Accreditation in Public Relations

The Road Ahead for the APR

In May, PRSA announced plans to enhance the profile and prestige of the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) Credential in anticipation of next year’s 50th anniversary celebration. The first step in doing so was to hire a consulting firm to do a thorough review of the APR and make suggestions on how to improve the Credential.

PRSA retained Organizational Performance Group (OPG), an organizational development consulting firm based in Hamden, Conn. Using a variety of tools – including a review of best practices in professional credentialing, discussions with key volunteer and staff leaders, data analysis, surveys, interviews, and focus groups – OPG explored stakeholder perceptions on strengths and weaknesses of the APR, , suggestions for improvements and strategies for supporting Accreditation and marketing it to PRSA Members and employers.

After several months of research and analysis, OPG has issued their final report laying out their findings and recommendations. The report contains an in-depth analysis of the current state of the APR, how it compares to credentials in other professions and how it could be a more effective and useful tool for public relations professionals. Recommendations range from doing nothing and continuing down the declining path the Credential is currently on to completely overhauling the APR and making it more desirable, available and recognizable.

The PRSA Board of Directors, members of the Universal Accreditation Board and PRSA staff have all reviewed the findings and are now making them available to the public. The purpose of sharing the report is to engage those in the profession and garner additional thoughts and ideas surrounding the future of the APR Credential.

Over the next two months we will be considering the options available to us and would like input from the public relations community. PRSA invites you to review the OPG findings and share your thoughts, comments and ideas about the report as well as the future of the APR. PRSA will compile the feedback provided and incorporate it into the recommendation to be presented to the PRSA Board of Directors in early 2014.

The comment period will commence with this announcement and continue through Fri, Nov. 22. You may leave comments here or email them to the staff at futureofapr [at] prsa [dot] org. We look forward to hearing your feedback as we look to make the APR the credential of the public relations profession.

Finally, you may recall that when we announced this project, we stated “abandoning Accreditation is not an option PRSA is considering.”  Our charge to the OPG consulting team, however, was open ended:  they were charged with giving us their best advice and presentation with respect to the future of the APR, with no reservations.  As you review their work, and provide your feedback, keep in mind that, as we stated earlier, “abandoning Accreditation is not an option.”

 

65 Comments

  • Thanks for sharing the information! When I graduated I thought for sure I’d pursue an APR, but the longer I stay in the profession the less value I see in it. I’m not sure it’s important to anyone outside of PRSA. The APR as it stands seems like little more than bragging rights among PRSA members. I liked some of the recommendations in the research, but I still don’t think I’d be swayed to pursue APR myself.

  • I tend to favor the more revolutionary recommendations, with the exception of not requiring accredited members to be a member of a participating organization.

  • I am sure I will have more comments and thoughts, but first, two questions: Can you please provide/post the full methodology? And, two, what is the point of showing 2004-2012 and 2008-2012 as comparison years on Slide 38? These overlap by four years, so what is this supposed to show?

  • In marketing the “revolutionary” approach, I’d caution against using a word that strong. Not suggesting PRSA undersell it, but when you’re facing an apathetic or slightly jaded audience, perceptions of hyperbole can work against you.

    That said, I thought most of the recommendations under that approach were good. In particular, the ethics recommendations on slides 32 and 39 and the increased leadership requirements noted on slide 28 are CRITICALLY important. The Jack O’Dwyers of the world will squawk about the latter, but the consultants point about all leadership spots requiring the APR is spot on, IMO.

  • This is one of the more hopeful developments concerned the APR program in some time. it is time for change. What we’ve been doing isn’t working; the needle on every measure is going in the wrong direction. I prefer to think of it as an overhaul or extreme makeover rather than a “revolution.” It’s time to bring the program into the 21st century, although 13 years after the fact.

    I concur with Mike that a focus on ethics will differentiate those who hold the APR from those who do not. I very much like the idea of making the APR available to anyone, not just PRSA members. Finally, if our own organization doesn’t see fit to require this credential for top leadership at every level, it undermines everything the credential stands for. Let the naysayers squawk. It’s time to take a stand, or the APR program will suffer a long slow death.

  • I’m a Millenial, so I’m naturally inclined towards the revolutionary approach. I wanted to share my very personal perspective – I happily welcome disagreement. I was initially attracted to the field of journalism because 10 years ago, all that mattered was whether you could do the job. You didn’t have to jump through hoops for many years and spend tons of money on school – just show your boss you can do the job. I feel much the way about public relations – all that matters is whether you can do the job. That means you are a dynamite writer, an engaging public speaker and you have a sound head on your shoulders so you give your employers or clients solid, ethical advice. Honestly, I didn’t even know that this job I’ve been doing is called “public relations” until my boss asked if I was interested in joining PRSA. I am deeply troubled by the current graduate school arms race that is underway – kids are being asked to spend more and more money on years of schooling just to get the unpaid internship they need to actually get the low-paying entry-level job that will actually teach them the ropes of their chosen profession. These barriers are insurmountable for many kids from low-income families – that is unacceptable and I hope that PRSA is thinking about their commitment to diversity as you evaluate the APR. Speaking to the positive – I love to learn and I want to learn things that I can turn around and use on the job tomorrow. This is what I value most about PRSA – I have learned a lot from your workshops and from social events where I get to chat with people who have worked in PR for many years. I’m less concerned with having a certificate that says I am credentialed in social media than actually being on top of the latest trends and being able to leverage social media towards our organization’s goals. If employers don’t value and recognize the APR when making hiring decisions, it’s unlikely that I will dedicate my time to pursue it. Instead, I will use my time to do my best at my job, take workshops most relevant to my work, network with colleagues and build my online and social media presence.

