Of the Public Relations Society of America’s 21,000-plus members, only about 3,800, or 18 percent, hold the organization’s Accredited in Public Relations (APR) certification. The number of professionals seeking the accreditation is on the decline, too, according to PRWeek.
That’s likely why the PRSA is re-examining the APR. In a Monday night email to members, Mickey G. Nall, chairman and CEO of PRSA for 2013, announced plans to work with a consulting firm and the Universal Accreditation Board to “enhance the profile and prestige of the APR credential” for the 50th anniversary of the credential next year.
“Rest assured, abandoning accreditation is not an option that PRSA is considering,” he added.
Yet plenty of PR pros have clearly decided accreditation isn’t something they need. To find out why—and whether they’re mistaken in that assumption—PR Daily talked to a handful of accredited and non-accredited PR professionals.
The reasons why
Brian Lee, president of Revelation PR, Advertising and Social Media, says he got his APR credential in 2011 for a very simple reason: It “helps distinguish the contenders from the pretenders, to put it bluntly.”
“You can only earn the designation after you have proven mastery of areas such as research, ethics, media relations, crisis communications, and management,” he says.
Bad apples, such as the PR firm that helped Facebook plant negative news about Google back in 2011, can give the PR field a bad name, Lee adds. Accreditation can help separate those bad apples from the bunch.
“I’m hopeful that no APR-trained practitioner would ever agree to do something that unscrupulous, and that’s reason alone for the need for more accredited PR professionals,” he says.
Crystal Smith, director of integrated media for public relations at Strategic Communications and president of the Central New York chapter of PRSA, says it’s tough to explain to people outside the PR industry what PR professionals actually do.
“I relate the APR to a CPA for accountants,” she says. “You don’t need a CPA to do business as an accountant. But if a business or consumer has a choice, they’ll pick the CPA—especially for their more serious and significant accounting needs.”
Philip Chang, partner at the PR firm Carbon, says firms benefit from managers having APR credentials, as a shorthand way to prove the company means business and cares about PR and its history.
The reasons why not
Chang says he can see the other side of the coin, though. To the untrained eye, one certification—APR—isn’t all that different from any other, such as the Business Marketing Association’s Certified Business Communicator credential.
“Where there are competing organizations, there are competing credentials and consequently, it diminishes the value of the credential,” he says.
Jenni Gritti of branding firm Wyatt Brand says she had every intention of gaining accreditation after graduating from college in 2009, but it’s become less and less important to her over time.
“APR at the end of my name doesn’t make anyone open my emails any faster, get back to me any quicker, or approach me with ideas and business any sooner,” she says. “My hard work makes a name for itself, and I personally don’t need the three letters at the end of my name to prove it.”
Josh Cline, president and CEO of The Cline Group, seems to confirm Gritti’s suspicions.
“I find no need for anyone to be accredited,” he says. “Anyone can pass a test, but work experience, accomplishments and understanding how PR is only a subset of marketing and marketing needs to map to business objectives.”
Is it worth it?
PRSA hasn’t explicitly tied APR to higher earnings for professionals, though the organization has done surveys that found the accreditation has been beneficial to those that have earned it. Most, 91 percent, view their APR as a source of pride, and large majorities have used theirs to develop professional skills (78 percent) and resolve ethical dilemmas (58 percent).
Even so, Bob Birge, director of marketing at Blue Pillar, says accreditation seems to have simply gotten buried under other priorities in the past decade or so.
“Those in hiring positions often are looking for the best people available, with the right background and at the right price,” he says. “Whether or not APR appears after their name is somewhat irrelevant.”
Smith, who earned her APR as soon as she was eligible—which is after one gains five years of experience—says the roadblock she sees most PR pros encounter is the cost involved in becoming accredited. An application fee, an online course fee, and the cost of textbooks are all part of the deal.
For that reason, she’s starting a scholarship program for professionals in Central New York.
What do you think, PR pros? Is there significant value in having APR after your name?
Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.