% female in terms of practitioners, but it flips on its head virtually when it comes to senior positions. It’s quite startling when you hear the actual numbers rather than anecdotal feedback and comments that, uh, tend to be put forward on, on LinkedIn. So in terms of that diversity, that’s one element of diversity. Is there anything else within the research that, um, that data has told you about diversity in pr?

Ben Verinder (11:44):

Yeah, so, um, there’s an ethnicity, uh, data within the, uh, within the data set. Um, and there is, um, uh, which is similar, uh, uh, similar, um, to other, uh, studies that we’ve undertaken in the state of profession. So, um, we see that we’ve got about 84% of practitioners, uh, born in the uk. Um, we, in terms of, um, place of birth, but, um, I’m just trying to find the key data in relation to, um, different ethnicities actually. Um, I think it’s around about 87% that’s right, of practitioners of white, uh, classified themselves of white ethnicity, 5% Asian, 4% of mixed ethnicity in 3% black. Now this is a survey of, again, you know, 64,000 people, so it is on point. Yeah, it’s the, you know, it’s the, it’s the reference point. This is similar to other studies, um, that we’ve undertaken. So our early analysis of stuff we did in 2016 and onwards.

Ben Verinder (12:47):

So that’s, um, so there’s, um, and, and it reflects, uh, to some extent the, um, diversity of, uh, you know, the statistics, um, um, and, um, range of ethnicities within the British population, but it doesn’t reflect, it’s underrepresented of, for instance, professional, um, uh, uh, di diversity in other, uh, professions, for instance, which have got a higher level of diversity. So, uh, there’s some way to go there for public relations. And it, and again, there’s some variations in our other studies, there’s more diversity along ethnic lines in certain parts of the profession. So for instance, in, uh, in-house public sector roles than in other parts of the, the profession such as, for instance, uh, consultancy, particular types of consultancy roles. So there’s, there’s a mixed picture there as well across the board. Yeah.

Asif Choudry (13:41):

Wow. Some powerful stats there, to be honest. It’s all, um, certainly news to me. Like I say, just, just when you hear the number. So there’s, there’s certainly some surprising findings there for me to hear. But for you putting the research together yourself, then, what, um, as well as those stats, was there anything else? What was the most surprising finding for you out of all the research that you carried out?

Ben Verinder (14:04):

For me, it was age, actually. So 45% of practitioners are aged 16 to 34, so that’s nearly almost half of, of, of practitioners. We are a young profession. Um, and again, this is consistent with other studies, uh, but it was brought starly up that we are such a young profession, and that one wonders, uh, again, uh, anecdotally as you’ve me, I’ve come across quite a lot of stories of, uh, particularly practitioners in the, um, from my age and overtime coming up to, uh, fifties and 49, um, uh, struggling in the workforce. And, you know, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence in relation to, uh, bluntly put ageism. So, uh, and I think that’s the subject that’s worth exploring in greater detail. And, and that’d be great to see, uh, more qualitative studies in relation to that. So that was the thing for me was the, age range and, and particularly the focus and the concentration on, on, on, um, uh, on that younger, uh, sort of, uh, age range in relation to, to our population.

Ben Verinder (15:10):

Um, uh, but also, uh, I was, you know, surprised by some of the stuff that, uh, came out that was perhaps a little bit left field. So, um, uh, half of us are, are not married or have entered a civil partnership. I didn’t, I didn’t, uh, I was just, uh, I thought that was quite interesting. I don’t know how that compares to the general population, I have to say. Um, and, um, it’s interesting as well that, um, we’ve got, uh, uh, sort of, uh, quite a, a sizable chunk of us. I think it was about 8% of us who, uh, own second homes, which is just, uh, interesting. Um, but yeah, there’s lots more in the report, which I think you are going to post alongside this chat, and people can dive in there. Uh, apologies. Um, people can dive in there and, um, uh, and have a look. Yeah,

Asif Choudry (16:00):

