Accreditation in Public Relations PRSA News

To Remove — or Not To Remove — the APR Requirement for Board Service

Six of members of PRSA have formed an ad hoc committee and are circulating a petition in support of an amendment to PRSA’s Bylaws. The amendment would remove the requirement that PRSA’s national officers and Board members be Accredited in Public Relations (APR).

PRSA recently became aware that six of its members have formed an ad hoc committee and are circulating a petition in support of an amendment to PRSA’s Bylaws. The amendment would remove the requirement that PRSA’s national officers and Board members be Accredited in Public Relations (APR).

The committee is following a time-honored, democratic tradition of bringing forward important issues for the PRSA Assembly to debate and decide — on behalf of all Society members. Like it or not, this is the way that the egalitarian governance process functions at PRSA. It’s possible that still other proposed amendments will be brought before this year’s Assembly.

The changes that the ad hoc committee is proposing do not challenge nor question the value of the APR credential or the Accreditation process; in fact, the percentage of PRSA members who are APR has consistently hovered around 20 percent annually over the past ten years. And on an absolute basis, the number of PRSA members who were APR at the end of 2009 is near a 16-year high.

Rather, the changes being sought would eliminate the requirement that all national officers and Board members be Accredited. The changes retain the spirit of a recommendation advanced last year by PRSA’s Bylaws Rewrite Task Force, which would have allowed any PRSA member in good standing — who is APR; and/or a Chapter, District, Section or Committee leader; and/or has more than 20 years of public relations experience with increasing levels of responsibility — to run for the Board.

In November 2009, the PRSA Assembly voted down that recommendation. Under PRSA’s bylaws, however, the ad hoc committee has the right to raise this issue before the Assembly again (and again).

Specifically, Article XIV of PRSA’s Bylaws provides for the proposal of Bylaw amendments. Among the ways that an amendment may be proposed is via a petition signed by at least 25 members. Then, a two-thirds vote of the Assembly delegates present in person or by proxy, and voting at any annual or special meeting of the membership, is required for the adoption of amendments.

Assuming that the ad hoc committee obtains the necessary signatures and forwards the language it would like the Assembly to consider, PRSA will develop an outreach program to raise awareness of the changes being sought, similar to the one that we conducted for last year’s proposed changes to PRSA’s Bylaws. An eGroup for the purpose of furthering discussion on this proposed amendment also should be active by week’s end.

PRSA’s current Board of Directors has not taken a position supporting or opposing the proposed amendment. Individual Board Members, like all Delegates to the PRSA Assembly, will be free to vote in favor of or against the amendment, as they see fit.

This issue is sure to arouse passions on both sides of the aisle. Still, as the deliberative process plays out, I hope we’ll preserve the enthusiastic and positive atmosphere that pervaded last year’s Bylaws Rewrite process. It not only demonstrated a tremendous level of cooperation among the various PRSA communities, but a strong respect for the diversity of thought, interests and opinions within our Society.

Remember, we must continue to set an example for each other — as well as other industry professionals — through our pursuit of excellence, respect for all opinions and support of the free flow of information.

Gary McCormick, APR, Fellow PRSA, is 2010 Chair and CEO of PRSA.

31 Comments

  • It never ceases to amaze me that the very people who should be strong advocates for professional accreditation in general insist on picking apart the credential’s validity by focusing on the governance issue. Why is PRSA virtually the only professional organization whose leadership (i.e., the “ad-hoc committee”, all of whom have had leadership roles in the Society) doesn’t support ownership of its own credential as an entry level qualification for leadership.

    Most other professional associations do in fact require their leaders to earn their own society’s credential. What is wrong with demanding an extra show of dedication and commitment — and leadership by example — from our potential leaders?

    Steve Lubetkin, APR, Fellow, PRSA
    Past Member, PRSA National Board of Directors, 2003-2005
    Past Member, Universal Accreditation Board, 1997-2003

  • As a career communications professional and long time member of the PRSA, I value the APR designation and think that the national officers and board members should absolutely be required to be accredited. The Society’s leadership has made a bad decision.

