My passion for public relations and communications drives me to want to take the profession as seriously as I possibly can. Our specialization is unique, welcoming and misunderstood at times by people outside our area of expertise who may need our services.
Receiving my Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) has separated me from the rest. It shows how dedicated I am to my education, skill and career growth. It has demonstrated to project leaders and my team members how reliable I am to our organization and goals. My goal has always been to have my tactics and techniques be trustworthy, credible and honest before those I’m privileged to work with, now and in the future.
I centered my APR Panel Presentation around my work in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The work I did daily was not easy, and being Accredited was like a reward for me in some way. When the pandemic first began, I immediately became a crisis manager full-time. I experienced long hours, late nights and unpredictable mornings.
Unfortunately, I didn’t spend much time taking care of myself because of all the great work I was pushed to do every day to ensure that I supported the organization I worked for to the best of my ability as a communicator.
As communicators, we are tasked to watch the news to keep up with current events. Not only was I watching the news because I was also a communicator keeping up with the headlines, but I was also watching the news as an African American woman afraid of seeing social injustice and the impact the pandemic had on the Black community.
I needed a push. I needed a place to direct my focused energy to complete a goal I had wanted since the beginning of my career almost a decade ago. Going into 2021, during Black History Month, I decided that I wanted to complete my APR as a symbol that I am a confident communicator who served as an essential worker during the world health crisis. I wanted to present all the hard work I’ve accumulated and have my Accreditation serve as an award somehow. Accreditation is a sign that I not only survived but thrived!
Although my intentions were grand, obtaining my APR was not as easy as I initially thought it would be, which is why I’m incredibly eager to share the steps I took to get where I am today.
After my successful APR readiness presentation in May, I signed up to take the APR exam in the first week of July. Eager to achieve my goal to obtain my Accreditation in less than a year, I did not consider the mental state I was currently in due to work-related stress and other effects I had surrounding me due to the pandemic and social injustice. I had tunnel vision and one goal. That was to pass the exam successfully. I met with my study partner once a week and continued to participate in the APR Online Study Course cohort classes offered.
When I failed the exam the first time, I was confused and slightly defeated. I was upset because I underestimated the timer on the test. Halfway through the test, I realized that I would not complete the test in time at the pace I was going.
Also, I did not think the cohorts had adequately prepared me. I felt in classes we reviewed questions that were not as challenging as the ones on the test. Although my concerns could have been the truth, I could not blame that. The fact was, I did not sufficiently prepare myself. Because I was so focused on my set plan, I did not consider my mental strength and capacity. I wanted to share this part because I do not think we talk enough about the confidence and positive mentality you need when sitting for this exam.
Regrouping for a second attempt
Although I was unsuccessful last summer, I did not regret taking the test. I called it a practice test to help my confidence and then restrategized my study tactics. Preparing for my second attempt, I did not have a study group or attend the cohorts. However, I did dive back into the APR Study Guide and Cutlip & Center’s “Effective Public Relations.”
I also ordered a handful of books, including “The Associated Press Stylebook,” “Strategic Planning for Public Relations 4th Edition” and “Primer of Public Relations Research 3rd Edition.” I must mention that the additional books were not needed to pass the Examination. However, I took this opportunity to grow my personal library. Also, I had a study partner who had successfully passed her test. She was on standby once a month to answer any questions I had.
In early November, after attending an APR Bootcamp, I completed the exam with 45 minutes to spare. I used those 45 minutes to review all of my marked questions, and I pressed “submit answers” eight minutes before the timer ran out.
I couldn’t stop staring at the word “PASS” and, when I received my scores, it even impressed me. I told my husband, mother and closest friends I had successfully passed that very night. It was the best feeling in the entire world. I had done it. I completed a long-term goal that meant so much to me.
Within the next week, I told my colleagues, mentors and study partner, and shared the success on LinkedIn. The APR community welcomed me with open arms, and now I cannot wait to help the next person. I’m now a committee member serving the APR board with the Georgia Chapter and dedicated to helping PR practitioners become Accredited in Public Relations.
I read a blog that helped me pick my confidence back up after failing in July. So, I hope this blog in some way helps someone else who may have to sit for the exam twice. Don’t worry. You can do it! Why? Simply because I did!
Ronnika A. McFall, MBA, APR, is an award-winning strategic PR and communications leader with an entrepreneurial spirit and almost a decade of diverse and transferable experience across multiple industries. She is a member of PRSA’s Georgia Chapter. Find her on LinkedIn and on Twitter @RonnikaMcFall.[Photo of Ronnika and husband Carlton McFall courtesy of the author.]