Why Accreditation? Six Reasons to Consider in Gaining APR

By Dr. Patrick Bishop, APR “All excellence things are as difficult as they are rare,” so goes the old adage. The process of gaining Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) isn’t easy, but with some hard work, good direction, and persistence, you can succeed. Here are six reasons you should consider adding APR to your list of credentials.

  1. Continuous Learning

The process to become Accredited in Public Relations is thorough and multi-faceted. Successful candidates must demonstrate core competencies of public relations in a variety of categories including research, ethics, communication theory, business literacy, and media relations, just to name a few. Going through the APR process is an excellent way to brush-up existing skills or gain more PR knowledge. There are many resources to help you along the path, including a sample test, online study course, recommended texts, and a comprehensive study guide that outlines all the information you’ll need to know. Maintaining APR requires some minimal upkeep, which signifies your commitment to lifelong learning within your field of expertise.

  1. APR is a Symbol of Excellence

Accreditation in Public Relations was established in 1964 as a way to “recognize practitioners who have mastered the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to develop and deliver strategic communications” (prsa.org). Similar to an accountant becoming a CPA, gaining APR status is an important distinction signifying your PR excellence. It offers credible, external proof that you not only create and implement high quality PR tactics, but you understand the strategic importance of public relations.

  1. Higher Pay & More Job Opportunities

Credibility and responsibility come with Accreditation. Research has shown that APRs earn more money, report to higher-levels of management, and engage in more strategic discussions than their non-accredited peers.  Additionally, gaining APR can significantly help your career advancement, opening doors for promotion and new job offers. In a 2010 research study of upper-level PR managers in Grand Rapids, an interesting finding was the advancement opportunities for those who gained accreditation.

  1. APR is Quicker, Cheaper & More Applicable than a Master’s

Accreditation costs are approximately $400 and the process must be completed within one year; many candidates complete it less than six months. A master’s degree typically takes at least two-years, with minimum costs around $600 per credit hour (30 credits = $18,000; not including books & supplies). Accreditation is a relatively quick, and significantly less expensive, way to increase competency and earn a credible designation of skill and excellence. Plus, Accreditation is focused on practical PR within the framework of the business-world. A master’s degree is a great option, but, in addition to taking more time and money, many master’s programs are typically more focused on theory versus real-world application.

  1. Personal Satisfaction

According to the field of psychology and social sciences, most of us do things because it feels good. Gaining APR is an accomplishment that feels great. Yes, it does require some ongoing maintenance, but gaining APR is fulfilling and it’s a designation you can have for the rest of your life.

  1. Advance the Profession

Spin doctors, buzz agents, and flash-in-the-pan promoters have given PR a bad name. In the ethical code of conduct for PRSA members, we are required to advance the profession of public relations. One way to do this is by gaining Accreditation. In becoming accredited, you are doing your part to ensure our profession not only gains respect in the public realm, but also gains credibility within the E-suite.

Are you ready to make an investment in yourself, your future, and your profession? West Michigan PRSA has a large number of accredited professionals ready to help. To pursue your APR, contact Christine Hoek, WMPRSA APR Committee Chair, at christine@articulate-pr.com. You can also find a variety of APR resources at prsa.org.

Dr. Patrick Bishop, APR, is Professor and Program Champion of Ferris State University’s nationally certified PR program. You can contact him at patrickbishop@ferris.edu.

Why Do PR Pros Seek APR?

By Tim Penning, PhD, APR The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) established the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) program more than 50 years ago, in 1964. Since then, thousands of PR professionals have worked to earn the designation as a mark of superior PR skills, knowledge and ethical practice.

However, not all practitioners seek the APR credential. In fact, PRSA noticed the percentage of practitioners who are accredited has gone down in recent years. So the Universal Accreditation Board (UAB) has encouraged academics to look into the reasons why professionals do and do not make the effort to earn the APR mark of distinction.

Hence, my latest research research with my co-author Dr. Kaye Sweetser of San Diego State University. "Role Enactment, Employer Type, and Pursuit of APR" was just published in the journal Public Relations Review. The journal article is available here. Or, since the journal article is an abbreviated version, you can email me for a full copy.

Or you can just read on here for a summary!