  • If accreditation is worth the Society sponsoring it and promoting it as a minimal professional credential, it would be two-faced for the Society not to require it of national officers. I know and respect people who chose not to become accredited. That’s their choice, and they have their reasons. But that is no reason for PRSA to back away from putting its money where its mouth is and requiring the credential for those who represent the Society at the national level.

  • I think last year’s assembly spoke loud and clear on continuing accreditation as a requirement for the National board. Rather than eliminating this requirement, two options were suggested at last year’s assembly that should be pursued: A more concerted marketing effort that encourages chapter members to pursue the accreditation process through classes, Jump Starts and other training/promotion efforts,
    and for those senior PR professionals that are qualified but do not have the time to devote to the process, establish a list of those individuals who would be granted their APRs through a condensed/abbreviated session. (Or some other adapted process to allow these talented individuals to become PRSA leaders.)
    There are better ways to address the low percentage of APRs than to eliminate the requirement. I would like to see some of these attempted first.

  • Thank you Gary, and fellow PRSA members, for sharing your voices here on the issue. I would just like to reiterate that the position of the ad hoc committee is only to remove the APR requirement to serve on the national level. We do not in any way mean to detract from the importance or credibility of APR. If anything, many of us would like to see APR receive more recognition and support both from within and outside of PRSA. However, we recognize that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of capable, passionate, experienced, and intelligent members of PRSA who have dedicated themselves to this organization through active membership and volunteerism. Many of whom would like to serve on the national level but cannot due to this requirement. We would like to see every member have the right to serve if they meet the career and experience requirements that are stipulated – excluding the APR designation. This is an effort to encourage more outstanding members of PRSA to take an active role in leading and shaping the future of the organization.

  • It seems odd that the organization that created the accreditation program and promotes it could be governed by people who can’t be bothered to earn their APR. What message does that send to the rank and file? The message I’m hearing is, “Don’t waste your time.” These would-be leaders should show some leadership by fully supporting PRSA’s programs and policies — ALL the programs.

  • In reply to Barbara’s comments. . Thank you for sharing your point of view. While the position of the ad hoc committee is only to remove the APR requirement to serve on the national level, it is really more than that. To say that it does not detract from the credibility of APR is very short-sighted and self-serving. The Society must value its own professional designation and must do all it can to encourage pubic relations practioners to value their own professionalism by seeking this designation. You say “If anything, many of us would like to see APR receive more recognition and support both from within and outside of PRSA.” Then your actions must support that assertion. If you are a capable, passionate, experienced, and intelligent member of PRSA who has dedicated yourself to this organization through active membership and volunteerism, then you should also support it at its highest level of professionalism by challenging yourself to be a leader in attaining the APR designition. In a sense, you are bastardizing this accredition by attempting to say it’s not important to obtain the society’s professional designation to lead it. Wrong. If you want to serve, you meet our standards. Not that we change or “dummy down” our standards to accomodate those who won’t, for whatever reason, obtain the designation. Every member does have the right to serve right now. You simply have to meet the criteria. Outstanding members will want the designation. And for those of us who already have it, we obtained it with the idea that we would be able to ascend to higher levels because of the designation. This is an effort to discourage outstanding members of PRSA to take an active role in leading and shaping the future of the organization by allowing others to disregard and rewrite the basic standards of this Society’s professionalism and ethics to suit the moment. A very short sighted and illogical approach. I absolutely oppose it. One of the worst things I have seen PRSA National Leadership propose in the more than 20 years I have been a member. My own daughter is now joining our profession and I have preached the value of PRSA and its professional designation to her and her PR peers. Way to send a wrong message to tomorrow’s practitioners that standards don’t matter. What next. . . lowering the standards of the College of Fellows? Where do I sign up!

