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.

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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?

Are Professional Organizations an Antiquated Notion?

I’ve seen posts and heard discussions for a while now about the value of professional memberships. I find it interesting that this is such a debate, but it also made me think about my own memberships. Throughout my career, I’ve been a member of various communication organizations, and I remain an active member of the Public Relations Society of America.

I’ve been a strong proponent of professional memberships for a very long time, but I’m also someone who will tell you that your membership is what you make of it. Whether or not the company you work for pays your annual dues and local membership fees shouldn’t matter. What should matter is whether or not you find value in the professional relationships you build through the organization? Are you finding leadership opportunities that will help hone your skills and make you a better communications professional?

When I hear people question the validity of professional organizations in this age of social media, I get a little irritated. Yes, there are plenty of wonderful networking opportunities online and via social sites such as Twitter, Facebook and others. However, nothing equates to the face-to-face relationships I’ve built through PRSA, IABC and other organizations. Our online presence should not trump our offline relationships.

Now, back to the question about whether there is value in professional organizations. I strongly believe there is value. However, that value comes from your involvement. You cannot expect to attend meetings and periodically participate in professional development programs and receive 100 percent return on your investment. You must get involved by volunteering your time and talents to committees, chapter leadership, national projects and more. When calls for volunteers are made — and I guarantee this occurs more than once in a year — step up. Get involved. Find something you’re passionate about and help your local or national organization improve the experience for all members. If you’re sitting back waiting for someone to ask your opinion, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

My involvement in professional organizations has led me to great friends, amazing mentors, career opportunities, leadership development, and so much more. My network of professional colleagues has expanded with online social channels but there is nothing that compares to the relationships I’ve built through professional organizations.

What are your thoughts?

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?

Impressed by New Grads

Thursday night I spent time reviewing resumes and portfolios at Oklahoma State University for the PRSSA students. I have to say I was quite impressed with their skills, ambition and willingness to take risks during tough economic times. Graduating seniors have been looking for jobs for a few months. However, they realize that they may need to take internships to tide themselves over until the economy turns around. I admire them for this, and wish them all the best of luck.

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.

Importance of Learning

After more than a dozen years working in communications and marketing, one of the most important things I have learned is to never stop the education. During my undergrad years of college, I fought tooth and nail to finish my degree program so I could graduate and move into the “real world”. Little did I know but all that information I learned would only get me so far once I started my career. Following are a few tips I’d like to share with anyone, new or seasoned:

1) Ask questions ~ Never assume that you know the answers. Making assumptions, to me, means a professional is entering a stagnant phase in his or her career. My mentors over the years have shown me that being curious and looking to expand your horizons allows one to build more trust among colleagues and leadership. Be wise in your questions though. That leads me to point #2 …

2) Listen carefully ~ Pay attention to what is being said around you. In my experience, the communications professionals in most organizations are the people who need to know that most. While it’s rude to eavesdrop, be open to listening to conversations when they occur around you to gain insight into your business, your employees and the general culture of the organization. Through the years, I have become the go-to person for leadership when they need feedback on decisions that are being made because people trust me to listen and hear what is being said. However, that brings to mind point #3 …

3) Gain trust ~ Asking questions and listening carefully, along with being the communications representative for the company, usually means you are privy to information that may or may not be shared with others in your business or outside. Learn to discern what can be shared, what ethically must be shared and where to draw the line on remaining silent. The public relations practice is governed by a code of ethics through our national industry association, Public Relations Society of America. Each of us has internal morals and principles that guide us. Look to the code of ethics as a guideline by which to practice but also build a reputation of integrity, honesty and responsibility. Your professional and personal credibility is on the line.

4) Find a mentor ~ I have been fortunate in my career to have found amazing professionals who are my mentors to this day. These men and women have taught me a great deal about the communications profession and how I can strengthen my skill sets. I turn to each regularly for feedback and insight on my career, decisions I need to make, and more. I consider each a friend as much as mentor. A good mentoring relationship should never end. Thanks to these individuals, I have adopted an attitude that I hope will facilitate relationships with younger professionals where I act as a mentor. I believe it is my responsibility to share my knowledge, but I also learn a great deal from younger professionals too. And that takes me back to where I started …

5) Continue your education ~ Never stop learning. Whether you decide to pursue a graduate degree, are fortunate to work for a business with an internal professional development program, or choose to pursue education options on your own, find ways to stay on top of new communication trends. Also very important is to expand your knowledge to other areas of business. Look to learn about finance, IT, operations, and other functional areas of a business in order to make yourself an invaluable employee. One of the best pieces of advice I received (from a mentor) was to temporarily find assignments in other departments in order to be a better communicator.