  • If we are going to reinvest in APR, I would caution us against using language like “continuing down the declining path the Credential is currently on.” As an accredited member for 17 years and an APR Chair for the last 7-8 years, Tulsa Chapter PRSA has taken accreditation very seriously. In fact, 30% of our members are accredited, and it is anything but declining. Certainly, more work needs to be done to properly market this credential. I’m glad PRSA has commissioned this research and is taking this issue very seriously.

    • Congratulations on a strong chapter that has clearly helped so many on the path; this is not the case with all chapters, and indeed, the lack of quality support from local APR colleagues might be an additional significant reason why “APR is in decline” — meaning, rates of attainment are in decline.
      Encouraged to see this effort … as further grist for the mill, standardized study / test preparation materials versus an almost infinite “bookshelf” of resources to pick from would also ensure that the specific “art of public relations” knowledge is acquired by candidates.

  • It’s a little alarming and, I must admit, a bit insulting to hear about the “declining path the Credential is currently on.” As an APR for 17 years, and one who has taught accreditation in Tulsa for 8 or 9 years, it is anything but declining. In fact, 30 percent of the membership of Tulsa Chapter PRSA is accredited. If anything, it speaks to the lack of marketing that has been done on the national level.

  • Non-PR employers have no idea what an APR is. So I vote for more education of HR departments and CEOs. When I earned mine, they had not idea what it was, nor did they care. Good thing I earned it for my own professional growth, rather than specific career advancement.

  • With the battering public relations receives in the mainstream media (by people who will never care to know what public relations really stands for), APR is a needed certification. It’s one worthy of all public relations providers’ attention, a mark of sober credibility and adherence to standards of excellence. Unfortunately, the organizations that have endorsed the mark have not supported it collectively to the level it needs. Overhaul the mark, rebrand it as a professional certification and align it with best practices from established industry marks that hold cachet (PE, CPA, CFP, PMP, etc.). And if UAB will continue to be the keeper of APR, spin it off as an independent oversight group. Sitting for my APR two years ago — the process of study AND the attainment of the mark — re-energized my career and reminded me why I pursued the career course I did. I’m convinced it can do this for others who are committed to being the best professional they can be, not so much for the secondary reasons (more advancement, more money, etc.), at least initially. But with time, resources and critical mass, it is possible.

  • No major overhaul needed. Tweak as needed. If accreditation is a sturdy ship, it will continue to sail. Get on board, or not.

  • The number of chapter members in Tampa with APR is continuing to increase because we have worked hard to position the credential using many of the communications techniques identified in this report. I support creating a stand-alone UAB. Tampa’s Readiness Review is an opportunity to mentor younger pros and build relationships. We view the process as a wholistic way to improve our community and build a strong, vibrant chapter.

  • Currently, I feel diconnected from fellow APRs. I would like to see a strong APR community online, via PRSA’s website. We need to be able to connect locally, nationally and perhaps globally to share best practices and strengthen our accreditation. Make a place for us to connect, communicate often, and create opportunities and experiences together.

  • I am not a public relations professional but do hire them or PR firms. I have also be involved in the certification discussion in other fields – that are more technical. You have invited comments from the public so here are mine:
    1. This is exceptionally well done. It is honest; it provides reasonable alternatives. It is an excellent piece of work.
    2. The study refers to “employers” but where are clients ? I work in the energy efficiency world and one of our biggest challenges is educating consumers/ clients that they may pay slightly more for a certified technician (HVAC etc) versus someone they find locally on the internet who may be cheaper. However, the long term savings and the quality of work is generally higher with certified technician and they tend to know more about government or utility programs that will actually save the consumer/client. You need to address education the client.
    3. Even though our respective economies (I am Canadian) are improving people (the client/consumer) are very concerned about the dollars they are spending – that needs to be addressed to enhance the value proposition.
    4. Do any of the major PR firms as employers include “preference for APR designation” in any of their hiring efforts – that would have an impact.
    5. As a non-American and recognizing that PRSA is involved in the Global Alliance – you may want to “go global” but other countries may not welcome that – there may be different regulatory regimes, Media Councils etc. Perhaps the better approach is to update your program based on this work and then offer an opportunity to adapt based on local conditions. Perhaps that is what was intended but it was not clear.
    Again, this is a fine piece of work. I am sure others will be watching because the certification issue is not one that just PRSA is facing.
    Elizabeth McDonald
    President and CEO
    Canadian Energy Efficiency Alliance
    .

  • Well, I am a professional in the PR business and I don’t believe that having the credential takes anything away from educated professionals that don’t have the money to obtain the credential or just don’t feel that it’s a necessity. My thoughts on the APR credential.

  • Though I chair the Universal Accreditation Board (UAB) that administers the accreditation program for PRSA and 7 other professional public relations organizations (POs), I am not speaking for the board or the other POs, just myself. Much of the OPG recommendations are what we already do or are in the process of implementing, such as the entry-level examination for new PR graduates. As a long-time PRSA member, I could not support separating accreditation from membership in a professional organization. Membership in one of the 8 participating organizations signifies a commitment to professionalism in PR, as does achieving accredited status. Why remove that requirement? The creation of universal accreditation was supposed to encourage membership in a wide variety of professional PR groups, not discourage it. To remove that requirement says to the world that we don’t even value our own organizations. I would welcome, however, a budget for marketing and promoting accreditation to potential candidates and to employers, as well as an increased commitment from all the POs, including PRSA, to supporting the UAB as it makes decisions for the future of accreditation that affect all stakeholders.

