APR Update

Last weekend, I visited Washington DC for the 2010 PRSA Leadership Assembly and PRSA Southwest District board meeting. To take advantage of the location, I invited my 94-year-old grandfather and mom to come with me to visit my granddad’s 98-year-old brother who lives in Bethesda. Some of my photos from the trip are posted on Flickr.

Now, for the real reason for this post — the discussions held at the Leadership Assembly. There were three bylaw changes proposed, with the most controversial being the removal of the APR designation as a requirement for PRSA National board members. The same issue was brought up last year and voted down by Assembly delegates. I wrote about it here.

The same arguments arose this year, but the conversation turned toward the need for PRSA to have a strategic discussion about the APR and its value. PRSA National has agreed to put together a task force to address the accreditation dilemma and assess the credential to determine what may need to change in the future. The task force is being chaired by Blake Lewis, APR, from Dallas. If you’re interested in helping, contact him.

APR, Leadership and Controversy

I attended part of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) international conference in San logo_apr_60Diego this past weekend. It was an interesting compilation of traditional PR practitioners and those who focus more on new media channels for communicating messages.

One thing I found quite interesting was the discussion held on Saturday during the Assembly regarding APR and whether or not the PRSA national board members should be required to hold this certification.

I’m a big proponent of the APR and serve as co-chair on the Tulsa chapter’s accreditation committee. We’ve put a lot of time and effort into creating a program that has led to approximately a dozen new APRs over the past four or five years. For a chapter of about 100 people, we have a disproportionately high percentage of APRs with nearly 30 individuals who have passed the exam.

For an organization like PRSA to even question whether or not the APR should be required bothered me. If we as PR professionals expect for the APR to be considered credible in the business world, then we have to lead the way in encouraging our members to earn the certification. The APR process is not about making someone a better leader or giving them the ability to govern an association, but it is about creating a strategically minded PR professional who can represent our industry well at the local, regional or national level. If PRSA as a whole cannot support its’ members in the APR process by requiring the certification of its’ highest leadership then why should we expect anyone outside the industry to respect or find credibility in what an APR can bring to the PR world.

I’ve said this before, but the APR process is not necessarily about earning more money or creating a veil of mystery around what we do. Instead it’s about personal growth and professional development. The exam steps provide a great deal of learning than anyone truly understands until they have gone through the process. As an accreditation leader at the chapter level, I find that APR candidates come into the process expecting one thing but always leave with a new appreciation for the PR industry as a whole and a more defined understanding of the business world, which translates into making them smart PR practitioners.

What do you think?

The Case of the Misunderstood APR

*** Disclaimer: I am an APR as well as co-chair of the PRSA Tulsa accreditation committee.

I’ve posted about the Accredited in Public Relations process before. I earned my APR in 2004 after initial support from a former boss and then my personal decision that this was an important step for me professionally. It joins earning my MBA on the list of growth and education actions to complete.

There always seems to be discussion about the value of earning your APR and what it means professionally. I’m not going to rehash what I said in my earlier post. My reasons for earning my APR can be found there, but I did want to take a moment to share where I think the industry as a whole is falling short.

I am an active member of PRSA, serving in leadership roles at both the local and district levels. PRSA touts earning an APR as a valuable step in professional growth, but I’m not sure the association has done a good job of truly proving its’ worth. An argument I hear over and over for why people choose to not pursue this certification is that the letters mean absolutely nothing outside of the PR business and, in some cases, have very little meaning within PR circles.

If we expect the accreditation to mean something, then PRSA, the UAB and other organizations must work harder at proving the ROI. Take a long look at the process and identify ways to  justify the expense and time it takes as well as exhibit the benefits for the business. Business leaders expect bottomline results, and it shouldn’t be hard to compare the PR results of someone with an APR and one without. The process forces individuals to think strategically and more in line with what the business needs to succeed.

To me, it makes sense for an accreditation process that brings the need for research and measurement to the forefront to apply the same steps to its’ own promotion and build a plan according to what it means for those outside the industry as well as PR pros. What do you think?

More Planning

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Google Images

I’m a fan of planning. I’ve written on it before here and here. Planning is a big part of a PR program’s success or failure. I love the way the lightbulb comes on in my head as I work through the data gathered during research to determine the best approach to take in communicating with my audiences.

I asked in that earlier planning post “How many times have you sat in brainstorming meetings where the focus tends to center on tactics that others in the room think should be done?”. It’s a common error made by young and seasoned professionals alike — putting all your attention on tactical execution without understanding the puzzle pieces before that such as who are we targeting, what messages will resonate, what time frame are we working within, and more.

