I’ve been struggling lately with whether I should advance my education with a formal training program — either by going for a master’s degree or earning an APR (Accredited in Public Relations).
The master’s is very far out of reach, as I see it, based on the cost and the time commitment involved. The APR, however, is much closer. In the past I just haven’t been convinced that I need it. The accreditation standard seems to mean a lot to people in the profession, but I’m not sure how much it means to clients and employers outside the profession.
That discrepancy aside, I can see where there is value to the APR initials after your name. However, one of the reasons I’ve shied away from trying for my APR is that I’ve been rebelling against those trying to tell me I need it. I’ve been turned away by some of the attitudes involved. Sometimes I get the feeling that people with an APR are looking down their noses at those of us who haven’t got it. They tend to make new grads think that without their APR, their college education in the PR field is a nice start but doesn’t really amount to much. And they tend to ignore the idea that accreditation through the School of Hard Knocks and the experience a person can gain after doing the job for nearly 15 years (in my case) just doesn’t hold any real value.
I’m sure I’ve just been too sensitive sometimes, but when it comes to the APR, those who want to promote it could use a bit of PR for themselves and those fancy initials after their name.
I attended the Public Relations Society of America International Conference in San Diego recently, where I finally — finally! — heard a good explanation of why a person should consider getting their APR. It was given at a meeting being led by Mary Barber, a PR pro from Alaska. After hearing her explanation, I actually felt like I had a solid reason to get my APR. The way Mary explains it, earning your APR looks good to others, but she primarily did it for herself.
I recorded Mary giving the explanation again so I could share it here with you. I thought it was good enough that I couldn’t do it justice trying to put it into words. So, below is Mary, explaining her position. After you watch the video, I’m betting you’ll want to check out what it takes to actually earn your APR. You can do that at this link.
I’ll see you there.
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I have my APR and I’ve been deeply involved in my PRSA chapter’s APR committee. I’ve seen a lot of people go through it, and heard the grousing from APRs who think it should mean more.
– The initials are meaningless unless you’re talking to another APR.
– It’s for people with 5-7 years of experience, not recent college grads.
– APR has served as a master’s equivalent for those seeking to teach college level courses.
– APRs say the process helped them capture their experience so that they could better communicate PR practices and philosophies. Both clients and peers appreciate this, although they may not be able to explain why.
– APRs report they have more confidence thanks to the APR process.
– APR provides a common denominator within the profession. It makes it easier to know what to expect of a PR rep, for instance, when you’re on shared territory. When you’re racing to get a project done, and still building a relationship with a new person, if you both know you’re APR, you have that solid, shared knowledge to get you ten times further, ten times faster.
– APR is an investment in your profession. The more APRs there are, the more credibility APR and the profession gain. Why? Because it shows that we’re monitoring ourselves. It shows we’ve identified key skill areas that are non-negotiable. It shows we have a shared set of ethics. (Ethics are an important part of the exam.)
– At a time when MBAs are encroaching upon the PR field, taking jobs that traditionally go to PR practitioners, it’s important to invest in more than yourself. An investment in your professional community is an investment in yourself.
-Finally, APRs who seem happiest to me are the ones who don’t wait for praise or recognition. They actively express their ideas, bring leadership skills to their roles regardless of title, and celebrate their skills daily. If you were a Ph.D, guess what? You’d have to go out and create something new and significant to the world. Unless you do that, no one really cares if you’re a Ph.D. (For example.) But if you do, AND you have an advanced certification such as APR, it gives you an extra element of credibility.
So – sitting back and waiting for people to bring jobs and titles to you won’t work.
Going out and bringing your ideas to life does. And then once people find out you’re also an APR, your work is doubly affirmed. Make sense?
I am APR and am accreditation co-chair for my local PRSA chapter. I am a big proponent of going through the APR process, but also strongly believe that it is more important for you individually to figure out the reason for pursuing it. During my readiness review panel, one of my panelists made a point of telling me that earning my APR was not about looking better to others in the profession or looking at others with disdain who have chosen to pursue it, but rather an opportunity to coach and mentor those who desire it themselves.
As a side note, I am now working toward my MBA and believe that my APR has actually helped me think more strategically in my business classes as well as on the job.
Thanks for sharing this video. I, too, have struggled with the decision to pursue the APR. I already have the master’s degree, but Mary’s explanation makes a lot of sense. Thinking of it as a personal milestone in one’s career also makes it seem much more attainable.
Ari — Even though I have earned my APR, I had, and continue to have, the same issues with the credential that you do. I was strong-armed to sit for APR before I was ready, failed it, then waited a few years and tried again. I was delighted when I received the notification letter — and found myself re-energized and re-focused on refining my craft. The bottom line for me wasn’t how APR made me look to the outside world, but what it did for me in terms of soldifying my desire to succeed in public relations.