  • an an APR, the certification has a marketing problem.

    we need to think about the 4ps: product, price, people, and promotion.

    we do a decent job of explaining the APR process to ‘people’ who are already interested – meaning, if you conduct due diligence and want to advance in PR, you’ll discover APR. (similar to the discovery process of graduate school)

    what we forget about is the people who 1) know nothing about APR 2) know a little bit are very confused because of the way we present the ‘product’ 3) could care less because they don’t believe it’s relevant to do their work.

    the product: the APR process is confusing, let’s be real about it. it’s hidden on the website and there are multiple documents regarding the process. to study, i created my own infographics for quick reference. we can certainly stand for a refresh there.

    the price: this isn’t a barrier to entry, as a matter of fact, it’s a selling feature. i learned more in my accreditation process (about $600 total with books, classes, and application) than i did when i went to graduate school. now that isn’t a knock against graduate school (i love my alma mater), but to be able to say that one grad school course is equivalent (or less than) in price is a huge selling feature. why aren’t we ‘selling’ price?

    lastly, promotion: let’s face it, we are great communicators (just check out this comment section) but most of us are bad marketers. we overthink it. and at times, we avoid our own advice. in the APR, we teach the value of research, yet we haven’t conducted it with those outside the ranks of PR. how do we think we’ll get a true population to offer suggestions, advice, and provide data?

    if we really knew who our audience was, we’d be promoting to all of them. HR, c-suites, professional groups…these are the folks we need as cheerleaders to help move the APR forward.

  • I have served as the accreditation co-chair of the Greater Fort Worth PRSA for three years. And I welcome this serious discussion. Speaking for myself, I believe the process is well worth the career investment for the individual. That said, it has been an uphill battle to engage potential APRs. We have established a mentoring program just this year that is designed to encourage those who are interested in obtaining the APR. Abandoning the APR must not be an option. Shoring it up and backing it up with a strategic communication plan that focuses on both internal and external audience is the right move to make.

  • There’s no doubt some of what is in this report is uncomfortable to read, however, I can’t say I really disagree with any of it and am – generally – pretty impressed.

    That said, a few comments:

    (a) The entry-level accreditation, I continue to think,
    is a waste of time. While OPG is correct that PMI has recently started to offer
    a junior-level adjunct (CAPM) to their regular credential (PMP), from speaking
    with PMPs it seems the CAPM is not viewed as a serious credential by hiring
    managers or PMPs themselves.

    (b) I agree with OPG that a legitimate method for enforcement of the ethics code needs to be created, however, I am concerned with the uncomfortable position in which future APRs could find themselves (i.e. Should I risk my employment status by refusing the dubious directions of my non-APR boss, or risk my APR by bending the code of ethics?). I would prefer to see an organizational-level accreditation offered and a “teethy” ethics complaint process geared toward adjudicating violations by accredited agencies, instead of accredited individuals [the process for agency-level accreditation could be as simple as a requirement that a majority of partners or senior management have an APR; perhaps an accredited agency might also be required to post a surety bond equal to 1% of their annual billings with the PRSA / UAB or TBD Future Accrediting Organization listed as obligee – the bond would be payable on finding of repeated, major infractions by the agency].

    (c) Finally, I think it might benefit the PRSA / UAB or TBD Future Accrediting Organization – as well as those of us who are APRs – if a communications campaign were undertaken targeting human resources professionals to educate them about the existence of the APR and its value. I have yet to ever see any position advertisement indicate a preference for an APR which seems to underscore the rather moribund status of the credential that OPG identified.

  • The key to the importance of the APR, in my opinion, is making its value known broadly to companies, letting those in hiring capacity know the criteria someone who holds an APR must meet and maintain to have it. This would increase its value. At present, from what I’ve heard from others in my chapter who have the APR, it is seldom a reason that clients or employers hire someone. One person noted that she’d only heard one person during her whole career remark on the APR as a noteworthy aspect of her background for a position she had just acquired.

  • I found the results of this study very interesting and very well organized. I agree that that I find the value of the current APR questionable and that moving forward it either needs to be substantially revitalized or abandoned. My current employer would certainly place more value on a graduate level degree in a related field than the APR. However, regardless of the fate of the accreditation process, which is designed for individuals with at least five years of PR related experience, I believe that if PRSA is committed to promoting excellence in the PR field that training and indoctrination needs to take place very early in the career path. I work as the public information officer for a school at a state university and was hired into this position almost two years ago due to my background in journalism. While my degree in journalism and experience in the newsroom developed a skill set that was relevant, there were still gaps in my knowledge base for a PR position. Some gaps I recognized, and others I may still not realize I have. I don’t think it is unusual for folks to find their way to the PR field from other professions and to have these holes, especially in areas like the communication theory, strategic planning and ethics. I did not feel ready to pursue the APR, but it seemed like the only route, outside of an actual university degree, to a systematic study of the PR field I was now part of. I have looked at some of the APR materials available on the PRSA website to try to fill those gaps, but it isn’t really the purpose for which the materials were designed. I was excited to hear about the entry level certification and will definitely be exploring that possibility. I think developing a robust entry level training program in addition to a revitalized APR for later along the career path will help resolve the issue of expecting the APR to serve too many different purposes that was raised in the report.

  • I have been an active member of PRSA since 1987 (prior to that if you include PRSSA membership). I have held leadership roles on the local, regional and national level. And I do not have my APR.

    In the early days of my career, when the idea of continuing education in a formal setting was something I was considering, APR was not available to me — I did not have enough experience. So I pursued a master’s degree. Since that time, I have received promotions and eventual partnership in my firm. My business partner is an APR as well as a member of the College of Fellows.

    I can count only two instances in the 20 years I have been with my firm where the question of APR was asked by a client — someone who was a PRSA member. At no other time has it ever come up.

    I support those that choose to pursue the designation, but it is not the only way for a public relations practitioner to prove that he/she is an ethical practitioner.

    We need to stop the “those that do and those that don’t” discussions and get to the heart of the matter — what is the value to the individual and what is the value to the potential employer or client to having someone on their team with an APR. And we should not discount those members who have pursued other professional development paths.

    • I completely agree with this evaluation. APR is fine for some, but is in no way the only credential to use in evaluating a PR professional. I am not an APR and have practiced the profession since the early ’70s. I’ve earned the respect of employers and colleagues through hard work and by maintaining both personal and professional integrity, and have held very responsible PR positions throughout my career. Never have I been asked if I were an APR. To me, advanced degrees, ongoing professional education, and hands-on experience make a good PR pro. To the extent an APR designation can enhance that, great. But let’s not treat non-APRs as second-class professionals. That’s not good for our colleagues or our profession. My take is that the APR designation is recognized internally, but has little importance externally.

