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?