April is APR Month at PRSA. Visit this link for more information about the Accreditation in Public Relations process.
If you want to improve how you conduct PR strategy, gain a seat at the management table and grow professionally, then make earning your APR in 2019 your next goal. Those three letters not only change how you work in public relations; it will also transform you personally and professionally.
My journey to earn my Accreditation in Public Relations was spread over 19 months and culminated Jan. 12 of this year, when the word “pass” appeared on my computer screen in a testing center.
After raising my arms to celebrate the achievement, I got into my car. But before starting the engine I took a moment to reflect on the experience, smiling because I knew my professional life had just taken a huge step forward.
Preparing for my exam
My desire to succeed has fueled my constant drive to learn in my profession. Seeing the APR as a chance to broaden my PR skills, I attended a spring 2017 luncheon hosted by my local PRSA Chapter, where a member who had just obtained her APR outlined the benefits of Accreditation. From that moment I was hooked on the challenge of earning my APR.
After the luncheon I set my target exam date and worked backwards from there to create a study schedule. I studied the APR Study Guide and the book “Public Relations: Strategies and Tactics.” I thought six months of studying would be enough. Boy, was I wrong.
I quickly realized I had no clue how to properly conduct public relations from a strategic standpoint. Learning the terms, theories and communication models — plus the RPIE (research, planning, implementation and evaluation) process — proved cumbersome and difficult for me.
In January 2018, as I continued to study, I started talking to some local APRs about the process. They all advised me to take the APR Online Study Course. It would be a game-changer for me.
A self-paced, 10-module APR preparation course, the online course included a weekly meeting during which we reviewed potential exam questions, listened to current APRs give advice, discussed the online course material and gave practice presentations on case studies. The online course helped clarify the terms and models and gave me confidence in my studies.
Three months after taking the course and reading the book “Cutlip & Center’s Effective Public Relations,” I volunteered to give a practice Panel Presentation. I bombed, and once again had to adjust my target exam date.
With my confidence falling, I turned to the leader of the online course, who helped me understand the difference between outcome objectives and output objectives. He also reminded me that the PR profession is all about relationships, and that we should apply everything we read and study in the APR journey to our daily work. With this knowledge in mind, things began to dramatically improve for me.
I started understanding how to use outcome objectives and to apply the research, planning, implementation and evaluation process to my current job. I also began to see how to formulate goals, how research helps identify gaps in my company’s business plan, and how we communicate to clients and prospects.
Getting a boost at work
By July 2018 I was grasping the concepts in the online course but still didn’t feel ready to begin the application process. Along the way I bought a house and got engaged. I soon found myself short of the $400 needed to submit my application — another reason to postpone what had now become the mythical test date. Only this time, it would be the final delay.
One day at lunch a coworker asked me how the exam process was coming. “Good,” I said, “but I keep pushing back my test date. Whether from lack of confidence, the wrong timing or because of life events, I always find a reason to move my goal date.”
A few hours later my coworker, who is also my direct report, came to me with an envelope and said, “Here is an early wedding present from the company.” Inside was a check from the owner for $400.
It was on! My application was approved in September 2018, and my Panel Presentation was set for October 2018. I didn’t know whether I was ready; I only knew that I needed to stop making excuses and just do it.
Conquering the big day
At the panel presentation, I was greeted by the APR Chair. She was relaxed and welcoming. I was nervous but calmed down once we started.
It was a conversation, plain and simple. After two hours I said my goodbyes and the APR Chair walked me to the door. She said “Great job,” and told me I would know my results soon. The answer finally came: “APR Advancement.”
Once you are Advanced from your Panel Presentation, the next step is to schedule your computer-based examination. You’re only allowed to bring a small whiteboard and a dry-erase marker into the exam room, provided by the testing center. The exam questions are multiple-choice, all of which are scenario-based. Some questions require two-to-three correct answers. You’re given three hours and 45 minutes to complete the test.
I used all of the allotted time. When I reached the “submit your exam” screen, I paused, took a deep breath and then clicked.
On the next screen all I saw was the word “pass.” I raised my arms in celebration. With a huge smile, I went home knowing I had my APR.
Earning your Accreditation is an amazing process that will change you personally and professionally. If you’re pursuing your APR, there will be struggles and you might get discouraged along the way. But don’t give up. Keep studying, and you will pass.
Michael Vannest, APR, is the communications and marketing director at the E.V. Bishoff Company, Columbus, Ohio.