  • I am a millennial and I am taking the APR test next week. The value of the APR to me is the preparation you get through the APR process that shows your commitment to the profession – this is the distinction to me. Getting my MBA has opened many doors for me and I do not expect the APR to be the “bell ringer” for my career advancement. Rather, it’s a designation and point of pride for those in the profession who decided to “give more effort.” This does not take away from those who serve in leadership roles without pursuing the credential. But I agree that there should be a stronger community of APRs online to attract more diversity and younger applicants. Show me that the APR is cool – show me what APRs are doing everyday and how they’re making a difference at their corporation, nonprofit or governmental organization. I think the main problem PRSA has is that their own members do not value the APR enough – if within our membership ranks there was more effort to hold the credential in higher esteem, coupled with an education campaign for SHRM, HR professionals and the Fortune 500, I think people would understand the value more. As a professional organization focused on communication, it is time we be very clear on what the APR is really about.

    • I passed the exam, by the way. I believe the effort was totally worth it and don’t regret pursuing the credential.

  • Thank you for sharing the report. I was accredited in 1987 and continue to be proud of the work and effort I gave to accomplish this task. Receiving my APR was for me not for others. If we continue to believe in the importance of professional accreditation, we must taut it wherever we go, promote accreditation to those we influence and back an overhaul plan with both our money, emotional support and time.

  • Found the APR experience to be a valuable one at five or so years into the profession. Provided some foundational support and rounded me out well beyond the day-to-day activities in which I was primarily engaged at the PR firm I was with at the time. Also helped me become more authoritative and confident in discussions with clients, prospects and colleagues. I still recommend the APR to this day, especially for relative newcomers to the PR world. That said, it does seem like an overhaul is in order, along with some sort of academic/post-grad integration or partnership.

  • I think APR is an important credential, however, I think the bar graph on slide 12 says it all: 63% say that APR status has no influence in their hiring decisions.

    Having spent a number of years in the New York agency world, I can say that many senior agency people I’ve known would agree with this sentiment. Despite the best efforts of PRSA, it has not gained enough traction within the PR industry to justify a significant, ongoing investment. I do think it is worth keeping, but should not take a lot of resources from other programs.

  • This is an interesting report. I started my career in broadcast journalism (undergraduate degree) and spent many years on-air in both radio and television.

    I have worked in public/media relations now for nearly 15 years, in three different industries. I have not seen a need to hold an APR. While it seemed like a good idea at first, once I researched the investment (cost/time) vs. the benefit – it simply didn’t seem worth it.

    While I’m sure it presents an opportunity for professional development, having an APR will not currently provide me with a raise or a better job opportunity. My employers did not ask whether I held an APR, nor did they place a value on it by posting it as a preference in the job listing. However, it did matter to each of my employers that I had “inside” experience as a media professional.

    My skills as a broadcaster have been extremely beneficial in furthering my career. I would support improving the APR in some way, however, unless my employer or potential employer places a high value on those who hold the accreditation, I won’t pursue it.

    I don’t believe it will make a big difference in my life, whereas earning an advanced degree, probably would.

  • Kudos to PRSA for tackling a tough but timely topic. I’ve considered earning the APR several times during my 25+ year career but never pursued it. Why? Because early in my career none of my older peers ever promoted it as a valuable add on to my professional development. In addition, no potential employer ever asked about it or indicated it would sway their hiring decision. My broad-based experience in corporate, agency and association pr and marketing has given me the knowledge and leverage I’ve needed to build a rewarding and successful career. Holding the APR would not have altered my course one bit and I know many others who feel the same way. I also was less than enthusiastic about having a local panel of my peers–volunteers–subjectively judge whether I was ready to sit for an exam.
    I belong to PRSA because I value the affiliation and more so the resources and access to a network of my peers. I disagree with those who feel that belonging demonstrates a more solid commitment to the profession than nonmembers. If I could no longer afford my PRSA membership, I’d continue to practice my profession ethically with dedication to doing the best job possible for my employer or client. In a few weeks I will sit for the Certified Association Executive credential. ASAE and the Center has done a fantastic job of promoting the value of this designation in the association community. I didn’t have to pre-qualify in front of a group of peers, many with less experience than me. I’ve been supported locally and nationally every step of the way with relevant study materials, study groups and a candidate’s forum as I prepare for what I expect will be a rigorous exam. I didn’t have to be an ASAE member to qualify to sit, but I did have to meet education and professional employment requirements plus complete 100 hours of qualifying professional education that spanned the 9 domains covered in the test. In the association world, the CAE carries a great deal of weight. I’m afraid the APR has never achieved that same level of widespread credibility. I support an independent UAB. Tying the credential to membership makes it feel more like a revenue driver than what it is intended to be–a mark of professional distinction.

  • This review of the APR is spot on, both in identifying barriers and proposing solutions. I agree with its recommendations, especially regarding use of a third-party certification organization and opening the APR to nonmembers. In the APR renewal process, service and leadership in other PR organizations should be considered equivalent to engagement with PRSA; however, that is not made at all clear. The organization needs to recognize a PR professional’s leadership and service in the field of public relations, and not limit the sphere to PRSA.

  • I have taken – and failed – the APR test twice this year. I may not have studied as much as I should have, but I did worse the second time around. As a seasoned practitioner with nearly 14 years of experience, I felt the test was not current, was very objective (many of the situational answers could be correct and it was a choose-the-best answer scenario), and did not fully exam my (or anyone’s) robust PR career. I would like to obtain my APR to express my importance and place among the leaders in my company. And in preparation for the test, I was reminded of many basic PR functions that serve me well in my daily work. I think an overhaul of the process and exam is long overdue. Thank you for this study; I look forward to the outcome!