First, a quick explanation of the key terms and variables in the study. "Role enactment" is an academic term that describes the specific role that PR practitioners enact in their jobs. Prior research has boiled these roles down to two: a "technician" is more of an entry-level role focused on tactics; a "manager" may still work on tactics but is more focused on strategy and advising organizational management and making communication decisions vs merely implementing them.

"Employer type" has to do with the fact that PR professionals may work for a corporation, but they could also work in many other contexts. Vast numbers of PR professionals work in non-profits, government agencies, educational institutions, the military, or public relations firms.

We were curious to see if the context in which a practitioner works, or their years of experience or level of authority/status in the organization, were factors in whether or not and why they sought the APR credential.

Results showed that employer type and practitioner role did make a difference. The practical take-aways:

  • Respondents pursued APR mostly for personal satisfaction or to be a better practitioner.
  • Seeking the APR to get a promotion was correlated with younger practitioners.
  • Those in PR for many years were more likely to pursue APR for higher salary than those who transfer in from other fields (who may seek APR for knowledge and legitimacy in their new field).
  • Pursuing APR to gain respect from clients/employer was more common for those in agency, nonprofit, or government/military.
  • Those in a manager role were more likely to pursue APR for higher salary, while those in a technician role were more likely to pursue APR for a job promotion or when seeking a new job.
  • A somewhat counter-intuitive result was that men are significantly more likely than women to be motivated by respect from an employer or client.

This research extended previous studies about the differences between those PR practitioners with and without APR. The UAB may use the results to tailor their promotion of the APR program differently to practitioners, based on their gender, specific role, years of experience, and the type of organization in which they work.

Tim Penning, PhD, APR, is an associate professor and associate director of the School of Communications at Grand Valley State University, where he teaches in the Advertising and Public Relations major. He is a past president of the West Michigan Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (WMPRSA). He also blogs about public relations on his own blog,GRPR. Follow him on Twitter @penningink

The Value of APR; Timeless for any season of practice

APR 50th Anniversary Logo Outlineshogan By Karen M. Hogan, APR

I hadn't intentionally put off attaining my APR.  Not at all – in fact, it’s never too late to make a go of it.  It’s just that life happened along the way.

Now, as I embark on my 25th year of public relations practice and reflect on all of its real-world learnings, I can honestly say the value of an APR is not only timeless, but relevant at any age or stage of practice.

What took so long, anyway?

As a Michigan State University J-school grad with a magazine editing emphasis, my transition to PR happened by osmosis. I was thrilled to land a job with the Chevrolet-Pontiac-Canada Group (CPC) of General Motors Co., editing the company’s “magapaper.”  My office was tucked away inside CPC’s PR department.  When magazine deadlines were met, I found time to learn about my PR co-workers’ doings – from writing executive speeches to exploring new ways to inform employees of breaking news (yes, way before the birth of social media!).

A few years and several magazines later, I made a personal move to Grand Rapids, joining a fast-growing PR agency, SeyferthPR, founded by Ginny Seyferth, APR.  It was my first employ as an account executive, and forever halted my journalist identity.

Those early PR agency years were a wonderful baptism by fire, as a degree in PR was few and far between.  “What is this `APR’ you speak of?,” I often asked.  I knew those three letters had significance, but my interests were elsewhere, as I was taking graduate courses at Grand Valley State University working toward a Master’s Degree in Communications.

All this would change with my first pregnancy.  I paused on my studies and full-time agency work and instead opted for a 13-year journey as a home-based freelance writer, contracting with SeyferthPR, Amway and a host of other clients.  As life would have it, my eldest son developed Type 1/juvenile diabetes, so a home-based business became a necessity.

Life happens.

As my two sons morphed into young adults and other changes were afoot, it was time to return to the workforce, and what better landing than SeyferthPR.  In 1996, I rejoined, jumping in with gusto.  My work included helping to open the American Cancer Society’s new Hope Lodge. I did NOT know at the time that a cancer of its own was growing inside me.

Fast forward another few years, and I am currently celebrating 6 ½ years cancer-free.  My illness has been an incredible teacher of humility and adversity; I bask in my social justice/non-profit PR work.  After reaching the all-important 5-year cancer-free milestone in 2012, and even receiving a promotion to vice president along the way to recovery, it was time to set some new personal and professional goals, including attaining that coveted APR.