  • Like Steve Lubetkin, I “never cease to be amazed” that this issue continues to arise; it seems a no-brainer to me that we should want and demand that the members of our leadership hold the credential that we say is a distinguishing mark of professionalism, dedication to a set of principles and standards. This argument “We do not in any way mean to detract from the importance or credibility of APR … However, we recognize that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of capable, passionate, experienced, and intelligent members of PRSA who have dedicated themselves to this organization through active membership and volunteerism” is specious. Allowing people to serve in national leadership positions when they do not hold this fundamental credential, which requires a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent life-experience, inherently denigrates the credential. We should thank and honor those hundreds if not thousands of members who faithfully serve our organization and provide them with the support and encouragement they require to obtain the credential, not lower the barriers to national leadership. I do not want anyone serving at the national leadership level of my organization who cannot stand toe-to-toe with a CEO and argue forcefully that this credential is important. I learned many years ago that a salesperson can’t possibly sell a product that he or she doesn’t use. Trying to do so is a form of communication called propaganda that has no place as a practice among our membership at any level.

  • Let us not confuse PRSA governance with the role accreditation plays in our careers. Accreditation is an outstanding vehicle for PRSA. I am proud of being APR and a Fellow.

    But just as I didn’t have to pass a test to run for president of my sixth grade class, I see no reason why PR industry leaders need to pass a test to be leaders in PRSA.

    It’s a real shame that pr agency CEO’s, corporate communications executives, and top communications officers of non-profit and government agencies cannot become leaders in PRSA — simply because they’re not accredited.

    Many of the 17,000 PRSA members who aren’t accredited are being discriminated against. Many deserve to be PRSA officers and board members. We have become an elitist organization. Let’s end this now.

  • Mr. Sheehan – you hit the nail on the head. To not require accreditation of our leaders discredits the certification, plain and simple. If folks so badly want to serve at the National level, yet lack accreditation, the solution is simple. Take the test. Why not use this as an opportunity to ADD value and credibility to our profession’s certification, rather than strip it away? To have some of our profession’s most reputable and thought-provoking individuals earn their APR would provide untold benefits, setting the standard for PRSA leaders for generations.

    As Mr. Sheehan stated, would-be leaders should fully support all of the programs and policies, including accreditation.

  • Thanks to everyone who is taking the time to comment. This debate has gone on for many years and the same tired voices resisting a change in the leadership credentials required for PRSA are just that, tired. The purpose of this petition is to expand the discussion to help the majority of members who are active and committed to PRSA have a direct voice on the subject. Last year’s exhaustive review of the Society’s Bylaws resulted in a recommendation to make this change which was then voted down in an incredibly close vote at the PRSA Assembly late last year. While PRSA’s process to get member input on the issue was thorough, the closeness of that vote underscores the point of this petition: this is an emotional and critical discussion that is by no means over. The petition drive aims to hold a broader discussion among our members not just a select group of leaders. It does not diminish the importance of the APR credential. In fact, we believe it will enhance the discussion about the importance of the APR designation.

  • I don’t believe accreditation should be a requirement to practice public relations, but most certainly, it should be a requirement for leadership posts in the very organization that sponsors and oversees the APR program. Just because a finite number of professionals have taken steps to advance their careers through accreditation this does not mean anyone is precluded from entering the PRSA leadership ranks. Just do the work and meet the criteria. I’d be more encouraged if the ad hoc committee, which yields tremendous influence in the profession through their firms, spent their energies on promoting accreditation to their people. The industry would be better off.

  • I don’t know, Deborah, the voices speaking here sound far from tired. The “minority” who currently have the right to run for office earned that right by taking the APR exam which a seasoned professional like yourself could ace. You want to run the organization, but you are not willing to make a very small effort to show your support for the accreditation process and advance our efforts to be respected as a profession with defined and testable standards and ethics. Journalism refused to set its own standards and now it is living with the unhappy results. Our profession has developed a respectable body of peer-reviewed literature and rigorous academic training programs. Universal acceptance of a credentialling standard moves us closer to the day when public relations is considered a true profession on par with physicians, lawyers, pilots, engineers, CPA’s, and other licensed or credentialled practitioners.

  • I agree with Bonnie Upright’s comment that all PRSA board members should be APR and support all the programs and policies including certification. If we are all striving for more participation in and award of APR certifications, then board members of the national society should be APR leaders. One could argue that they should be CPRC as well.

    Anyone in this profession who could qualify to be elected to the board can certainly qualify to take, and pass, the test.

    Moreover, board members should fully understand the process of accreditation as they should serve as advocates and coaches for our profession’s only recognized national certification.

