Accreditation in Public Relations

A Navy Leader on the Role of Accreditation in Developing Strategic Communicators

Rear Admiral Charles “Charlie” Brown, the U.S. Navy Chief of Information, is the first flag officer and senior active duty officer to earn Accreditation in Public Relations and Military Communication (APR+M).

With more than 20 years of service as a public affairs officer, Admiral Brown has led countless successful communication campaigns, earning a Silver Anvil Award, an Award of Excellence from PRSA, a Thomas Jefferson award from the Department of Defense, and numerous Rear Admiral Thompson Awards for Excellence in Navy Public Affairs. He deployed in direct support of Operation Southern Watch and Enduring Freedom.

The Navy’s highest ranking public affairs officer took a few minutes to share his thoughts about the role of Accreditation in developing strategic communicators:

Why should public affairs officers consider the APR+M a tool for development in their communication toolbox?

Accreditation in Public Relations and Military Communications signifies a high level of professional expertise and helps establish community-wide standards of performance.

What specific areas of public relations in the APR credentialing process directly relate to military public affairs officers? How does credentialing make them more strategic?

In my experience, I’ve found that military PAOs are excellent at the implementation phase, or the execution of public communication. Since I started in public affairs more than 20 years ago, we’ve also gotten much better at planning public communication.

We still struggle, however, in the research phase and in evaluating our communication efforts. The APR process emphasizes the value of the full RPIE (Research, Planning Implementation and Evaluation) process, and I think that we can improve our overall level of professionalism in military public affairs by taking a more complete approach to our public communication campaigns.

We have lots of great public affairs activity going on, but it isn’t always organized in a way to achieve specific objectives. We need to consider what we are trying to achieve with our public communication efforts, and how we will know whether we’ve achieved that objective or not.

People talk a lot about wanting to develop “strategic thinking” among public affairs officers, but I believe the only way to do that is through “strategic doing.” The RPIE model, which is used in the Accreditation process, enables us to think through what we are trying to achieve and how we will measure our progress in practice. That’s putting strategy into action, and I believe that is what develops strategic thinking.

At what stage would you recommend public affairs officers and civilians should start thinking about earning their APR or APR+M? 

I’d recommend active duty public affairs officers start considering pursuit of Accreditation toward the end of their second public affairs assignment, and Navy civilians working in public affairs should consider pursuing it after they’ve been working in the field for five or six years.

How does the Navy use APR+M as an identifier in a public affairs officer’s career?

The Navy considers Accreditation an “Additional Qualification Designator.” There are unique AQDs for both APR and APR+M. These designators denote special qualifications an officer has obtained, and play an important role in documenting an officer’s achievements. They provide selection (promotion) board members with an overview of key qualifications during considerations.

The Navy continues to champion APR+M. Can you cite any particular reasons the service finds it so valuable?

The APR+M program is a means for the Navy public affairs community to help establish professional benchmarks of performance. We owe Navy leadership a predictable and reliable level of professional expertise among experienced PAOs.

With the rigor of the testing and the ability of the public affairs community to help establish and maintain standards of accountability, the Accreditation process helps us signify that a public affairs officer has achieved a certain level of professional expertise.

Does the Navy pay for APR or APR+M certification?  

Right now there are a variety of options to help some Navy members fund their pursuit of Accreditation, but there is no single funding solution that applies across the board to everyone.

I recommend those Navy members interested in Accreditation, both uniformed and civilian, talk with their shipmates who have already gone through the process to find out what options might be available to help with the costs of Accreditation.  

Ann Peru Knabe, Ph.D., APR+M, is a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve with 25-plus years in military public affairs, national security and international settings. On the civilian side, she owns a consulting firm in Milwaukee, Wisc. She is the vice chair for the Universal Accreditation Board, the international governing body that manages the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) credential. 

This year’s APR Boot Camp is on Feb. 26–28 at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Registration deadline: Jan. 17, 2020.

About the author

Ann Peru Knabe, Ph.D., APR+M

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