To APR or Not to APR?

By Posted in - APR on July 19th, 2010

There’s a fungus among us. Okay, there isn’t a fungus among us but there is a healthy debate going on in the PR industry. Not in the biz? WAIT! Don’t click away, I want your opinion on this, too.

Here are the background facts:

APR stands for Accredited in Public Relations. It is the PR industry’s only certification program. Think of it as a voluntary CPA for PR people.

How do you get it? From what I understand, the process is rigorous, and most folks I know who go through it, study for 6 months to a year. There is an exam and a readiness review during which you present your portfolio and a well-prepared communications plan to a panel of other APRs. The fee is $385 and there are additional optional fees such as an online study guide subscription (up to $295) and 10 text books on the recommended reading list.

What does it mean? That’s where YOU come in to this discussion and that’s part of the debate. APR is intended to be a mark of distinction for public relations professionals who demonstrate their commitment to the profession and to its ethical practice, and who are selected based on broad knowledge, strategic perspective, and sound professional judgment. Some question if it is due to the fact that it might not be widely recognized outside of the industry… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

A bit about the debate first. PRSA, Public Relations Society of America, requires professionals seeking leadership positions on the PRSA board to have the APR. By the way, membership in PRSA at local and national levels, as well was in special interest groups is a paid membership. My understanding is that due to a low number of hands raised to take these positions over the past few years, some feel that the APR requirement should be dropped.

And this debate has fueled the resurgence of the original debate around is the value of the APR.

So now I want to make this personal. I’m looking for advice. I’ve known about the APR since I was in PRSSA (the student-version of PRSA) and have considered obtaining it for my 17 years in the profession since. When I graduated as a PR student (double major of speech comm & journalism with a minor in PR since EIU did not offer a PR major), PRSA required APR candidates to have 5 years of experience to take the exam. Otherwise, I would have signed up while all of my knowledge of PR history was fresh.

Achieving APR has been on my list of must-dos my entire career much like being a Silver Anvil winner. At least I can cross one of those off the list. So why haven’t I taken the time to prepare for and go through the APR process?

Well, let’s see. I was working with a non-profit organization which meant wearing many hats and not making much money — therefore, lack of time and money at that point in my life. A few years later, as I started to consider it again, I was working doing corporate PR including merger & acquisitions and managing international teams. My next move, another time-intensive job with an agency considered to be the world’s largest. There I completed the company’s leadership training, became that Silver Anvil winner, grew the largest book of business in my office and was co-chair of a global practice group for the agency. Additionally, I started gaining external professional development by becoming a member of PRSA’s Counselors Academy. (Stay with me, there’s a reason for saying all of this.)

Now I’m an agency owner. If I think APR is important, I can make it a priority. Except… well, it isn’t that easy. Here’s why. There has never been a time of such drastic change in our industry. Social media has changed the way every PR person worth her salt thinks, plans and execute. And if you run an agency like Clairemont that is building a business on successfully integrating social into client campaigns, you must consistently invest in education due to the daily evolution of tools and methods of communicating via social media.

So that’s why I’m thinking it will be at least 18 years into my career before taking the APR exam, but this is where I want your opinion. Clients, does it matter to you? Would you feel more confident working with me if I received the certification? APRs (I have much respect and admiration for you and those letters after your name), do you feel that the APR process and exam is consistent with the issues, challenges and realities of our industry today? My fellow non-APRs, your thoughts?

Keep in mind, I’ve always wanted to become accredited. But understand my challenges. I’m growing an agency, and again, one that is based largely on new territory. Now wouldn’t it be nice if I could continue to provide quality service to my clients (with traditional AND emerging communications tactics), grow my business and become accredited? What’s stopping me? Only 24 hours in a day.