  • Interesting assessment. I don’t have my APR, and I doubt I’ll try for it, mostly because it has never seemed necessary for me to succeed in my career. I appreciate that PRSA is taking the time to reevaluate it’s value, particularly at a time when the industry is totally changing the playing field.

  • This is one of the issues in the industry that really gets me steamed! I did the work and paid the dues to get my APR and keep it up over the years. But, I’m not always sure why – beyond the internal satisfaction I get from having tackled the course, test and continuing education. Certainly I’ve never met anyone outside of PRSA (especially employers) who knew what it was!
    It’s a travesty and we should be ashamed that we should even have to be examining the validity and worthiness of the APR credential. A fine lot of public relations people we are! We can’t even adequately support and promote our own industry credential …! The worst is the fact that you have to dig around in the PRSA website to even find mention of it. Something is really wrong here!
    First, I support the overhaul of the APR and most of the objectives outlined in the slide show. Should that not be accomplished, we should at least devote more resources to educating employers and the business community about the APR.
    Look at slide # 11. Note that a huge chunk of respondents reported that they did not think an APR would advance their career. Now, note that all those other answers actually depend upon THAT response. How?
    If a respondent thought that the APR would be recognized by potential employers and that they would be given special consideration for having it, the rest of the responses would not matter. The expense, time, discouragement, effort – all these things — would be more easily tolerated and be much less of an issue if people thought they would be rewarded via income or prestige for having the APR credential.
    What do you get when you tell someone you have an APR?
    A blank stare.
    And that’s our own fault. We should have insisted all along that adequate resources were being put to the promotion of the only credential we have in this industry; it’s the only thing that identifies an ethical, learned public relations person from a circus huckster.
    If we had appropriately promoted the APR credential all these years, professional public relations people would not be confused with every Tom, Dick, and Harry that claims to be “in P.R.” And we would not have the negative image that faces our industry today.
    And yes, leaders should be required to be accredited…!!!!

  • I received my APR in the early 1980s and was inducted into the College of Fellows in 2007. I support low-key changes vs. revolutionary changes. To me, the value of the APR is about giving, not getting. Too often the conversation is about “what do I get from achieving my APR” when I believe it should be about “how do I give back when I achieve my APR.” It’s not about using the APR designation to get a job or a client. It’s about something intangible; personal pride in achieving an important professional development milestone and striving to become a well-rounded practitioner. I think of APRs as teachers. We teach C-suite executives about the value of good public relations. We teach younger professionals. We mentor fellow professionals. When I know someone has an APR after their name, I feel a kinship with that person – that they are interested in self-improvement and helping others to improve.
    I don’t think it’s necessary to get third-party endorsement as I believe PRSA’s endorsement is enough. I don’t support APRs for non-members as I believe it’s important for candidates to take PRSA seriously and consider opportunities to become involved at the local and national level, not “wing in” to take the APR and that’s it. I do think it is valuable for PRSA leaders to have their APR and serve as role models to others.
    I do think it’s important to periodically re-evaluate the APR process and make sure that we’re not turning off potentially APRs due to the daunting nature of the process. I’m encouraged to see the high percentage of people who follow-through and achieve their APRs. To me, it’s about quality, not quantity.

  • Hello,

    As a member who is preparing for a Readiness Review, I have to wholeheartedly agree with the findings in the report. I would suggest also increasing the mentoring component of PRSA, with an eye towards steering new members towards the credential.

    I first joined PRSA in 2003, and requested a mentor, as there was language on the website at that time suggesting a robust matching program. After months of waiting and following up, I was finally assigned someone who flatly told me there was no point in getting the APR, and that he had actually looked at applicants with it rather skeptically. I got involved with some of the Sections and really didn’t think anything else of it.

    Now, ten years later, after a membership lapse, I am happy to say that I have decided to get the APR, but only because I have spent time outside of a strict PR function. I am dismayed that some of the KSAs don’t seem to have kept up with the trends that PRSA so thoroughly highlights in the daily Issues and Trends newsletter, but I do believe that the process is a good grounding in the fundamentals.

  • I graduated in 2011 with a degree in PR and a focus on continuing my education to strive to be the best professional that I could be. At the time, I was considering both Masters programs & accreditation with an idea of starting that process about five years into my career.

    However, I’ve noticed as I’ve spent more time in the working world that an accreditation in PR is far from common knowledge. It may be different for those working in agency settings, but as I work in a corporation the understanding of what PRSA offers and how an accreditation should be looked upon is nonexistent.

    To echo the sentiments of many before me, it’s a shame that as a group of public relations professionals we have an accreditation program that is not widely understood outside of our own circle. The letters APR are more commonly associated with credit cards. I would hope that in the future those letters would be as commonly understood as CPA, PhD, and so on.

    With all of the other options in the professional world my decision on pursuing things such as accreditation and additional degrees will be greatly influenced by if they will help my career. As it stands, having an APR behind my name would generally result in more confusing and Google searches than immediate recognition.

  • I vote for the low-key path. On a personal level, I found the process valuable and I have spoken with others that feel the same way. It’s a positive professional development opportunity. However as an industry-changer, it doesn’t have the foundation and finances to make a difference beyond the members of PRSA. I would rather spend our dollars creating partnerships and furthering advanced master degrees in strategic public relations. A masters is well-respected and makes a difference when someone is applying for a job.

  • With the exception of the junior-level certification, I agree with all the recommendations. This has been in discussion mode for years. Let’s get started on these positive changes!

  • I think the APR should be open to nonmembers. It needs a boost in the PR field or it really will become more irrelevant than it already is. I think it’s also unfair to only allow APR accredited professionals to be in PRSA leadership. That skews the views of APR within the Society. We need more, fair representation.