We’ll be sharing the link in the show notes. It certainly sounds like it’ll be an interesting read. And just picking up on the ageism element. And, um, uh, do you think in the same way from a, uh, females in the senior leadership stats, is there enough or is there anything being done for, um, the people who are later on in their careers through, through age and what have you, you say, let’s say, you know, 40, 45 plus, is there a focus, do you think that the research is telling us that we need to focus on that? Because the, I I don’t tend to see a lot of commentary about, um, about that element. You know, it’s a lot of the awards and what have you, uh, for young Communicator of the year and things like that. So, you know, is there some space there for things to be done?

Ben Verinder (16:46):

I think there is some space there for, for things to be done. I think, if I remember rightly, there is, um, a relatively new award for, uh, practitioners are over 50. So that’s really welcome. I think, as I mentioned, this is a, an area where further research, uh, particularly, uh, um, you know, a mix of qualitative and quantitative would be, uh, hugely welcome. It might be my ignorance. It may be that there are some studies being undertaken into this. Um, and I’m, that I’m not aware of. There is a great book that’s just come out, which I’m yet freed actually, which is focusing on, which is, uh, a number of different authors, which is about the nature of, uh, PR work for women. And it’s got, it’s a, it’s a collection. And, um, I, I’d commend that. And even though I’m not read it, I know I’ve read some of the chapters.

Ben Verinder (17:33):

Um, Susan <inaudible> is a, a senior practitioner. I know he is one of the people who’ve, who’s written a chapter for that, and she sent me the drafts of that. So that’s a, that’s if you’re interested in the female perspective, particularly from a, I think, uh, there’s qualitative and quantitative evidence in there that, that, that sounds like it’s a, it’s gonna be a great read. And again, it’s on my, it’s on my bookshelf waiting for me to read. Yeah, no, in terms of ageism, um, it, it is something that I, uh, hear quite a lot about. It’s not, it’s not restricted to public relations at all. Yeah. It’s, it’s, um, a factor. Then there have been a variety of different studies, one recently for the House of Lords into ages and within professions. Um, so it’s not something that’s exclusive to public relations. But yeah, I think, um, uh, so again, if people listen to this, uh, podcast and they, uh, know of interesting studies or useful studies, um, that are specific to public relations, I’d be really, you know, do drop me a line because we’re keen to, it’s might be that I’m not, um, I’m a little bit ignorant in that area.

Asif Choudry (18:31):

Sure, no, thank you for that. And so what’s, just to wrap up the questions then, Ben, what’s next for the research into the PR population? You mentioned more qualitative and quantitative, so is there anything’s more specific that you’ve got that you’ve thoughts on?

Ben Verinder (18:44):

Yeah, well, um, um, we’ve just put the lid on, we’ve just closed the latest state of the profession. Uh, we’ve had a record number of, well, certainly more respondents to that than we’ve had in the last decade. Uh, the evidence so far is absolutely fascinating. So we’ve asked lots of questions on AI use. We’ve asked questions on where people are being trained and where they’re not being trained. We’ve asked questions about the reputation of public relations in organizations. We’ve asked, um, hundreds and hundreds of agency and consultancy and independent practitioners about fee levels and their, uh, so we’ve got a lot of, of, of new, uh, data there about the profession, but also the, the stuff we did for the CIPR on on this, um, census data is just the tip of the iceberg because anybody else, anybody who wants to understand can go more about the profession, can go to see, can contact the, the census, uh, team at the ONS.

Ben Verinder (19:47):

Um, and if you want to find out how to contact them, drop me a line. And they have lots of other data that you, and lots of other ways to segment that census data. So what we did was a sort of start of 10. So if you are interested, for instance, in understanding the, uh, data in relation to self-employed practitioners, so independent practitioners, then they, they, they could produce a whole data set on that. So there’s again, we, we’ve just, we’ve just, um, uh, we, we are just the sort tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the available ways you could look at data in relation to public relations practitioners. There’s a lot more that people could do. Um, and, um, so anybody who’s interested in it, um, do, do drop me a line if you, if you under, I want to undertake your sales. Um, it’s, um, it’s, uh, it’s a, uh, um, it’s an absolute, there’s a, a sort of box of delight Yeah. If you’re into that kind of thing.

