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."

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