Posted At: January 27, 2012 3:30 AM
by Bailey Carpenter
Any public relations student would agree that their teachers have drilled the importance of ethics in their heads since day one of their PR studies. Learning the PRSA Code of Ethics, often referred to as HILEAF, is a staple of getting a PR degree.
In a field where there is no formal licensing, practicing under the PRSA Code of Ethics is a way to ensure a professional is proficient. There is one way, however, that a PR practitioner can let the entire business world know he or she is both experienced and ethical: becoming an APR.
What is APR?
APR stands for “Accredited in Public Relations.” The APR is a credential practitioners can earn after they have at least five years of PR experience and have passed the APR examinations. According to the PRSA website, the APR:
1. “Measures a public relations practitioner’s fundamental knowledge of communications theory and its application”
2. “Establishes advanced capabilities in research, strategic planning, implementation and evaluation”
3. “Demonstrates a commitment to professional excellence and ethical conduct”
Why become an APR?
Bey-Ling Sha, Ph.D., APR, is an associate professor of public relations in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University. She serves on the UAB as chair of the research workgroup.
“I chose to get [the APR] because I wanted to prove to myself and others that I was a true public relations professional, someone who not only had the book knowledge, but also could execute research, planning, implementation and evaluation in the field,” Sha said.
Professionals like Sha get the APR to let everyone in the profession know that he or she is experienced and capable, but an APR can also lead to a higher salary and other workplace benefits. Additionally, those who choose to get their APR add more credibility to the entire field of public relations.
John E. Forde, Ph.D., APR, Fellow PRSA, is an associate professor and the head of the communication department at the Mississippi State University. He is also a co-chair of the UAB.
“When you get a job in PR, you might be working with people who haven’t ever studied PR,” Forde said. “By getting the APR, you not only give yourself more credibility, but you also make the entire field look more credible.”
Even those pursuing an educationally based career can consider getting the APR.
“I took the APR to compare myself to the practitioner,” Jay Rayburn, APR, CPRC, Ph.D. and Fellow PRSA said. Rayburn is an associate professor in the school of communication at Florida State University, where he is the division director of advertising, public relations and integrated marketing communication. He is also a UAB co-chair for 2011.
“I felt that if I were going to be successful in preparing students to enter the field, I needed to see how I stacked up with people who were in the day-to-day practice,” Rayburn said. “I also felt that if I were going to encourage students to take the APR, I needed to be an APR myself.”
Young PR professionals and the APR
The APR requires at least five years of experience, but should young professionals strive to get their accreditation as soon as possible?
“I think that getting experience first is most important, then consider whether accreditation makes sense for you,” Tom Kelleher, Ph.D., professor and chair of the school of communications at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said.
Most UAB board members agree: the APR is about proving that the practitioner is experienced and knowledgeable, and one should not attempt to become accredited until he or she has, as Sha said, “the right mix of experience and book learning to earn the credential.”
However, Rayburn said the UAB is currently creating an entry-level credential for students who have graduated with a degree in public relations. The process would focus on the ideas and theories that one would learn in the course of their major studies. This entry-level credential may give students a “leg-up” in their job searches.
“All else being equal, a student who has not only passed all the courses but who has also passed a comprehensive examination of the field should be the top candidate for the job . . . No guarantees of course, but certainly logical,” Rayburn said.
APR and the job market
The current job market is highly competitive. It’s harder than ever to get a job, and even harder to ensure that a job can be held in the long run.
“In the current job market anything that a candidate can do to set himself or herself apart from others would be a good thing,” Sha said. “Since not everyone is accredited in public relations, having the APR definitely gives you an extra edge with potential employers.”
Another hurdle in today’s job market is job security. It has become harder than ever to assure one is secure when they finally get a job. Can the APR credential put a practitioner’s mind at ease?
“In all honesty, I think that nothing offers anyone job security in the current economy,” Sha said. “To keep a job, you need to do it well —above and beyond expectations. Being accredited might help with that, but accreditation alone will not keep you employed.”
The APR may still provide some security, however, even if it doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get fired.
“I don’t know if it offers job security so much as what I might call ‘career security,’” Kelleher said. “Accreditation may or may not matter when people have to be hired or laid off, but over time in your career, accreditation will help you network, find jobs and find clients.”
Should everyone get accredited?
Accreditation can set you apart in the public relations field, but if everyone is accredited, will that significance be compromised?
“When an individual gets his or her APR, it reflects well on their organization and the field as a whole,” Forde said. “The more people who are accredited, the better.”
Sha and Kelleher agree that as more people get accredited, the credential will be even more significant, and all those who practice PR will have more credibility.
Accreditation is something that every PR practitioner should consider once they have experience in the field. It should come down to a personal decision whether or not to go through the accreditation process. Having those three initials at the end of a title can make a big difference — even if it’s only to yourself.