There is no board or exam required to practice public relations. Practitioners are lumped in together—the good, the bad and the ugly.
The Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) process is elective. If you pass, there is no real effect on your job and you won't get an extra zero on your next paycheck.
However, I just checked my mailbox and my official letter of passing just arrived. There is something that feels so good about having three little letters behind my name that I can't help but be excited.
The desire to take the APR has to come from within. You have to want to go through the process to further your career and separate yourself from a pool of resumes.
It is hard to motivate yourself to take the test. It's like going back to college. Textbooks, flash cards and studying are definitely involved. You will question yourself somewhere in the middle and ask yourself why you are doing this. But when that envelope arrives addressed to your name with the APR behind it, it's worth it.
Many of my mentors and supervisors went to college for journalism or business because there was not a PR program. I am among the next generation of PR practitioners in that I went to college to actually study PR.
I heard about the accreditation process when I was in school and knew that it was something I wanted for myself. I wanted the designation to prove—if only to myself—that I was a practitioner who knew what I was doing.
I was terrified for the Readiness Review panel, but it was not the bloodbath that I expected. The panel is there to peer review your work. They ask questions, very politely, and do not drill you the way I thought they would. They want to understand your thought process as you explain your work samples. Answering the questionnaire prior to the panel helped me analyze my career and work.
As for the test, it was a beast. I studied the material before in college, but it has been years! I can't actually remember the definitions of things that learned in school. I knew that I knew how to practice PR, but which method or theory I was using at any given time escaped me.
This was the hard part for me. It wasn't easy to carve out time to slow down and study. I also admit that the test is based on the practice of PR and not the execution of PR. This took me a while to figure out and changed my approach to studying when it clicked.
In New Orleans, there is not a large APR community and I could not find anyone who took the test in years.
My recommendation is to find a study partner and hold each other accountable for the study pace. Set a timeline for yourself and stick to it. I got to the point where I was so sick of studying that I scheduled the test and worked towards that deadline. While you have a year from start to finish, practitioners work best under pressure.
Now that it is over, I am glad that I got my APR. I invested the time and money into my career, not because I knew there would be a reward, but because I wanted to for myself. I feel proud that I accomplished the designation. I would encourage others to go through the process and join the minority of practitioners who are accredited.
Linzy Roussel Cotaya is a New Orleans-based public relations professional with a social media hobby. A version of this post first appeared on PR BreakfastClub.com.