    The comments below about the test itself are troubling. “I felt the test was not current, was very objective (many of the situational answers could be correct and it was a choose-the-best answer scenario.”

    The test should be more current and be updated. It should be more well-rounded. I think the whole thing needs an overhaul. I want to get my APR someday, but need it to be taken more seriously before I invest my own time and money for it.

  • At Leadership Assembly, the consultant’s first criticism of the APR was the name of the accreditation. Renaming ought to be reviewed again. Overall, the recommendations provided by the consultants were excellent…especially removing the requirement of membership to maintain the accreditation. This opens the doors for so many more to become accredited and offers another path to membership later down the road. Leadership positions should require the credential. Also, as an APR, I’d like tools for helping to promote the APR to peers and co-workers.

  • Justin Fishbein, APR

    What I learned studying for the APR test and from two days of briefings gave me the know-how to tackle some truly tough PR problems and though I was over 50 when I earned my APR, my performance based on what I’d learned resulted in several promotions and almost doubled my income. The results stemmed from studying the textbooks and melding their messages with what I’d learned as a social relations major at Harvard and — for almost 11 years — a reporter and writer for a major metropolitan daily newspaper. Preparing for and passing the APR written and oral exams changed me from a former newsman to a PR professional. I’m enthusiastic about the APR because of what I learned from preparing to earn it. But that’s not why I wanted an APR: I figured that if I had to leave my employer, it might come in handy when seeking clients.. Finally, an oddball note: After I was accredited I was asked whom in the company I worked for to inform. I chose the top person in communications. Only later did I learn he didn’t want us to join PRSA. In the ’90s I was responsible for the accreditation program on the board of the Los Angeles area chapter of PRSA.

  • In a field that is open to “all comers” I believe public relations very much needs the APR. A former journalist turned pr consultant, I was not formally trained in the field but believe I provided sound, strategic counsel throughout my career. When I earned APR initials after my name in 2010 (after nearly two decades experience) it did not impress my clients, but it did enhance my skills and reflect in the work I did on their behalf.

    You don’t get a job or earn a promotion because you have initials – you achieve these things because you demonstrate value. The APR is meant for public relations practitioners who believe in lifelong professional development and wish to enhance their professional skills, regardless of their years of experience.

    That said, we must do a better job of marketing the APR. I believe PRSA should consider the following:

    1) Do a better job of marketing the APR to business leaders. What skills, knowledge, ethical behavior and strategic thinking are required to obtain the APR? Those are the “sell,” not the initials. When you hire an APR, what proven value are you getting?

    2) Walk the talk. Why does PRSA’s strategic plan for 2014 have no measurable objectives (a fundamental standard of our profession)? Why is our prestigious Silver Anvil competition not judged predominately by APR’s? (Could we not do the judging remotely if APR’s cannot travel to NY on their own dime?) We say we believe in the accreditation, but don’t back that up in many instances.

    3) Provide better training and support to chapters to promote the APR and educate their members.

    4) Drop the requirement to maintain PRSA membership to hold onto accreditation. APR’s should want to maintain PRSA membership for the value it offers – and not be held hostage to keep their accreditation.

    Without the APR, and the promotion of high standards and public relations processes that go with it, PRSA would simply be a social organization. But the APR will never have real value until we fully commit as an organization to make it work.

  • The APR has a branding problem and needs to become a certification. The APR is not on the radar screen of many senior level public relations officers and human resource professionals. Often In job applications, you can only click on listed certifications and accreditations are not included as an option. The APR test is rigorous and relevant enough to have the certification designation it deserves.

  • Wholly changing it up creates something new that isn’t any more likely to be valued than what is in place now. Recommend refinements and adjustments centered on value of the current program.

  • I think the APR can be a very valuable credential for our profession, but I would like to see more rigor around it. I agree with the report that the UAB needs to
    be a separately governed entity, and I think that requiring membership in a
    related organization limits the credibility of the designation.

    I think there is more we can do around the maintenance and reporting requirements, and we definitely need to market the APR more effectively. In the four years I’ve had my APR, only one business leader has asked me about the letters behind my name. Without building up the governance around the accreditation and maintenance processes, we won’t be able to build the credibility we need to effectively market the designation.

  • I believe there is untapped potential to hold out the APR “to protect the public” and “serve as a tool for identifying qualified individuals” (see slide 30).

  • Kudos to PRSA and UAB for taking this on! I vote for option three, all the way. Opening the certification to all practitioners will just increase its prestige and will create a common denominator throughout all professional PR organizations. I also really like the idea of a name change to signify this is a professional certification. The complete independence of the UAB is also crucial to this success of this initiative. These changes are radical and will have to evolve over a period of time, but there is no time better than now to get started.

  • I took the APR so long ago, we used electric typewriters.
    When I left the corporate world for agency life many years ago, our firm expected every member of the PR staff to sit for the exam as soon as he or she was eligible, so I did. Years later, when I assumed responsibility for all of the firm’s staffing and training, we baked APR into job descriptions and performance reviews. We paid for staffers to take the exam, and we gave them time off to study and attend prep classes. We used the number of APRs in our firm as a distinguishing point in new business pitches. Perhaps a place to start with this overhaul is to enlist more support for the credential from the agency leaders who are part of PRSA.
    Second, I heartily endorse the idea of launching a marketing program aimed at HR and other hiring authorities. Many of those commenting here don’t see a correlation between the credential and preference during the hiring process. Getting the APR also doesn’t equate to raises or promotions for most people. We need to help change that.
    Finally, last year I completed my first year as the APR chair for my chapter. I and my co-chair from the nearby chapter had a class of six stalwart professionals who served as our guinea pigs for our first year course. If the previous chair had not generously shared with us all the materials and procedures she had developed over a decade, we would have faced a monumental task of creating a meaningful course from scratch. Please, please, please — as part of this overhaul process — create better tools for APR coaches!

