Wednesday, May 29, 2013

APR Promotion Long Overdue

I received an email from the Public Relations Society of America PRSA yesterday that announced a new effort to promote the value of the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) designation. Information about the 'Enhancing the APR" effort is also available online.

The timing of this announcement is interesting to me personally. Just last week in my spring Fundamentals of Public Relations course I explained the APR in a lecture about ethics. I discussed the background and pros and cons of licensing public relations professionals, and why accreditation emerged as another option. I explained how a PR professional gains the APR accreditation, how they maintain it, and why they might want to do so.

But I was also honest. I pointed out that the same week I had once again renewed my APR credential. I filled out the requisite form to demonstrate I had earned the points needed in the past three years to remain worthy of the professional distinction. I sent in my $50 with the form. But I also wondered, why do I do this?

As I told my students, the value of the APR is mostly personal. It has intrinsic value. In other words, as young professionals it can be a way to prove to themselves that they possess a broad understanding of a field that is very broad in the numerous specific jobs that PR professionals undertake these days. To earn the APR is to show to yourself that you care about the profession, that you possess contextual awareness of the role of PR in organizations and in society that goes beyond mere technical skills.

I also told my students that earning and maintaining the APR might help them within the PR profession. In other words, some PR agencies or departments may include professionals who have earned accreditation themselves, or through membership in PRSA, they may value it  and give an edge when hiring to those who have APR behind their name. However, there are also those even among PR professionals who are unaware of or unimpressed by APR.

I said the same things to local professions a decade ago when I was president of the West Michigan PRSA chapter and when I was coach for the APR exam preparation class.

Beyond that, the legions of people outside the profession have little or no knowledge of what APR is or why it should matter to them. I have both PhD and APR behind my name on my business cards, and when I do PR consulting and hand over my freelance consulting card, I almost always get asked "what is APR?" I recently published a book and my father-in-law looked at the book jacket and my bio and asked me about APR. I am editing a new annual report for the School of Communications at the university where I teach and the director of the school, a colleague but who does not teach public relations, highlighted the APR behind my name on the masthead and asked "is this some sort of professional designation?

In other words, the promotion of APR and its value to an audience outside the profession is long overdue.

I was surprised to learn in the PRSA materials on this subject that APR is as old as I am--it will be 50 years old in 2014. I earned my own APR more than a decade ago, and remember standing as a delegate  from West Michigan to the national PRSA conference standing and urging the national committee to promote the value of APR not just to members but to those who may be our bosses, clients and co-workers. My remarks received applause, not because of my great oratory skills, but because back then the issue resonated with professionals who had worked to earn and maintain APR and wanted to have more than the intrinsic value I mentioned above.

I am one of a handful of PR professors who has been asked to do some research about the APR based on feedback from professionals who have earned it. I am now more inspired to do such research. In the meantime, I eagerly await hearing more  from PRSA in August about the plan to "enhance the profile and prestige of the APR credential."

I am often dismayed when bad practice gives all of us in public relations a bad name. Many times the person or persons responsible for bad practice are not in public relations, or if they are they did not receive a degree in the field. It is my belief that instances of bad strategy, execution or ethics are even more  rare among those with APR.

I also cringe when PR is shown not as bad practice, but just as a limited profession. For example, when popular journalists are hired by organizations as PR professionals because of their quasi-celebrity status and ability to speak well versus an actual broad knowledge of public relations in its many facets beyond media relations. It would be nice if employers would know and respect the field, and give preference in job descriptions for those with degrees in and accreditation in public relations.

It would also be nice if one day when there is a large scale PR blunder, the public and media would not respond by calling it a "PR nightmare" or a "PR stunt" or worst of all "just PR." That's insulting and intellectually dishonest, to equate one episode with an entire profession. Rather, it would be refreshing to point the blame at the person and not the profession, to explain the misdeeds by noting that the person responsible was "posing" as a PR professional without any background, to refer to incidents as BAD practice of PR and not examples of what all PR people do.

Making public the APR credential would be a step in this direction.


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