Committed To Excellence
This April, we’re celebrating not only the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) but also the professionals who have taken the extra step of becoming APRs. Accreditation illustrates respect for the profession, a dedication to lifelong learning and a commitment to the ethical standards that guide our work as communicators.
In honor of APR month, meet five members who have earned their accreditation and learn more about its process and importance.
What made you decide to pursue an APR?
Sultana: I was in the process of my Master’s degree in Strategic Public Relations for George Washington University at the time, and everything I was learning in class (along with daily work in my PR agency job at the time) felt relevant to the APR. I was able to translate my knowledge and work, and, while busy, it was a time of great knowledge sharing and engagement.
Cedric: When I was pursuing my master’s degree at Syracuse University, my program chair at the time, Dr. Rochelle Ford, offered a few of us with prior work experience the opportunity to apply for the APR as part of our graduation requirements. In place of taking a comprehensive exam, Dr. Ford would allow us to sit for the Panel Presentation, requiring a “Pass” result to complete our degree program. Of three students who were eligible, I think I was the only one to get it done.
Deidre: I (and a few of my military PAO colleagues) was looking for training opportunities for experienced professionals practicing the art and science of military communications. We found them few and far between and decided to try what was at that time a fairly new program: APR+M. At the time I received the accreditation, I was the only civilian PAO working for the National Guard to have it. I’m pleased to say a few more of the National Guard PAO family have also tackled it over the last nine years. And from the number of accreditation panels I’ve had the pleasure to join, it’s growing in popularity.
Erica: I wanted to earn the ability to prove my professional expertise and commitment to the industry.
Scott: I was tired of being perceived as only a public relations tactician. I wanted to be more than someone who wrote press releases or developed social media calendars. My challenge was being able to communicate the value of public relations in a way to help senior leadership see how effective communications could be an asset to the organization as a management function. I used the APR as a way to transition from tactician to strategist by better understanding management and how public relations principles could be easily aligned to support organizational priorities.
What are the benefits of being an APR?
Scott: Some view the APR as a “good housekeeping seal of approval” or as a way to build professional credibility. It’s so much more. The APR challenges you to see all of the roles of a public relations professional and helps you translate those skills to elevate your career. It also provides you an instant network of peers who understand your capabilities and experience.
Erica: The APR allows others to quickly and clearly understand your level of professional preparation and ethical standards.
Cedric: Immediately when I became Accredited, I was introduced to a large network of PR professionals who have welcomed me with open arms. Having it has opened doors for me to share my expertise via speaking and writing opportunities. Overall, it’s changed the way I think about our work: We’re not just responsible for publishing decorative materials for the sake of getting views or eyeballs, we’re actively using communications to influence minds and change behaviors.
Sultana: Whether you are being interviewed for a job, are making new connections, or are expanding engagement within the industry, an APR provides a common language and understanding—that you share the values of public relations, operate within the Code of Ethics, and adhere to best practices of the profession. An APR designation conveys that you put in the effort to achieve excellence in the profession, want to conduct your consulting utilizing effective strategies, and care deeply about the way you work because you understand its impact on the client and stakeholders it serves.
Deidre: I think there are three main benefits to the APR/APR+M: it proves to yourself you know your stuff, it shows other communications practitioners you know your stuff and it provides a level of certainty to people who aren’t in the communications world that you know your stuff. When I see someone with an APR, I immediately know I can call upon that communicator for assistance and advice and receive amazing input. I believe it definitely enhances your marketability.
What was the most difficult part of the process?
Deidre: Hitting “submit” on the computer-based test and waiting for what seemed like years for the preliminary score to appear on the screen. It is almost impossible not to overthink every question and every choice for an answer. Do NOT overthink. If you’ve taken the process seriously, read the materials (study guide and texts), practiced and exercised and applied what you’re learning, and attended a boot camp, you will do great. PRSA provides great tools and opportunities for success throughout the APR process. Make use of them.
Erica: As a full-time academic at the time, the panel presentation was difficult in translating my work to fit the required format of the process.
Scott: The process itself isn’t difficult. The difficult part is finding the self-awareness you will need to complete it. The APR journey is rigorous and challenging because it pushes you to take a tough look in the mirror about your strengths and weaknesses as a public relations pro. The people I see struggle the most while earning their APR are the people who let their hubris and ego get in the way. The most successful candidates are the ones who stay humble and value the experience as an opportunity for personal and professional growth.
Sultana: The process of obtaining an APR is a time to deepen problem-solving skills and apply knowledge in new ways. Oftentimes, we leave our PR challenges at work, but the APR process requires you to think on your work experience against the communications planning process, and consider what went well and aligned with the RPIE process, as well as how you could have approached things differently. It’s a humbling and eye-opening experience.