  • I have my APR and master’s degrees. I earned my APR after 10 years in the field. My master’s degree after 15 (mostly because I now work in higher ed). I am more proud of my APR because I had to demonstrate to my peers and those I look up to in the profession, that I could do the job. The requirements of a professional portfolio based in core PR principles (research, planning, execution, and measurement) have to demonstrate the skills, ethics, and professionalism. The exam is an equalizer for those who do not base their management techniques based in a solid PR foundation.

    Anyone can take enough master’s degree courses and do hypothetical case studies and scenarios. The APR proves I am a public relations professional with experience and professionalism.

    I think the credential needs to be enhanced by those in the profession. Expand those who can earn it to outside of PRSA. Proceed down a path that allows the UAB to be independent of PRSA.

    Proud to have it behind my name.

  • I enjoyed reading the findings. The most valuable thing I gained from the APR process two years ago was 1. appreciation for the planning process 2. structure in PR 3. speaking in terms that my senior leadership could relate to (measurement). The readiness review was more valuable to me than the test because it forced me to think through the process of explaining a communication plan to my peers and relay it in terms of research, planning, implementation and evaluation. I agree that we have to unify as a profession and make APR something that’s reflective of what we all want to identify with as practitioners. I agree it we have to open it up beyond PRSA membership. I agree the process should be streamlined and start with entry level credentialing. Thanks for the opportunity to chime in. (APR+M)(NCC)

  • A very good look at the state of the APR in PR today. Marketed correctly, the APR could be a solution to the profession’s larger PR problem as detailed in this study. Those numbers should of great concern to all of us practicing today. With the power that senior PR pros hold, I think certification is a great next step. I also agree that it should be open beyond PRSA membership. It’s a great profession filled with many smart, innovative people so I’m certain we can figure this out.

  • I am in favor of overhauling the APR.
    I think the time has come for us/PRSA to make the changes necessary to
    improve/modify the accreditation process, enhance the credibility and prestige
    of the APR, educate other industries about the APR, and market it to potential
    candidates. We will likely continue the decrease in APRs if substantive changes are not made.

  • I find it very telling that, despite, frequent reminders in our email boxes to offer comment, so few have done so. Like many others, I favor a major overhaul if we’re going to stay serious about offering a credential. And I agree with OPG that we really aren’t offering accreditation, we’re offering a credential that says we have demonstrated knowledge, skills and abilities known to be required for successful public relations practice.
    I’m also a former journalist who came into PR. I found studying for and achieving APR was full of “ah-ha” moments as I discovered the theory behind the practice and a gratifying self-validation. I now coach APR candidates, present “jumpstart” workshops, serve as a facilitator for the online study cohorts and try to promote the credential as much as I can for those who need/want that same self-validation. I tell candidates not to expect better jobs or higher salaries because they are APR, but that those outcomes may happen because being APR makes them better at what they do.
    Times have changed a lot since many of us were in school. As a college professor (teaching PR of course), I know we’re producing graduates well-schooled about the profession and the practice. The entry-level certification program should be a validation of that. And the next credential (APR or whatever it might be called in the future), should be a validation of proper practice in the field.
    I would encourage PRSA leadership, the UAB and the leadership of the other professional organizations that currently support the APR credential to get together and seriously consider the major overhaul recommended by OPG. Not all the suggestions will work for us, but many will. I think the result might be a better, stronger credential designed to strengthen our skills.
    If that’s not the decision, I’m afraid it will just die of it’s own ineffectiveness.

  • I earned my APR in June 2013. My thoughts are simple – if the accreditation process was meant to be easy, then everyone would do it. The point of earning my APR was to set myself apart, to distinguish myself as a public relations professional who is serious and committed. From the first time I heard of the APR, I knew that I wanted to be accredited. I have a master’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in strategic communications. The APR was harder than my master’s degree and they BOTH have value.

    I agree that there could be some changes to help people understand what APR means outside of the field of public relations. When my friends outside of PR ask what APR means, I proudly explain that it’s a mark of distinction for my field that I worked HARD to EARN.

    Every step of the process required focus, hard work and effort. The APR process has helped me think about how to do my job better, it opened my eyes to many things I wouldn’t have thought about as being part of my job, and it reminded me of things I’d learned but hadn’t put into practice.

    There could be some improvements to the process, but the APR should always stand as a distinguished accomplishment.

  • I was fortunate to hear the OPG presentation at our Leadership Assembly. Now, as then, I think our best option is major overhaul of the credential. I’ll comment on a few aspects of this journey:
    I heard concerns from other Accredited practitioners about their/our future; would be we grandfathered in some way or left at the side of the road? I think we can accommodate that concern. I also like the idea of casting a wider net, so those outside of PRSA can enhance their credibility and the credibility of our profession without being tied to membership. Let’s bring them into the tent instead of complaining about them, and market PRSA membership for the value it brings on its own. Modeling Accreditation after similar credentialing processes in other, respected organizations strengthens it for all of us, now and for the future. The OPG study and recommendations are a whack upside the head that seems long overdue. Congratulations to the leadership for taking this initiative.

  • I earned my APR in June 2013. My thoughts are simple – if the
    accreditation process was meant to be easy, then everyone would do it. The
    point of earning my APR was to set myself apart, to distinguish myself as a
    public relations professional who is serious and committed. From the first time
    I heard of the APR, I knew that I wanted to be accredited. I have a master’s
    degree in journalism with an emphasis in strategic communications. The APR was harder than my master’s degree and they BOTH have value.

    I agree that there could be some changes to help people understand what APR means outside of the field of public relations. When my friends outside of PR ask what APR means, I proudly explain that it’s a mark of distinction for my field that I worked HARD to EARN.

    Every step of the process required focus, hard work and effort. The APR process has helped me think about how to do my job better, it opened my eyes to many things I wouldn’t have thought about as being part of my job, and it reminded me of things I’d learned but hadn’t put into practice.

    There could be some improvements to the process, but the APR should always stand as a distinguished accomplishment.