In 2012, I became a partner in the firm and in 2013, I went after my APR and also laced up for an extensive training program to complete a personal goal – my first half-marathon.  Much like the steps of a successful PR program, all goals – personal or professional – require upfront research, planning, and constant monitoring and adjustment for the best results.  While you may not hit home runs on everything, the first step is finding the courage to get into the game.

With a New Year of possibilities in front of each of us, consider attaining your APR as a realistic professional goal.   You will not regret it; this I promise.  Because Life Indeed Happens.

Now about that Master’s degree….oh wait, that will have to come after my fall 2015 WEDDING!

With one year of APR certification under my belt, its value has not gone unnoticed among colleagues, clients, and others.  It has given me a new sense of confidence and level of leadership in my work and support of the PRSA community.  Earlier this year, the tables were turned with ME as one of three judges assessing a local candidates’ APR exam readiness, and in January, I will begin mentoring a local group of APR candidates as they commit to the APR journey in 2015.  Consider joining us!  Send me an email at Hogan@seyferthpr.com

The Four Rs of APR Achievement

halloranAPR 50th Anniversary Logo Outlines By Katherine Halloran, APR

Having earned my accreditation in Public Relations two years ago, I wanted to pass along some key steps to those who are considering becoming accredited. Before you go down my list of prep items, please realize that I am a bit of a nerd and tend to overprepare. WMPRSA's accreditation chair, Christine Hoek, APR, and the website PRSA.org can serve as great resources as you move through the process.

The entire process – from my attending an APR prep class until I sat down for the exam – took 14 months.

Online at PRSA.org, it states that the accreditation process is multi-faceted, yet straightforward. Let's demystify the process through the "Four Rs of APR Achievement":

1) Research the Process of Becoming Accredited – Is now a good time for you personally and professionally to become accredited?

  • Talk to accredited professionals about the benefits they have received from becoming accredited.
  • Does your employer support accreditation? Does your employer currently have a study group or other accredited members in its ranks?
  • Participate in an APR Prep Camp to see what the entire process will entail. The local WMPRSA Chapter regularly hosts these classes. You have the chance to listen to speakers who have recently completed the process, or who have expertise under some of the competencies with which you are less familiar.
  • Go to PRSA.org and find "Become an APR" under "Learning." From there, you will find all the helpful tools, guides and resources that will take you through the process, step-by-step.

2) Readiness Review Preparation:

  • Write out your Readiness Review Questionnaire! This is a great time to think introspectively, philosophically and how things could be in an ideal world. Break the sections into chunks and give yourself false deadlines to complete each section. I began with the last few questions, as I found they were the easiest.
  • Have someone proofread and edit your readiness review questionnaire. Like any document, you want a second set of eyes on it.
  • Coordinate with the APR accreditation chair, Christine Hoek, APR, at christine@articulate-pr.com, who will assemble a panel for you for your Readiness Review Questionnaire.
  • Coordinate with your panel on the date, time and location of your Readiness Review. Realize that although they are accredited, the panel will be simply composed of other professionals, eager to share, hear and learn. Their role is simply to assess your readiness for the computer exam portion. Your role is to share your understanding about public relations strategy and management.
  • Prepare your portfolio. Collect items that best represent your work to demonstrate to your panel.
  • Show up a little early, and get settled in before the panel discussion.
  • After the panel discussion, you will hear from the accreditation chair on whether or not you can proceed to take the computer exam.
  • Once you have finished your presentation and are approved, the clock starts ticking – you have one year to sit for your exam.

3) Review:

  • Study for the test!
  • Identify areas that you will need to become more familiar with, and focus on those areas.
  • Familiarize yourself with key terms.
  • Download the APR study guide if you have not done so already.
  • Read through the study guide.
  • Take notes, highlight key phrases, create flash cards of key terms, whatever will help you stay on task.
  • Take practice tests found online at prsa.org.
  • Join or form a study group or study partner.
  • Seek out other reading materials, listed online or at the back of the APR study guide. Some books may be difficult to find on amazon or other online sources. I was able to borrow some books from a student at GVSU.
  • Schedule your test. Go online and find out all the steps to do so. I even drove past the Prometric Testing Center a couple of days before my exam so I knew exactly where it was.

4) Relax!

  • As you prepare for test day, remember to relax and take deep breaths. It is just a test.
  • Bring as few items with you as humanly possible. Everything has to go into a locker.
  • The time you have to complete the computer exam is very long – three hours without water, so you will have to focus on the task at hand.
  • You find out if you have passed or failed right after you hit "complete" on your exam.