Asif Choudry (20:41):

So there you go. An exclusive sneak preview into the state of the profession report there from Ben. Yeah.

Ben Verinder (20:47):

Notice I didn’t, <laugh> didn’t notice. I didn’t give you any, any, any, uh, actual, uh, data because I’d get in trouble

Asif Choudry (20:54):

<laugh> just the anti, well, there’s, there’s the, uh, I’m feeling serious FOMO now, but I like everybody else, I’m just gonna have to wait. Um, so yes, some, some fascinating stuff in amongst all of that. And thanks for unpacking the, uh, research report and leaving us with a cliffhanger on the state of the profession one as well, Ben. Very good. That one. So, um, we’re here because of the Comm Zero community. So why is Comm Zero important to you, and would you recommend people working in comms and marketing and PR in this instance to be part of it?

Ben Verinder (21:27):

Yeah, well, I, um, I hear a lot about you from a lot of different people, and I know it’s a really useful network. Um, and, and that’s where I, my sort of friends and colleagues have, have attended to, um, uh, you know, uh, that’s our main touch touch point for your good selves. Um, and, and anything that helps celebrate. I really like the lighthearted nature in which you’ve over the years helped celebrate, uh, public relations practitioners and, and the work that they do. So, you know, keep up the good work.

Asif Choudry (21:59):

Oh, thank you. Appreciate that. And, uh, work, the Comma Awards are now live, and we actually try and encourage, and this is one thing about the profession itself, whether it’s comms, marketing and pr, um, uh, we’re a modest bunch and, um, uh, the awards, we’re trying to encourage people to actually nominate themselves. But that in itself has been probably one of the biggest challenges where people think it’s, it’s not something I would do or, well, you know, mm-hmm <affirmative> if, if you are not gonna be comfortable celebrating what you are doing, um, and putting yourself forward, then this argument about having a seat at the top table becomes quite a difficult one to have because why are we waiting for other people in organizations to recognize the value and talent within the profession? We’ve got to shout about it more. And that’s certainly what we stand for.

Asif Choudry (22:46):

We want to help encourage people to do that, but not necessarily just within our echo chamber, because it’s people outside of the profession that need to hear that. But if we can start something, which hopefully we have, then, you know, that’s something that’s a privilege for us, and we’ll, we’ll encourage more people to do that. But it would be nice to, uh, see more people being more forthcoming with their own praise, really. So it’d be great to do that. So thanks for sharing that. And, um, community and connection is important. And you’ve mentioned there’s loads of reasons why you should, um, get in touch with Ben, whether it’s information on the, uh, research reports he’s carrying out, uh, poetry or even the Dolly show. So there’s lots of reasons there. So Ben, where will people find you?

Ben Verinder (23:31):

So you can find me on LinkedIn, just, um, I’m the only Ben Verinder on LinkedIn, I think. So it, it, it’s, um, veer, V-E-R-I-N-D-E-R. Um, I’m on Twitter, but I’m not on there that often. And you can find me on my personal website, which is just

Asif Choudry (23:46):

Brilliant. So you’ll find this podcast on Spotify, apple, or your chosen platform, and also on our website com You can follow us on Twitter, rx, call it whichever one you like at com zero. And if you do listen on Apple or Spotify, please take the time to leave a rating and review. That’s really important for feedback, and hit the following subscribe button so you get the new episodes when they come out. So, Ben, absolute pleasure. Thank you for sharing your insight. I look forward to publishing this and sharing this with the community.

Ben Verinder (24:14):

Thank you so much for inviting us. I really appreciate it. And um, really interesting questions. What that was, that was a lot of fun. Thank you.

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