Wednesday, November 22, 2006

APR ... what is it good for?

How important is it to have these three letters after your name? If you are a committed PR professional, you have probably thought about acquiring your accreditation. If you're like me, after almost two decades on the PR side, along with being a mother and entrepreneur, hitting the books at this point is very unlikely. I don't need an APR (Accredited Public Relations) to validate me or my work, which I think speaks for itself. I'd rather work at breaking a 100 on the golf course, than go back to school! But that's just me!

I have two Vice Presidents, who both coincidentally have their accreditation in PR . How great is that! You know what? I didn't hire either of them because of it. It was icing on the cake. I'm proud of them and know they are committed to the profession and will support them if they pursue their ABC (Accredited Business Communicator) designation as well.

But frankly, I personally know less than ten people with an APR or an ABC and I'm not convinced of the difference it makes in hiring or to clients. I've been in new business presentations where I proudly showcase that I have two senior staff members with an APR and prospects look completely blasé. Outside our industry, most people don't know what it is.

I'm not saying it's a terrible thing to have or a waste of time to acquire it, but how relevant is this designation? Do you get more money? Does it mean you're smarter than everyone else? Does it open more doors? Do you have better ethical standards than someone without it? Or is it simply a case of self-achievement and personal growth? I think the latter makes the most sense to me.

I asked several senior PR folks in Toronto what they thought of the APR designation. One company president, who does not have an APR and runs a mid sized PR firm in Toronto, said " it's a great thing to point to, but at the end of the day, makes no difference." When I asked whether she will go for it, she quipped "at my age, no . What if I take the exam and fail .... Wouldn't that be embarrassing?" I couldn't agree more. Do I need a test to prove to my colleagues that I know what the RACE formula stands for?

If CPRS or IABC wants to see accreditated numbers rise, they need to promote the crap out of it! I worked six and a half years with a large multinational agency and my boss never once told me to get one . Never pushed me or said it would help my career . And guess what? She's accredited! Perhaps they should make accreditation mandatory to move beyond a certain step in your professional career. It will do several things : elevate the profession ; validate our line of work ; and "up the ante" on salaries and billable rates. Right now, accreditation is voluntary, somewhat inconsistent in its testing and a hit and miss as far as value. However, I for one would support mandatory accreditation -- if given strong enough reasons.

More to the point, I can't remember the last time I saw any editorial on the subject. For a profession that prides itself on "getting ink" we do a lousy job at espousing the credibility of our occupation and the importance of an APR or ABC.


Leona said...

It is a classic case of the cobbler's children having no shoes. PR people promoting the crap out of something should be second nature, right? Where are the PR accreditation evangelists?

I'm a committed communications professional, and I haven't once seriously considered getting accredited. I see lots of value in professional development, but I don't get how having the letters APR or ABC after my name on my business cards would make me a better professional.

Jonathan Dunn said...

I am currently taking my PR diploma and at no point during the program has it been stressed (with any conviction anyway) that accreditation is something to work towards.

I think this just underlines your point that either it's not that important or a terrible job is being done of stressing/promoting its value.

I do, however, think there's merit to the argument that it can add credibility to the profession.

Lisa Walker said...

Well my friend, you know better than anyone else how much the RACE formula means to me. And I certainly don't have APR behind my name - like Leona I've never considered it. But I am re-thinking my ideas around industry bodies and what they offer; I've not seen the value in the past but collaboration with other PR agencies is teaching me a lot these days.

Anonymous said...

There are two reasonable answers (at least) to your question about the value of APR.

First, Like BA, BS, MA, MS, EDD, and PHD it signifies the accomplishment of a specific task. At this level is best seen as a meaure of motivatiuon. Person's acheiving this credential have voluntarily spent the time and effort to study for and complete a specific examination aboiut public relation. These are people who are motivated and work hard to be better professional communicators.

Second, the examination actually tests knowledge about public relations hisory, ethics, research, technical knowledge, and theoretical knowledge. If being smart is all that it takes to be successful in public relations then we don't need universities or associations with professional development programs. I like to believe that what professionals know is important to their success.

It is a fact that it is not necessary to have this credential in order to be successful, but if in acquiring it you learn something that makes you better or if it mkaes it easier for others to recognize how good you really are, then it may be worth doing, (I give myself a grade of C for this last sentence- It is certainly not written at an 8th grade level)

Vince Hazleton, PhD, APR, Fellow PRSA

Edward M. Bury, APR said...


First, full disclosure: I am the 2006 Chair of the PRSA Accreditation Marketing Committee, and I'm a member of the Universal Accrediation Board. I earned the Accreditation in 2004 under the Computer Based Examination, even though I've been in the communications business for around 30 years. Rather than debate topics and issues addressed previously, consider this: in the past few months, some of the biggest multi national PR agencies have been embroiled in scandals due to questionable practices on behalf of clients. Corporations with once sterling reputations have been shamed for the same reason. Why? Either people were stupid or they were ethically challenged. Earning the APR not only means you passed an exam and other preliminary requirements, it also means you agree to uphold ethical standards that prevent practitioners from being called "flacks" or worse.

Gary Schlee ABC said...

No amount of internal promotion is likely to overcome the fact that the majority of PR practitioners don't feel the need to apply a yardstick to their worth as professionals.

That's fine. But some of the same people are the ones who bemoan the fact that PR doesn't get much respect out there. Hmmmm.

Alan Chumley said...

Way late to the debate on this but all hail the long tail o' the blogosphere.

My view is that until or unless the APR/ABC professional designations are either required and/or (more importantly) promoted to and thus recognized by the (non communications) leadership of the organizations we support, then we're only legitimizing ourselves within our own community.

So, within our own little club, yes an APR / ABC does stand for something (possibly significant), but does it mean anything outside of the communications practitioner community?

Julie Rusciolelli said...

Hey Alan, never too late to post a comment! I totally agree with you .. until the designation is legitimized and well promoted it won't mean anything to non PR types. I know it's important, but I've gotten pretty far in my career without it and I'm not convinced clients care enough to demand it either.

Alan Chumley said...

The one arguement that we haven't touched on is salary. While I'd never have guessed that APRs/ABCs necessarily make (significantly) more on average than those without, the 2004 IABC Toronto Salary Survey (available on their website) seems to indicate otherwise by almost 30%! That strikes me as being high enough to ask some methodological questions. For example, only 7% of the respondents were accredited and if one assumes, perhaps fairly, that ABCs/APRs tend to be more senior, then comparing the average designated to non-designated salary isn't entirely fair.

Paradoxically, 76% of those who hold the designations didn't think they made more than those who don't, but they do, according to the study. 76% of those without designations didn't feel they'd be better paid with a designation.

Methodological caution, though: salary surveys tend to attract only those who suspect they don't make enough relative to their peers and/or those who are looking to move so it's not necessarily an accurate sample.

Salary discussions are never fun.

Anonymous said...

Hi - Sorry I'm joining this discussion about 4 years too late. I agree with everything being said and would like to add that I think a dismally low pass rate for APR (66%) says something. This is up from about 54% in the early 2000s.

That discourages me from wanting to do this. Once I'm out of school, I gotta be careful what I spend my time doing. I'm loathe to study for an exam with that low of a pass rate.

I also have serious concerns over the method of studying for APR. There is no definitive text. It's a little of this, a little of that, and better hope you took that guy's class at the conference and here's an underground power point that's going around... give me a break! Bar exams and CPA exams at least have a defined body of knowledge they test you on!

To ask me to scramble about in hopes that I find the right resources is outrageous and serves no real purpose.