Thought Leadership

Sharpening Skills and Learning New Ones

My path to public relations began with a bachelor’s in journalism in 2006. The next year, I became a reporter at a community newspaper where I stayed for five years. When my baby was born, I looked for something more flexible and became a private investigator for our county.

I was still investigating when a school PR job opened up in my community. I hadn’t been looking for it, but when my mom (a school employee) sent me the job description, I realized it described ME.

Two years later, I embarked on the journey toward Accreditation with the goal of shifting my perspective. Although many skills are similar, the goals of reporting and the goals of PR are very different.

As I began working through the study guide and textbooks, I realized I had more to learn than I had expected. I began to use the RPIE (Research, Planning, Implementation and Evaluation) method of preparing communication plans and that helped me get more organized and feel more confident in my decisions. I finally felt like I was doing real public relations.

When panel time came along, I felt fairly confident that I understood the processes and guiding principles behind PR, but I was still weak on terminology and needed some extra advice to get through the Examination for Accreditation in Public Relations. The panel gave me helpful feedback after my presentation regarding areas I needed to work on and where my strengths lay. I came away not sure if I would be Advanced, but I learned from the experience either way. (In case you are wondering, I was Advanced.)

I spent the next few months studying the books my panel suggested to get me ready for the Examination. Having been out of school for 11 years, it was a struggle to read a textbook again. But with support from friends and family, I survived studying once again.

The Examination was the hardest I have ever taken. But I survived that, too, and managed to pass it on the first try.

To anyone considering Accreditation: The year of study, preparation and support is well worth the knowledge you will gain. I wasn’t sure where the process would take me, but I now know I am better at my job and better prepared for any future career I might seek.

Sheila F. Corson, APR, is communications officer for the Omak School District in Omak, Wash.

About the author

Sheila F. Corson APR


  • Thank you for sharing your journey. It helps for those considering their APR to hear from others – and to know you are there to support them if needed! Congratulations from a fellow school PR pro.

  • I am a Chinese student learning in United States now. Frankly speaking, I feel confused about my future career. Recently, I have read a lot of news and books about public relations due to my writing course. My teacher assigned me to write two blogs per week discussing the public relations of nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit was just a concept for me before. But now I realize that nonprofit organizations really play important roles in the social sustainable development. I want to engage in PR team in these organizations. Working in these organizations would be definite exciting and meaningful. But some people seek their personal gains by taking advantage of the favorable resources of nonprofits. To establish and maintain a good public image is also a great challenge for nonprofits. I am afraid whether I am competent for this position. After reading your story, I feel inspired. Concern cannot solve any problem but action and good preparation can.

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