    Changing the leadership qualifications for 80% of PRSA who aren’t accredited sends the wrong message to those who have earned the designation as well as to those who have not.

  • It seems to me elitist to require the leadership of an organization to be qualified with a certification that only 20% of the organization has. It is a class system that is not representative of the overall organization.

    The assembly that voted on this issue last year was composed of people who either had their APR or were chapter leaders, because those are the requirements for being assembly delegates. Being a chapter leader and having an APR frequently go together, because many chapters require that their presidents be APR accredited. So, if a person wants to become president of their local chapter and go on to national, they pretty much have to have the APR. I cannot imagine that last year’s assembly was less than 75% APR accredited.

    I argue that this is not representative of PRSA as a whole. It is representative of only the 20% that already have APRs.

    If you really want to find out how PRSA feels about this issue, you should have the entire membership vote on it rather than a non-representative assembly.

  • There are many senior executives whose leadership skills and experience could be tapped at the national level if it were not for the APR requirement. PRSA’s leadership would benefit from an injection of talent from some of these people. It’s totally unrealistic and ridiculous to suggest that agency CEOs, or Senior VPs, Corporate Communications, prove themselves by getting accredited. After working 12 hours a day, what motivation would someone have for this who is already in one of the industry’s most senior positions? Why do they have to prove themselves?

    I’m sure one could learn something from the accreditation process at any point in one’s career, but there’s no earthly reason for such senior industry executives to put the additional time and energy into doing something that will a) not provide any benefit to their careers and b) not bring in any more salary (or agency new business). There are more beneficial ways of learning at that level – such as a new assignment on a non-profit board.

    Moreover, PRSA has tried for decades to make the APR credential a recognizable professional attribute. I can’t speak for other areas of the country, but here in the New York Metro area, APR is meaningless to all but other PRSA members. In addition, there are at least 3 times as many PR practitioners in the New York area who aren’t PRSA members than who are. They not only don’t see the value of APR, they don’t see the value of PRSA! Perhaps if there were more senior role models at the national level – agency CEOs and heads of corporate communications depts – more of these non-members would find the organization worth looking into.

  • As an Assembly delegate who has watched and participated in this ongoing debate for a number of years, I’m curious as to what effect a recorded vote in D.C. would have. Are fellow Assembly delegates carrying forward the wishes of their chapter members (80 percent of whom are not accredited), or voicing their personal views? Moving to and publicizing a recorded vote (on all issues) may force greater accountability and transparency from delegates, and in doing so empower the members they represent.

  • Ms. Siegel,
    I don’t think it’s “totally unrealistic and ridiculous” to ask agency CEOs and senior corporate communication executives to obtain accreditation if they desire to pursue PRSA leadership positions. As an agency owner, I was able to study for and successfully complete the APR exam.

    I would like to see the organization’s leadership uphold the organization’s credential. It’s a classic example of “Do as I say, not as I do.” And, as noted by other commenters, seems hypocritical.

  • A big part of leadership means conceding defeat and moving wholeheartedly and genuinely forward with the decision rendered. The topic was discussed extensively at Assembly and thereafter. The anti-APR points were heard and the Assembly voted. For the strength and unity of the association and out of respect for the mark of distinction itself, we need all members of our profession to demonstrate their leadership with or without those three letters after their name by graciously moving forward with the wishes of the majority of our governing body.

  • Hmmmm. Maybe the mountain should be taken to Mohammed: Just award an APR to anyone who moves and shakes enough to get elected to national office.

    While we’re at it, should the APR requirement be removed from criteria for membership to the College of Fellows?

  • The problem, of course, is that Accreditation (I’ve been a proud APR since 1975!) has little to do with board/committee management skills per se. And using it as an exclusive criterion for the top leadership positions denies thousands of talented non-APRs the opportunity to serve at the highest levels. But my biggest concern over the years has been its impact on the size of PRSA’s membership relative to the size of the PR practice (250,000 in the U.S. alone?). Since it was instituted, the APR requirement has kept tens of thousands of these practitioners away from the Society. I know for a fact that it has kept hundreds of the top corporate PR heads — fully 80%-90% of whom, at any given moment, have had no connection to PRSA — from joining. This said, I don’t think the issue posed by the petitioners should be resolved by an all or nothing approach. The PRSA board should form a task force to look at options that will allow the Society to open up the ranks of needed leadership without undermining the concrete professional value of the APR process and APR status.

