A Reflection on Earning Accreditation in Public Relations

I took a test a few days ago. I haven’t taken a test like this since Econ 51 while I was in journalism school. That was a long time ago, and let’s just say it was not my best class.

My co-worker, Justin, is on the local board of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), our professional association. He said he was interested in studying to attain accreditation in public relations (APR). Good for him, I thought. In fact, if he finds it useful, we just might include this among the stepping stones to a certain level of leadership for the PR staff in the firm. We’ll support you, let me know how it goes, I told him.

I hadn’t done it, studied for accreditation. Didn’t know much about it. PRSA was not part of the culture where I worked early in my career, and becoming accredited just didn’t come up in the 15 years since Linda and I founded our integrated communications firm in Kansas City. As PR defines itself as an “emerging” profession, having or not having the accredited designation is not decisive in our freedom to do the work. In fact, of the 275,000 the Bureau of Labor Statistics says work in public relations, only 5,000 have this designation.

Who really knows or cares what APR stands for anyway? Or, AICP, ASE, CCIM, CLU, ChFC, PE, SIOR (just a few of the certifications I pulled from names in my Outlook database)? In the professional designation alphabet soup sweepstakes, the clear winners are CPA, DDS, JD, and MD. Most people know what those mean, and really want you to have one if you are their service provider.

In recent years, I have come to appreciate the rigor required of strategic communications campaigns submitted for PRSA’s awards program. They have to show clear goal setting, strategy, steady execution, and measureable results for clients. The association’s professional development opportunities for co-workers also have value. So being the strategic thinker that I am, I tried (really, really tried) to think my way through justifying requiring accreditation of more junior staff when I had not required it of myself.

When you have a well-stated goal, it clears the decks for defining what you need to do, how much and by when – the architecture of any good plan. I wanted to know if accreditation should be among the considerations for advancement among our senior PR team members. I needed to participate, study and take the test myself to be credible in that decision making – and I needed to do so before I let my focus go elsewhere.

So I did. And here is what I learned: That the process validated the discipline and rigor our firm has long brought to strategic planning and campaign execution. That research should be front and center for any firm’s in-house capabilities, not relegated to the specialist closet. That I really don’t like theory. That while accreditation alone is insufficient preparation for firm leadership, it is a worthy building block in the foundation.

I did pass, I am relieved to say, accredited in public relations. Now I know what it means.