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May 28, 2013

With Accreditation Falling From Grace, PRSA Embarks on Effort to Enhance Profile and Prestige of APR Credential---Org Enlists Consulting Firm to Explore Member-Marketing Strengths and Weaknesses

The Public Relations Society of America is embarking on a plan to enhance the profile and prestige of the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential.

"The APR turns 50 next year, and given its continued importance to PRSA and the public relations profession, we believe the time is right to work with the Universal Accreditation Board to explore the APR's potential and identify possible avenues for improvement," said PRSA 2013 Chair and CEO Mickey G. Nall, APR. Abandoning Accreditation, Nall stressed, is not an option that PRSA is considering.

To assist with the project, PRSA has retained the Organizational Performance Group (OPG), an organizational development consulting firm in Hamden, Conn. OPG Group will be using a variety of tools—including discussions with key volunteer and staff leaders, data analysis, surveys, interviews, focus groups, benchmarking and meta-analysis—to explore different stakeholder perceptions on strengths and weaknesses of the current APR, pros and cons of maintaining the APR, desired services for APR holders, suggestions for improvements and strategies for supporting Accreditation and marketing it to PRSA members and employers.

PRSA will provide a formal report on actionable recommendations to enhance the profile and prestige of the APR Credential to the UAB in August, and to its Leadership Assembly at the body's annual meeting in October.

Established in 1964, the APR is one of two national post-graduate certification programs for public relations professionals and other professional communicators—the other being the ABC Credential offered by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC).

The APR involves completing a candidate qualifications questionnaire, advancing through a "readiness review" presentation/interview with three professional peers and passing a computer-based examination. The process is intended to measure a public relations practitioner's fundamental knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) in 10 specific areas, including researching, planning, implementing and evaluating public relations programs; ethics and law; business literacy; and crisis communication.

Currently, more than 3,800 PRSA members hold the APR Credential. Another 30 hold the Accredited in Public Relations + Military (APR+M) Credential, an enhanced Credential available to military personnel and defense department contractors that signifies mastery of the APR KSAs, plus an additional 12 KSAs related to military public affairs in joint operations. A beta-level test of an entry-level Credential also is underway.

The number of professionals accredited by the UAB has declined from an average of 256 a year from 1993 to 2002, to an average of 157 a year between 2003 and 2012. The number of APR's as a percentage of PRSA membership also has been falling in recent years; from 25.47 percent of members in 1994 to 21.32 percent in 2004 to 18.43 percent in 2012.

"Whether or not you personally support the mission and goals of the APR, it is one of PRSA's most differentiating traits as an organization," said Nall. "We must value our own professional designation and do all we can to encourage public relations practitioners to value their own professionalism by seeking this designation. If APR is to receive more recognition and support—both from inside and outside of PRSA—then our actions must support that goal."


Misleading headline, misconceived premise

To whom is the opinion that the APR is "falling from grace" attributed in the headline to this article? The writer? The editor of this publication? No one within PRSA to my knowledge believes the credential has "fallen from grace." I object to the writer of this headline drawing such a conclusion independently.

Numbers alone out of context hardly tell the story. If the number of APRs as a percentage are falling, is it due to growth in the membership by younger practitioners joining who are not eligible or qualified at this time? Is it because most of the self-motivated members (the low hanging fruit if you will) have achieved Accreditation and the remainder are the less-driven to do so? I reject the entire premise here.

The percentage of APRs is a poor measure of success. I care about quality of the designation. Accreditation is for the best of the best, a mark of excellence, and shouldn't be something easily achievable to every single practitioner.

The major challenge is communicating Accreditation's value to the business community, and what it stands for. This may or may not motivate more members to pursue Accreditation, but this is simply a secondary effect in my view.

Finally, please correct the grammar error in the next to last paragraph, third line. There is no apostrophe in APRs (it is plural not possessive).

The horse and buggy of PR

In a desperate attempt to resuscitate a credential that flat lined long ago, the Public Relations Society of America recently announced a significant effort to “enhance the profile and prestige” of the oft-maligned Accredited in Public Relations (APR) designation.

On the off chance you've never heard of the APR, it's the PR industry's pale imitation of an M.D. or C.P.A. (or passing the bar to become a practicing lawyer). To earn an APR, one needs to “…complete a questionnaire, advance through a readiness review with three professional peers and pass a computer-based examination.”

That's it. That's the extent of the process. It has no rigor, no merit and, sadly, no credibility whatsoever with client-side decision-makers.

According to the PRSA, some 3,800 members hold the APR credential (that's less than 18 percent of total membership). But, fewer and fewer members are bothering to even take the exam: the number of annual applicants has dropped from 256 in 1993, to 157 in 2012.

I've never bothered taking the APR. And, no one I know in my agency, or in most of the best firms in the business, is accredited. I've never heard of any human resources manager requesting a job candidate successfully complete the test in order to be considered for a job. And, clients aren't even aware of its existence.

The APR is the true horse-and-buggy of PR. Created in a kinder, gentler and much slower world, it has no relevance in a world dominated by such speedy 'automobiles' as social media, content creation, trans-media communication and customer experience.

The APR IS important to practitioners in the hinterlands, who see it as an industry version of a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. And, maybe it does help attract the local Buffalo, Wyoming, Jiffy Lube account. But, it has no bearing whatsoever on ANY decisions made by ANY public relations professional in a genuine position of significant authority.

Unless, and until, the PRSA can devise a truly rigorous examination that matches those in the fields of medicine and the law, they should stop spinning wheels and spending member dollars pretending to be modern-day alchemists. The APR is a rusted, worthless credential.

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