  • Barbara Burfeind, APR+M, Fellow PRSA
    I disagree with the supposed “decline” in the number of APRs,
    at least for the numbers in the DC National Capital Chapter where we have more
    people in the pipeline than ever before. I recognize that NCC is an active
    chapter with more potential candidates than other chapters. But one of the
    reasons NCC has done well is due to a strong, engaged APR committee who
    actively seeks out and supports candidates. Mentoring and marketing the value
    of APR are two areas that could help increase the number of future candidates.

    The report recommends changes that include better marketing. Some of that marketing has to start with the APRs who are the best examples of
    the value of accreditation. But more importantly, there needs to be a proactive,
    more effective marketing plan and sustained effort to promote the program(s) –
    both the APR and APR+M. Too much of the current effort is dependent on volunteers and committees with little or no budget. Is this an area National could explore and assist in? Building partnerships and educating employers are both ideas that should be pursued and sustained. And yes, put APR on the front page of the PRSA website!

    I would note that accreditation, like an advanced degree, is a personal choice. It is an excellent option among many avenues individuals can choose for career and professional development. APR complemented my duties as a military public affairs officer and instructor as well as my studies for my masters’ degree in communication. While few of my employers knew what APR was, many asked and were encouraged and impressed with the accreditation program and the standard of expertise it represents. While APR is not “required” (except for National-level board member positions), it has enhanced my career and made me a better professional.

    Susan Barnes’ comments that APR should not be de-linked from
    membership in a participating UAB organization for the reasons she states
    should also be considered. I don’t think opening up accreditation to more
    people will necessarily address the supposed decline in numbers. Too many
    members still do not know about the program/process, so increasing the
    candidate pool will merely increase the marketing challenge. I’d recommend addressing this first and then re-evaluate.

    While the report notes the purpose of APR is “a lot for one credential to deliver,” it has done so for me. I have been an APR since 2000, and an APR+M since 2010. I support the program through my involvement with the APR
    committees and now with APR+M. I was lucky enough to have had two bosses who encouraged me (and many others) to become accredited and acted as our mentors. The APR process taught me a tremendous amount about the profession, how to be strategic, and how to apply the proven RPIE process.
    Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

  • I am a brand new November APR… with decades of experience in public relations and broadcast journalism in Los Angeles. I began the process from the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA), one of the organizations in the UAB. This discussion is timely and necessary. Over the years, I have been through all the positives and negatives about securing an APR – time, benefit, cost… and really, have done quite well without it. But as a past president of NSPRA, I realized there is also a strong symbolism associated with an APR, particularly to those new to the profession. And that (along with a great mentoring program) moved me to undertake the process. The APR won’t get me a raise, just the ongoing need to explain it to my colleagues. I didn’t do it for them – I did it for me, and for what it means as a practitioner. If we consider ourselves counselors, and leaders in our fields of work, then adding the APR is a message that we take our work seriously enough to invest the time and energy to achieve it. I know, I know, the quality of what I do is not drastically different than before an APR, but it has deepened my understanding of how I’ve done it. But change does need to happen – it’s a major task, but let’s take on increasing the understanding and awareness of the value of the APR with our clients and employers.

  • I earned my APR more than 25 years. I entered the profession straight out of journalism school and took the exam after nearly 10 years in the field. It helped me learn a great deal about the theory of the profession and helped me in communicating with employers and clients.

    I agree wholeheartedly that the certification needs a strong marketing campaign. As communications professionals, we often don’t do a good job of communicating our own value. Likewise, we haven’t done the best job in communicating the value of this credential. To me, it helps identify those who have gone the extra step to prove themselves.

    Like many of the others who have commented, I also think it’s time to update the credential. I would opt to do a major overhaul. I believe we can give the APR credential the same value that the PHR and SPHR credential have for SHRM. But, I also believe that the test needs to be updated and updated constantly to keep up with an ever-changing field. What’s more, I think we do indeed need some sort of outside verification of the value of the test. And, removing the membership requirement in order to stand for the APR exam makes perfect sense. If we’re doing a good job as a membership organization, those new APR’s will be drawn to the organization. We don’t need to force them to join just to take the exam.

    Patrick M. Early, MA, APR

  • Reading through these,it appears some locals have had much greater success in recruiting members to study for the APR than others. Seems we should study what the most successful ones do vs. others less successful. And in doing that, we should ask ‘Why’ the differences work, to get at a deeper understanding of what is happening. With over 100 local chapters, no doubt some are more innovative in some areas than others are. Have they figured out how to create more demand for the APR by employers and clients, or is it just more demand for the APR itself?

  • As accreditation chair for the Arkansas chapter/PRSA, I applaud PRSA’s
    efforts to improve the APR. After hearing OPG’s presentation at Leadership
    Assembly, it’s clear that elements of the credential need addressing.

    Discontinue the APR? Not an option. Accreditation is on the rise in the Arkansas chapter. I know the same is true of chapters across the country as I hear from my fellow accreditation chairs. Are there pockets/ chapters struggling with the system/process of RR? Certainly. It was mentioned at Leadership Assembly that we should consider developing an accreditation think tank of best practices to share with others. Count me in!

    Overhaul the credential? The credential needs marketing. True. But do we need to open it up to non-members? This, in my opinion, would be a death blow to membership and weaken our organization. We recommend focusing energies on developing a communications plan with strategies to address growing the credential and enhancing its image and creating desire (in management positions/non-entry level, making it a mandatory requirement for candidates to have or to begin pursuit of the APR) among employers.

    A lot of work to be done and I appreciate the forum for discussing improvement
    of our credential, organization and the profession. Just my two cents (still
    $3.23 short of a gallon of gas) to help drive the Road Ahead for the APR.

    Respectfully,

    Dan McFadden, APR
    Assembly Delegate & Accreditation Chair

    PRSA/Arkansas Chapter

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