  • The current requirement does not deny anyone the oportunity to serve. Rather, these would-be leaders are being given the opportunity to model the dedication and commitment to professional development that PRSA needs not only in our leaders, but throughout the membership ranks. To senior executives who say they don’t have time: this isn’t a medical degree! We’re talking about demonstrating a relatively basic level of understanding of PR strategy and tactics. If you have that much to offer the society, you will very easily obtain this designation.

  • It appears that the Ad Hoc Committee is taking its case to the membership because it sees a National Assembly hellbent on protecting the status quo. Samantha suggests the committee should accept defeat gracefully. That might be easier to do if the membership, and not the Assembly alone, were empowered to vote the issue up or down.

    I may be wrong about this, but it sure would be useful to know — in the interest of transparency — how many of those who voted in last November’s assembly were wearing the APR pin.

    Gary, could you or someone in New York provide that information in a follow-up comment? It would certainly enrich the discussion.

  • Why would the organization who created and promotes accreditation want to be governed by people who don’t have their APR? If our organization and profession values APR shouldn’t our leaders too?

    If you are committed to the public relations profession and want to serve our organization, take the test. Model your commitment to professional development. If our leaders aren’t willing to get accreditated, why would the rest of our membership?

  • Just a point of clarification in this spirited discussion: The Accreditation program was founded by PRSA in 1964 and administered by PRSA until 1988, when the Universal Accreditation Board was formed. The UAB is comprised of representatives from PRSA and eight other participating organizations. The job of the UAB is to grant, administer and promote Accreditation. The UAB does not comment on the governance policies of any of the participating organizations.

    Edward M. Bury, APR
    Member, Universal Accreditation Board

  • It strikes me as ridiculous that a small minority of APRs holds back the 80% majority of qualified, dedicated PR professionals who want to commit their time to furthering the profession and the organization. Until APR is changed so that it’s a designation kept throughout my life – not just as long as I pay my PRSA dues – then it’s not one I will support. I would rather support those who earn their Masters and PhDs. Please tell me how to immediately sign the petition. And let’s allow the membership as a whole to vote.

  • Hi Bill,

    I appreciate your dropping by our blog to offer your perspective, and writing about this issue on your own blog (http://bit.ly/9ZLo3j).

    To answer your question, the number of delegates, including proxies, registered prior to the 2009 PRSA Assembly was 313; of those, 227 (72.5 percent) held the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential. Looking ahead to future Assemblies, we have begun to explore ways to provide a more detailed (transparent) tabulation of the voting results with the company that supplies our electronic voting keypads.

    Hope this helps.

  • Thanks, Gary. As I said over at my place, I know APRs who favor the rule change proposal, and I see many here who oppose it. Both make solid cases.

    But I can see why Art Stevens, et. al., have gone the petition route, trying to create a groundswell within the chapters. Not saying a body that’s 72.5% APR would be biased have a bias, but you know what they say about perceptions.

    Thanks for the response, and for your transparency on this issue from the outset.

  • I add my voice once more to those in favor of retaining the APR requirement. This is not a “sole criterion,” as many of the opponents have suggested, but a minimum requirement. Of course we expect our leaders to have other collaborative, governance, and administrative skills. But it’s perfectly reasonable to also ask them to demonstrate a commitment to professional standards if we are to have any such standards.

    It’s such a specious argument to say that because a small number of people have the credential, no one should have to have it. Demonstrate your real desire to lead by showing people by your own example that this is an important personal and professional accomplishment.

    And with due respect to my good friend Ed Nicholson, APR, I strongly oppose any attempt to remove APR as a requirement for the College of Fellows. Even if the naysayers succeed in damaging the APR as one of many criteria for leadership, they should not affect the College, which at least is allowed to have some standards!

    Steve Lubetkin, APR, Fellow, PRSA
    Former member, PRSA National Board of Directors, 2003-2005
    Past member, Universal Accreditation Board 1997-2003

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