I had been toying with the idea of pursuing the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) for several years, but with a demanding job as chief communications officer at a government health care agency — plus my other, more important full-time job as soccer mom — I just wasn’t sure how to fit the APR into my busy life. By the time I was done with a day of work plus parenting, all I wanted to do was curl up on my couch and read, or watch “Stranger Things” on Netflix.
I’ve been a PR professional for nearly two decades. My degree is in journalism, so most of my PR skills have been learned on the job. I am good at what I do, but I knew that achieving the APR could give me a boost from tactical to strategic. So, with some hesitation (and a little bit of mourning that I would have less time to binge watch “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”), I took the plunge and signed up.
I’m happy to say I achieved my Accreditation this summer. It was not easy, but it was worth it. It has changed the way I think about my work. I am less reactive and more focused on the messages we want to proactively share. I also understand more keenly the reasons research and message-testing are important, and have been able to advocate within my organization for investing in that crucial component of communication planning.
My top practical tips for successfully navigating the APR process:
- Ask for feedback after the Panel Presentation. I was grateful that the three women on my panel asked great questions during my presentation, and offered valuable feedback afterward. For example, one of them advised that I should have explained why I chose not to use social media in the communications plan I presented to them. That was an obvious gap in my presentation — but only because she pointed it out to me. It was a great general reminder to look at presentations from the eyes of the audience.
- Use the APR study guide — but not only the study guide. The APR study guide was my primary source when I began preparing for the computer-based Examination for Accreditation in Public Relations. It offers a comprehensive overview of what to expect the day of the Examination, and a great outline of the material you should be familiar with. (I also found comfort in the study guide’s assurance that there are no trick questions on the Examination, which is true.) In addition to the study guide, I relied heavily on “Cutlip and Center’s Effective Public Relations.” I found its section on theoretical underpinnings (not my strong suit) to be especially helpful, as well as the section on the elements of the communication model. Also, “The Associated Press Stylebook” section on media law is indispensable.
- Eat well on the day of the computer-based Examination. How you choose to study for the Examination is up to you (so long as you do it!), but if I had one tip for the day of, it would be to eat real food. Subsisting on coffee and a prayer is not a great way to face a three hour examination. My APR mentor failed the Examination the first time she took it, and said the primary reason was that she was distracted by hunger. For those of us who haven’t taken a test in a long time, it’s easy to forget how important it is to take care of this basic need.
- Use the features the Examination software offers. The software allows the Examination taker to mark questions for later review. I did this when my gut told me to. With a fresh read of the question later, the right answer seemed more obvious. You also can strike through answers that you know aren’t right (all the Examination questions are multiple choice). It is easier to select the right response when there are fewer choices in front of you.
- Find a study buddy. For various reasons (including but not limited to the fact that I’m an introvert), I didn’t do this. In retrospect, I would have tried harder to find someone to study with, even if it was online. I think the studying would “stick” better if it were a more interactive process.
Pursuing the APR seemed daunting, but by checking in regularly with my mentor and taking it step by step, it was doable.
Amy Blondin, APR, is chief communications officer for Health Care Authority in Olympia, Wash.