National Capital Chapter

The Long Journey to Accreditation

by Robyn Rudish-Laning

My APR journey started almost four years ago.

You may be wondering how a process with a defined one-year deadline ended up taking someone multiple years.

Well, it has a lot to do with the traditional definition of public relations and how it doesn’t quite match up with the current communications landscape.  

I started seriously considering pursuing the Accreditation in Public Relations in late 2017. I had finished my master’s degree almost five years earlier and, at the time, there was still a five-year experience requirement for anyone applying to become accredited. I thought I was right on track. 

I downloaded the study guide—all 168 pages of it–and borrowed a copy of “Cutlip and Center’s Effective Public Relations.” As I dug in, I was instantly transported back to my undergrad days with my highlighters and index cards spread out across my desk. Much of what I was reading felt intuitive; it was unconsciously part of my daily life. I was making progress and felt confident that I’d have “APR” after my name in no time. 

The APR process includes four steps: complete the application; sit for a Panel Presentation; complete the computer-based exam; and commit to renewing the accreditation. I hit the proverbial wall when I looked into the Panel Presentation, which is an opportunity for candidates to demonstrate competence in 12 specific areas of public relations knowledge, skills and abilities that cannot be effectively judged in the computer-based examination. 

The presentation itself wasn’t what gave me pause, it was the bullet points outlining how to complete the Panel Presentation questionnaire that made me nervous: “select a public relations plan you have written that reflects your experience, and complete the Questionnaire at your own discretion.”

I hadn’t written an actual public relations plan since grad school. Sure, I’d written campaigns, digital strategies, messaging documents, and all manner of communications materials, but media relations and some of the traditional tools—press releases, media advisories, etc.—  associated with public relations had never been major players in my arsenal. I put the APR process on hold.  

I realized recently, while reading through content during  PRSA’s Accreditation month, that digital communications is public relations. The digital methods, like email, social media and websites, have given communicators a direct line to the public and are as much a part of public relations as traditional media engagement. 

Looking back on all the plans and strategies I’ve created over the course of my career, each one has included the four key elements identified by the APR guidelines – research, planning, implementation and evaluation – in some way. Even campaigns as part of a larger strategy require research and planning to be effective. 

Becoming an APR doesn’t mean that you’re a perfect practitioner and the point of the Panel Presentation isn’t to review a perfect plan. In fact, the best guidance I’ve heard about the Panel Presentation is to approach it like a case study. Pick a communications plan that you feel confident to analyze and discuss. It doesn’t need to be complete—let’s face it, most aren’t—or even successful.

For me, accreditation feels like the next logical step in my professional education. It’s something I’m doing for myself, to prove to myself that I actually know what I think I know. 

So once again, I’m breaking out the textbooks and study materials. This time, though, I feel better prepared and more confident in my knowledge and abilities.

Thinking about earning your APR? Learn more here

Robyn Rudish-Laning is the 2021 chair of PRSA NCC’s Marketing and Communications Committee and currently works for the Pew Charitable Trusts as a digital strategist. A native of southern New Jersey, Robyn comes to the D.C. area by way of South Carolina and Pittsburgh, where she served in leadership roles for PRSA chapters in both areas. She also previously served as the national chair for PRSA’s New Professionals Section. While in Pittsburgh, Robyn attended Duquesne University, where she earned both a bachelor’s in Public Relations and a masters in media arts and technology.