But what if I didn’t have to spend 6 months or a year to prepare? In theory, after 17 years, shouldn’t I know the majority of the answers to the exam? Futhermore, is simply knowing the answers enough? A recent college grad can go through the same process and if we both pass, our designation is the same. As it stands the process has no way of factoring in the fact that I earned a communications degree and then applied it by holding PR positions in the non-profit, corporate and agency worlds. I’m not asking for a free pass. I’m simply pondering…should the point of entry be the same for everyone? Is it possible that more PR leaders are not achieving accreditation because they are busy executing (day after day, year after year) the very things that are tested to earn the three magic letters? Could there be a less time-intensive way to determine a professional’s “missing pieces” in order to only spend time mastering those things prior to testing?



(11) awesome comment(s)...

  • Abbie S. Fink - Reply

    July 22, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    The discussion on listserv started as a result of a petition to bring back to the assembly in October to vote on whether APR should be a requirement to serve on PRSA’s national board. The debate has morphed into APR v non-APR.

    When I was an entry-level professional, my boss was an APR. He placed tremendous value on PRSA and this offering and was willing to support it if I chose to go for it. At the time, you needed five years experience before you could sit for the exam. That seemed like forever to me at the time so instead I pursued a Masters in Mass Communication/Marketing (MMC). By the time I got the degree, I had advanced in my career, moved on to another agency and it no longer seemed as important. I’ve been with HMA Public Relations for 17 years. Only once has a client ever asked if we had an APR on staff (we do, our president, who also happens to be a PRSA Fellow).

    Now back to the origin of the discussion. In my opinion, the APR designation can and should be used as a point of differentiation between candidates not a requirement to run for office. To serve on the national board requires experience in governance, management, finance, etc. These experiences come from doing and are not necessarily or automatically there simply because you have the APR designation. Candidates for national office should be judged on a variety of factors, APR can certainly be one of them.

    Similarly, the APR can be used as a point of differentiation between job candidates, selecting an agency or any number of things.

    Kudos to those that have it, and Dana, go for it, if it is something YOU will find value in. First round is on me if you, Tom and Kris achieve this milestone.

    • Dana Hughens - Reply

      July 23, 2010 at 10:09 pm

      Thanks all for the comments. Abbie, I was hoping you would provide your thoughts based on our previous discussion on this topic. I didn’t realize or had forgotten you have your Masters. (Sorry, and you continue to amaze me!) To Bob’s point about considering an executive MBA, that becomes part of the question for me, too. If I’m going to invest in continued education, I feel like I should consider all options.

      Kris, do you really think we need justification for a big celebration at a CA conference? Although I will say, the thought of doing it at the same time as you and Tom (and my dear client, Susan) certainly makes me think that if I’m going to do it, now would be the time.

      And Susan…wow. MBA and APR. You are such an overachiever. I am so impressed. We must discuss this in more detail.

      Thanks again, everyone!

  • Kris Schindler - Reply

    July 20, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    There are several points that I wish to respond to:

    1. Regarding the debate within our membership on whether APR should be required for PRSA leadership positions, my feeling is that acronyms do not a leader make.

    2. Do clients care? My experience is that they really don’t, unless you are a one-person operation working from home. In that case, it might help legitimize you.

    3. Might it make a difference if you are looking for a job or when someone is considering subbing work out to you? Absolutely. APR is often a requirement in these circumstances.

    4. Am I APR? A few years ago I went through some classes that were offered by our local chapter but didn’t follow through with the Readiness Review or with the exam. A few months ago I took up the process again and plan on a Readiness Review in September.

    5. Should Dana get get her APR? If you have the time to devote to it, I vote yes. You have the knowledge, skills and experience. It certainly won’t hurt you to have it and in some cases may help. AND if you and Tom and I all earn APR this year, we’ll be able to justify a big– I mean, B-I-G celebration at Counselors Academy in May 2011.