Cedric: Being on the younger end of those who pursue Accreditation, I had a limited range of program examples to choose from for my Panel Presentation. The program that I chose didn’t follow the KPIs the committee looks for, so I did my best to make some tie-ins where I could. Unfortunately, I didn’t advance on my first attempt, but I found out through feedback that I was only two points shy.
Should accreditation be important to the PR and communications industry? Why?
Erica: Yes, of course! Just as in many other industries, a distinct designation for educated and experienced PR and communications pros is necessary for the professional and for clients.
Sultana: APR is a standard of excellence within the industry. In some professions, you cannot practice in the field without receiving accreditation, yet anyone can practice public relations. Incredible good, as well as long-lasting harm, can be done in the communications consulting we provide for our organizations or clients. It underscores why our Code of Ethics and the expertise conferred by the APR designation matters so much.
Deidre: Yes. Accreditation is proof, no matter your niche, you are a professional communicator and you can pivot specialties. You may be a communication pro in healthcare, or manufacturing (or military) now, but those initials show you have mastered the art and science of communication and can apply those techniques in any setting/profession.
Cedric: There are a lot of misconceptions that still exist around the nature of work in PR. With it comes questions about our value to an organization and really society in general. The APR process teaches you how to demonstrate the value of your campaigns, not based on the amount of work you produced, but rather the outcomes achieved from the work and its impact on the organization. That’s what’s ultimately needed in order to earn our seat at the table in the C-Suite.
Scott: For me, one of the greatest benefits of the APR is the opportunity for continuing education and training to keep your skills fresh as a PR practitioner. While so much can change in our industry seemingly overnight, PR principles remain the same. Whenever I’m confronted by a new challenge, I am able to move quickly because I have a deep understanding of our core function. The program also rightly prioritizes professional ethics above all else. Understanding ethical approaches to public relations is something that can’t be overlooked.
What do you wish you had known about the APR before you began working towards it?
Cedric: Part of why I didn’t pass on my first Panel Presentation attempt is that I dwelled a bit much on the program’s faults because I wasn’t the lead manager on the work. What I did on my second attempt was compare the work as it happened against the things that I’d do differently had I created and led the program myself, and it worked! It’s really not as much about the amount of experience you have. It’s about your ability to use that experience to demonstrate what the UAB wants you to know.
Erica: I wish I had acquired a mentor earlier in the process.
Scott: It’s incredibly important to surround yourself with other APR candidates and mentors as you move through the process. I started my APR journey without a support system. But, I felt like I was spinning my wheels and not making any progress. I reached out to a few friends and colleagues across the industry and found incredible support to help motivate me in my journey. They helped review my materials and quizzed me on concepts. They provided accountability and encouragement every step of the way. The APR community is very welcoming and eager to lend a hand. I wish I had reached out for help sooner in the process. That’s where there is immense value in the PRSA NCC chapter. We have a higher number of APRs than any other chapter, and the community is willing to help mentor and provide support all along the way.
Deidre: I don’t remember even knowing much about it before starting the process, I just knew I wanted other communicators to recognize I was a professional communicator in the military world.
Sultana: I wish I’d trusted myself a bit more in the process. It’s easy to fall into an “imposter syndrome” mentality and feel you haven’t done enough in the industry. I lacked confidence in myself going through the process and looking back, I see how giving myself more compassion in the process, would have made it less strenuous.
What advice do you have for someone on the fence about pursuing an APR?
Erica: Do it! You can never have too much evidence of your professional capabilities! Also, ask as many questions as you need along the way.
Sultana: This is likely a common refrain, but that’s because it works—find yourself a “study buddy.” Not only does this provide accountability and give you a colleague to learn alongside, but you may find you make a lifelong connection and friend. That’s how it went for me, and though we live in different cities now, my study buddy and I are still great friends.
Cedric: Earning the APR has provided strong opportunities for me to network with like-minded professionals. If you’re looking to demonstrate your expertise to others, being Accredited helps you reach new audiences. You can then parlay that into new business (if you’re an agency owner) or a new position because your knowledge of PR brings true value to an organization. Also be mindful that you’ll only have one year to complete the process once your application is approved. It’s best to start working on your materials and then send your application for approval closer to the date you’re preparing for your Panel Presentation.
Scott: Earning your APR is a commitment. You have a year to complete the program, and you will use the full year. But how you use that year is up to you. Before you start, take a look at the year ahead and identify all the obstacles – taking a new job or having a new baby are the most common I’ve seen – that might get in your way and make a plan to address or work around them.
Deidre: Follow Nike’s advice: Just do it. I promise you it will be worth it. The materials are stellar. I still browse the study guide for refreshers. If you haven’t downloaded the most recent study guide, I highly recommend you do. Through the accreditation process you’ll learn so much about communications and yourself. It really is a great program and the material never gets stale.