Posted At: December 2, 2009 12:05 PM
by Meg Watson
Three little letters behind a PR professional’s name can make a big difference in that person’s career. Most people are familiar with some professional credentials, such as CPA, MBA, Ph.D., and M.D. However, many PR students and young professionals are unaware of an important credential in their own field—the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential.
What is APR accreditation?
The APR accreditation program is the only post-graduate certification program in the PR industry. According to the PRSA Web site, the program “measures a public relations practitioner’s fundamental knowledge of communications theory and its application; establishes advanced capabilities in research, strategic planning, implementation and evaluation; and demonstrates a commitment to professional excellence and ethical conduct.”
The accreditation process is completely voluntary and is administered by the Universal Accreditation Board (UAB).
How do professionals obtain the APR credential?
The UAB recommends a minimum of five years’ experience practicing or teaching public relations for candidates who wish to pursue accreditation. In order to begin the accreditation process, a professional must first complete an application. Once accepted, a candidate assembles a portfolio reflecting experience gained throughout her career. The candidate then presents the portfolio to several panelists in a Readiness Review, which is similar to an oral exam.
After the presentation, the panel makes a recommendation to the Universal Accreditation Board to advance or not advance the candidate through the Readiness Review. If advanced, the candidate may then sit for the accreditation exam. If accredited, professionals must earn a certain number of points every three years in order to maintain accreditation.
What is the value of APR accreditation?
Felicia Blow, 2009 chair of UAB, explained the value of the APR designation. “Having the APR credential is an indication of lifelong learning,” Blow said. “It is a well-known credential within the PR community that sets apart those PR practitioners who have it.”
Unlike accountants or attorneys, PR practitioners are not required to pass a post-graduate certification test to practice the profession. There are no set standards practitioners must meet in order to continue working in the industry, and no license that can be revoked for unethical practice. Thus, the PR industry is often misunderstood, criticized and stereotyped. Meg Lamme, Ph.D., APR believes accreditation helps resolve this issue.
“Accreditation helps to establish professional standards in a way that licensed professions are able to do,” Lamme said. “The idea of it is to raise the bar on the practice. Having your APR designation is good for the field of practice and good for you as a practitioner.”
Lamme, like many other professionals in the PR industry, believes the APRaccreditation lends credibility to PR practitioners, and to the industry itself, by demonstrating the dedication, knowledge and skills of those who hold the APR mark.
Holly Lollar, president of The Lollar Group, believes this credibility also leads to increased job security. “During periods of layoffs, it is the accredited PR practitioners companies are going to keep,” Lollar said. “That designation carries a lot of weight, and makes the company as a whole look better.”
Lollar earned her APR accreditation earlier this year and recently started her self-titled business, The Lollar Group. “It has been a tremendous asset to have my APR,” Lollar said. “I could not have gone out on my own without it.”
Studies show that APR accreditation leads to a higher salary as well. _PRWeek_’s “Salary Survey 2005” revealed that accredited PR practitioners earned an average salary of $102,031 in that year, as opposed to $85,272 for unaccredited practitioners.
The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) emphasizes the importance of accreditation by requiring that all national officers and board members be accredited. This requirement recently sparked a debate after the PRSA Assembly voted down a recommendation to eliminate the APR requirement for national leadership positions. Art Stevens blasted PRSA’s decision to keep the APRrequirement in an article in the Daily Dog.
Stevens argues that APR accreditation is not universally embraced by members of the profession, and there is evidence to support his claim. According to prsa.org, only about 5,000 professionals hold the APR designation, although PRSA has approximately 21,000 members.
In a poll on twtpoll.com, 52 percent of voters responded they were accredited and believed earning accreditation was worth the effort. In the same poll, only two percent of respondents indicated they were APR accredited but did not feel that the process was worth the effort.
Regardless of stance on the PRSA accreditation requirement debate, it is evidentAPR accreditation has tremendous value in the PR industry. Those three letters behind a professional’s name represent dedication to the industry and appreciation of lifelong learning, and can lead to increased job security and a higher salary.
Though practitioners must be out of school for at least five years before pursuing accreditation, Lollar has some advice for students and young professionals about accreditation.
“I heard about APR accreditation as a student, and it was on my radar screen from the beginning,” Lollar said. “My advice to students is to start thinking about accreditation now. Do as much as you can to prepare before you turn in your paperwork and begin the process.”