I’m currently working toward my accreditation. I’ve been lucky to have two immediate bosses who have valued the APR process for what it can do for me and my learning without pressuring me to earn the accreditation. I’ve also been lucky that those same bosses made it very clear that, although they valued the APR, having those letters behind my name didn’t translate into a pay raise or a promotion automatically.
Because of those frank discussions, I’ve always known that when I do earn my accreditation, it will be for me. If someone else values it or even puts some monetary value on it, that will be a bonus.
Thanks for your insight!
I’m completing my own APR process right now, and I have to say that having the accreditation will be nice – but for me, getting my APR was more about the journey than the destination.
I am a college-trained journalist, and switched to PR at graduation without ever taking a PR class. Now that I’m a PR manager for a company, I wanted to supplement my experience with the more academic side of things. I have no doubt that I’m already better at my job – and more confident in my career – than I was before, just because I have this background and perspective to apply. Plus, in passing the Readiness Review, I earned a stamp of approval from other APRs saying that I’m a competent and capable higher-level practitioner.
To your point about APR not being known well outside of PR – well, I guess that’s to be expected with so relatively few APRs out there. But if anything, shame on individual APRs and the PR community as well. When I get my credential, I won’t ever go into another new business pitch, job interview, etc. for the rest of my life and not sell the accreditation and what it means. Sure, it’s the ultimate stamp of approval from the industry. But to me, it’s more than that – it’s proof that I care enough about my work and my organization/clients to invest a large chunk of my personal time (at the expense of my family) to make the commitment (with no outside pressure) to round out my knowledge of my chosen profession, bring new thinking/ideas to the table and continue to learn and grow as a professional. I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of person I want to work with, or hire as outside counsel, for my organization. After all, just like anything else in life, you get out what you put in.
The APR is a wonderful process – incredibly fulfilling and rewarding personally, and very good for the profession as a whole. I don’t know anyone who has earned their APR and thinks the credential and process aren’t worth it. Anyone who tells you otherwise hasn’t gone through the process…it’s really as simple as that. So I’d encourage you to do it too…I think you’ll be pleased you did.
I am so glad you feel that way. Thank you for letting the rest of us in on your perspective! 🙂
APR also brings consistency to our profession. I know that when I meet pr person for the first time, and they are APR, we can immediately get down to business. Two examples, there is no wondering if they understand the planning process and the ethics behind what we do.
After completing my Master of Science in Communication Studies (whew), I realized how much you forget along the way. This prompted me to start studying for my APR. I figured it was a self-test to figuring out how much I actually retained over the two-year time frame. I would strongly suggest that even if you choose not to take the test study and practice the information on it. If at some point in time you want to take it then at least you will be prepared.
Thanks for sharing your perspective on the APR and getting Mary’s take on it as well. She and I have had several discussions about the strengths and weaknesses of the accreditation process and the APR itself.
I began pursuing my accreditation in the mid-1990s, when I had the requisite five years of experience. I did so because I wanted to learn more about the science behind the practice of PR, having taken only journalism classes for my degree. Becoming accredited early in my career put me on a different track. Senior members of my local PRSA chapter (APRs and non-APRs alike) began to look at me in a new light. Instead of being another young professional struggling to prove myself, I had differentiated myself to them by earning my APR.
Years later, I can attribute higher salaries, better jobs, recognition, and leadership opportunities to my APR. But that’s not why I earned it. I earned it for me, and I’ve never regretted it. It’s my responsibility to make the credential meaningful to my clients, my students, my colleagues, and myself. If I don’t believe in its merits, why should anyone else?
Best of luck to you as you build your own career, with or without your APR.
I learned public relations in the school of hard knocks and sat for the APR exam to see for myself if the on-the-job learning was consistent with what is taught in the academic world. To see if I could legitimately present myself as a public relations professional.
I passed the exam on the first try but learned that I was woefully short on understanding the value and uses of research. I went on to study research and earn my masters degree to fill that hole.
Achieving the APR designation was for me – as it was for Mary – a personal, professional affirmation. I encourage people to do it for that reason. In the process, those who take this step are strengthening the profession overall and setting an example for those who follow.
I’m seeing a common thread here. I pursued my APR while serving in the Air Force as a Public Affairs Officer. I wanted–needed–to see if what I was doing in support of my organization was up to the same standards as my colleagues in what we often referred to as “the real world.” I also wanted to live up to expectations of one of my Air Force mentors, Brigadier General Harry Dalton(now a PRSA Fellow),who believed his career Air Force PAOs should be a professional group meeting the highest standards of PRSA.