  • Susan Howe - Reply

    July 20, 2010 at 11:50 am

    Hey Dana – I’m 50% through my APR. I have passed readiness review but have yet to take the exam. I have until this fall to write it. I too have my undergrad in Communications. I also have my MBA in marketing, but even with both of these I wanted to pursue my APR because I saw it as the last professional accreditation I had yet to achieve. I know you could complete readiness very easily by presenting one of your many projects to the panel. Passing the exam is tougher though as it takes old fashioned studying … theory, ethics, etc. I understand most of the exam is based on PR strategy; not history or memorizing lists you may have known back in your college days. If you choose to pursue it, my one word of advice would be to write the exam as soon as possible. Don’t put it off as I have. Good luck!! Susan

  • Bob Page - Reply

    July 20, 2010 at 8:25 am

    Great discussion. I don’t know if an APR makes a difference for clients, but an executive MBA probably would.

  • kristy - Reply

    July 20, 2010 at 5:38 am

    Hi Dana,
    In my field we have something like this, it’s is called Masters of Real Estate. You must take courses and pass, years of mgmt. experience and a case study that was around 55 pages for me. That process was meant to show what you knew as a professional. I felt is was important for me to do and I’m very glad to have it. Others in my profession recognize this achievement and appreciate it as well.

    Having said that, I can honestly say as your client it dosen’t mean much to me. I’m not familiar with the designation but am familiar with your work. Perhaps it means more when you are going to work for an agency? I would ask if you think it’s important for your current and future employees. If the answer is yes, then I would say you have to lead by example.
    Not sure if this helped, but these are my humble thoughts!

    • Dana Hughens - Reply

      July 20, 2010 at 6:50 am

      PR peeps following this discussion, Kristy provides interesting client insight. Kristy, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

  • Tom Garrity - Reply

    July 19, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    Great topic Dana, and what a thoughtful response from Ann Barks. Like you, I saw the listserve barbs fly last week in the form of opinion and innuendo. APR was a topic tonight at dinner even before I saw your post. My decision to pursue APR by the end of the year has nothing to do with PRSA or NSPRA or IABC… it has to do with me. And yes, while Social Media has altered the playing field, the core elements of the four step process remain. Ethics are more important than ever, operational knowledge of public relations and running a business can only help elevate the profession for everyone. APR is a way, not the only way, to measure how we compare to the industries of marketing, advertising and spin.

    • Dana Hughens - Reply

      July 19, 2010 at 11:54 pm

      Thanks, Tom. You also make some great points… some things haven’t changed. I would love to talk with you about how much you think you already know on the test from experience, and how much you plan to study. Also, marathon(s) AND APR in the same year? Are you trying to prove you are Superman? Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this important topic.

  • Dana Hughens - Reply

    July 19, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    Extremely well said, Ann! That all makes so much sense to me. It really just comes down to a matter of prioritizing and as a new agency owner, I feel (again) like there is so much to do and so many opportunities for professional growth and learning. I’m curious, at what point in your career did you go through the process? Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  • Ann Barks, APR - Reply

    July 19, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    Dana, I can’t really advise you because your situation is different than mine was when I did take a deep, nervous breath and decide to go for my APR. But what I can do is tell you what it’s meant for me.

    I believe going through the APR process is both a personal and professional decision. In my case, I didn’t do it because I thought I’d get a higher-level job or a raise — I did it because I admired the APRs I knew and felt they were the sharpest, most dynamic PR professionals in my area so I aspired to the same “mark of distinction,” as I saw it. However, the 6-month process actually became a growth experience for me professionally; it made me a more strategic practitioner because it re-focused my attention on the “why” of what we do, not just the tactics.

    I can honestly point to my APR process as a significant moment in my maturity and confidence as a professional in PR. I’d been in the profession about tenyears at that point.

    Now, I work as a consultant and I still feel it’s of true value to me. I’ve found that explaining to potential clients what the APR means after my name gives me a chance to talk plainly to them about my approach to my profession, about my professional ethics and about why that should matter to them as well. I believe for many clients, that discussion is something significant to add to the mix when choosing the right PR consultant for their needs and their company’s culture. They don’t choose me based on my having initials after my name but they do understand that the reason I have the initials after my name is my belief in ethics and professionalism.


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