Step 5 should be Rejoice for completing your exam! Congratulations on setting goals and achieving them! If you did not pass the exam, at least you have learned how to complete the process and the information you have obtained while studying is very valuable. You can always schedule the exam again.

[RECAP] 28th Annual PRoof Awards Gala

On behalf of the board of directors, thank you for attending the 28th Annual Proof Awards Gala. Approximately 160 professionals attended last night's awards ceremony to honor the achievements of some of West Michigan’s best public relations practitioners, campaigns and projects. Congratulations to our individual award winners:

Robin Luymes PR Professional of the Year Each year, the West Michigan PRSA honors one of its own with the Public Relations Professional of the Year Award.  This year’s recipient is dedicated to leading public relations activities for Davenport University.  As Executive Director of Communications he has elevated the University’s Communications Department by guiding the strategic direction of all communications. Under his leadership, the University has become a leader in communications best practices.  Robin has served as WMPRSA Board President more than once, and has sat on the Board of Directors for nearly 10 years throughout the past decade.  He’s well known within student groups, and often volunteers with GVSU PRSSA in resume proofreading or speaking engagements.

Larry Yachcik Communicator of the Year This award recognizes a community leader who has made outstanding contributions to West Michigan and who also exemplifies the practice of good public relations. Larry Yachcik, Porter Hills, has exhibited foresight and innate ability to create relationships. His embrace of creative and innovative ways of working together, even with entities that can be considered his competitors, helped him thrive during his recent transition as President and CEO of Porter Hills, a role that he assumed just one year after the company lost its CEO in a tragic car accident. His collaboration efforts include working with companies like The Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids, the Marywood Health Center, and Emmanuel Hospice.

Adrienne Wallace Newcomer of the Year The Newcomer of the Year Award is given to public relations professionals who is new to WMPRSA and has demonstrated the potential for becoming an outstanding practitioner. Adrienne joined the organization in 2012 and has already immersed herself in leadership within the chapter and the larger public relations community in a variety of ways.  Her contributions to the profession include:  The WMPRSA board, PRSSA, volunteerism, and last year’s ArtPrize entry: Lights in the Night.  She is also a contributor to numerous publications like Grand Rapids Women’s Magazine, West Michigan Women Magazine, and has led the re-boot efforts of the online magazine: The Mode Life.  She also maintains her own food blog.  As an active member of the community, she volunteers for numerous nonprofits and serves on a variety of boards including the Grand Valley State University Alumni Board and WGVU Engage.

Elizabeth Michalski Student of the Year Elizabeth Michalski serves as vice president of the Ferris State PRSSA chapter, logging more than 2,500 hours of PR work annually.  In the spring of 2012, she wrote a PR plan for the Cass City Chamber of Commerce as part of a class assignment. Then, the client brought her on board as an intern for the summer and fall of 2012 to implement the plan!  Also, she one of five students in the NATION to be selected as a finalist for the PRWeek Student of the Year award.

Shelley Irwin Media Person of the Year The Media Person of the Year Award is given to a deserving journalist, editor or publisher for their outstanding contributions to the field of journalism in the West Michigan area. Shelley Irwin is a well-known name in the West Michigan media landscape. She emcees many events, interviews leaders, sits on several boards and committees, and continues to cover both the good and bad news going on around us.  She also manages to get in a run or workout daily between gigs! Her work at the WGVU Morning Show and throughout the West Michigan community has, in one way or another, touched every PR professional in the area at one time or another.

And kudos to our newest APR recipient:

Katherine Hollaran, APR As a public relations and communications manager at Saint Mary's Health Care, Katie Halloran understands why lifelong learning is essential for professional growth. When she first learned about the APR designation in college as a member of PRSSA, she set the accreditation as a long-term goal for herself. After working in the field for several years, Katie felt that the time was right to finally seek that APR accreditation – seeing it as a way to continue to learn and advance.  Countless hours of studying later, she is another shining example of the great practitioners that lead PR in this community.

And finally, congratulations to ALL of the winners of gold and silver PRoof Awards! This year, our applicant totals were higher in most categories than in the recent past. That's cause for even more celebration! Many of the categories featured close calls, with a high number of honors awarded due to the quality of work presented.

View a full list of winners and read about the area's finest campaigns and tactics from 2012.