One of the first steps in planning is to set “goals” and “objectives” based on the research that has been conducted. I have found that most people improperly define these terms. Goals are more global in nature, indicating the ultimate outcome of the program. A goal should be a statement of being, such as “XYZ agency expects to become the pre-eminent PR firm in the midwest.” Goals are the overall results you wish to achieve. Objectives are more specific and relate directly to one or more audience. Objectives define what behavior, attitude or opinion you want  to see from the audience, how much you hope to achieve and when. An example objective might be “XYZ agency will increase its’ client base by 10% within a 12 month period beginning January 2010.”

The point of setting goals and objectives during the planning stage is to ensure that the PR practitioner realizes the success of a campaign or project. Objectives should be measurable so the PR pro can easily determine whether movement was made in the behavior, attitude or opinion of the audience. Objectives also have four characteristics that you should consider:

  • Which audience or public are you targeting
  • What is the end result you expect to achieve with that audience
  • For what level of accomplishment are you shooting
  • What time frame should this occur

Once the objectives for the program have been set, it’s time to determine strategies. This is the how — how will you reach your objectives, with the most efficiency and least cost? This is where you will begin outlining actionable ways to reach your audience and gain the end result for which you are shooting. This is not your tactical activities where you focus on details. Don’t forget that strategies are the how of reaching your objectives — it’s too easy for strategies to become objectives. So keep in mind that this is how. An example might be “XYZ agency will leverage relationships through professional associations to gain new business.”

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Google Images

From here, you focus on tactics. Traditionally where most people head first, tactics are subdivisions of strategies. This is the specifics as to how you will accomplish your objectives, such as “XYZ agency, lead by Jane Doe, will schedule meetings with five professional colleagues during September.” When the effort has been put into the objectives and strategies, the tactics typically fall into place easily.

For new professionals, I strongly encourage you to practice writing plans. It’s a talent I look for when hiring new team members, and I know I’m not alone in that.

Any thoughts to add?

Should you or shouldn’t you?

For years, decades possibly, communications professionals have debated about whether or not one should pursue his or her Accredited in Public Relations (APR) is important to growth in our chosen field. In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I am an APR so I am a bit biased about the process and whether or not it is needed. Following I initiate what I hope is an objective discussion of the certification.

Professional Impact
While the Public Relations Society of America presents arguments as to why one should say “yes” to this decision, I somewhat disagree with the organization’s reasons. According to PRSA, accreditation defines the profession by:
1) Setting standards and recognizing the “science” of public relations

2) Legitimizing the profession and creating uniformity

3) Building accountability for ethical behavior and through legal knowledge

While I agree to an extent with PRSA’s case for why someone should pursue an APR, I also see that the true value in an APR is more hidden. Salary increases and professional recognition may occur, but I have found that is not necessarily the case everywhere. Perhaps it is a regional advantage for some. Tulsa has a proportionately high percentage of APRs in our PRSA membership but I have not found a single person who has benefited in overt professional recognition.

Statistically speaking, I don’t believe my experience is unusual in that my professional recognition or salary value has not increased due to the three letters which now appear after my name. Instead, I have found that my corporate credibility has improved. In a business setting where certifications are not usual, an APR provides the CEO and senior management with a unique look at my training.
While it does not replace the strong work ethic or exhibition of skills I must use every day, the APR certification does allow for a brief introduction of sorts with the management team. They see those letters and always ask what they mean. If nothing else, it allows me to educate and inform one of my key audiences about the communications profession and how a strategic program can help the business grow and achieve bottom line success. Ultimately, that’s all that matters in the corporate world.

Personal Achievement
My main reason for pursuing my APR is personal. I have set personal and professional goals over the years and work hard to accomplish each. Earning my APR is one of those goals. Having worked with and for several APRs who provided me with strong examples of what a public relations professional should be, I initially thought that earning my APR would be one way I could show them how much I had learned under their tutelage. While that may be the case, I have evolved in my thinking and now see the APR as a personal achievement which helped me build confidence in my skills. The process one goes through to earn his or her APR is difficult, and I believe I am a more solid professional because of it. I now have the strength to sit at the proverbial table and persuade senior management toward the appropriate communication strategy. Whether or not those three letters mean anything to the others at the table, I honestly don’t care. In the end, I know I worked extremely hard to earn this certification and am extremely proud of my accomplishment.