By Liam O’Mahony, Phoenix PRSA Board Member
There is an ongoing debate among PRSA members concerning the value of pursuing, completing and maintaining the APR (Accredited in Public Relations) certification. Some members may just not have the time to devote to the process; completing each one can take up to a year; and maintaining the designation upon completion requires renewing your membership each year. Others wonder if having them will really lead to promotions and higher salaries.
Having the APR has traditionally been a requirement to hold a national chapter board position. Last year a committee proposed to change this bylaw so that qualified officers without the APR designation could still have the opportunity to hold board positions. I believe the proposal has not passed as of yet (if someone has an update or correction on this summary, please comment!).
Career Transitions & APR Awareness
After a decade in college and NBA team media relations, I made a career change when I moved to Phoenix on Aug. 1, 2005. Part of my major life transition and relocation was to “hit the reset button” so to speak in seeking a new career and embracing new outlets for continuing education; something I didn’t make time for while being absorbed in a job that consumed nights and weekends for several years. I decided I wanted to be a part of professional associations outside of whatever my day job was going to be, so when I finally joined PRSA in the summer of 2008, I was an “old rookie”.
The truth is I never really knew much about the APR process until three years ago, but once I became a member, I was determined to attain the accreditation even if my employer didn’t pay for it (they did, which was a great benefit). After two-and-half years of being an active member, I joined the Phoenix PRSA board last December right before I took the final standardized computer portion of the APR process.
Merits or Benefits to APR?
People talk about how having the APR designation after your name can lead to more senior job opportunities and higher salary potential. These are both great things to pursue in any career, but I was not preoccupied with these notions as motivating factors. I wanted to see if I could take on and complete the accreditations while continuing to perform my job at a high level, but also to become a well-rounded leader in the communications field, regardless of any status or monetary expectations that might eventually follow completion. I also felt that as a board member, I could help set an example or at least encourage other members and colleagues that the process can be worthwhile if one’s personal schedule can accommodate the tasks and time commitment it requires.
In the spring of 2010, I decided I was ready to pursue the APR certification. I had completed the evening MBA at ASU and it was going to be a long, hot summer, so I wanted some new personal projects to tackle. I researched the criteria and felt confident that I could effectively navigate the process while improving my plan presentation and strategic thinking skills.
The Steps in the Process
Since I had some budget for professional development for my job, I wanted to make sure I initiated my application to get in the candidacy pipeline in case the financial picture changed. After completing the application and being accepted to proceed last summer, I met with the PRSA APR liaison in August to really kick off the orientation for the portfolio process. Dana Arnold, APR, who has since relocated to Wisconsin, and George Couch, APR, were great mentors in guiding candidates through the process.
The first step was writing a “personal narrative” that addressed several career and experience questions. These essay answers could range from three to five pages and were read by three local APR judges prior to setting a portfolio panel review date. I prepared my two career projects and presented to the panel in October.
After I received notification from the PRSA headquarters in New York City that I passed, I scheduled the computer APR exam for late December. This test consists of about 180 multiple choice in a variety of knowledge, skills and abilities areas that cover many standards and best practice of the public relations industry. With the help of reading four prominent public relations textbooks and practicing some APR sample tests, I studied for six weeks. The test was fairly difficult and I scored stronger in some areas, but I did pass and was pleased to have completed the process in four months. You have up to a year, so that affords you to proceed at the convenience of your schedule.
You Passed! Great, Now What?
Once you finish and pass the test, you are never truly finished. Part of maintaining these designations is giving back to your chapter in the form of serving as a panel judge on future APR candidates or being involved in other areas, such as committees, mentoring and workshops for other members. For PRSA, there is a set amount of points you must attain in a three-year period to remain active; these points can be accumulated by serving on the board, presenting to organizations, attending conferences and participating in professional development events. If you are an active member, satisfying the points requirement really isn’t that difficult to undertake.
So it’s just up to each PR practitioner to assess where the process can fit into their busy lives and if they feel it will help their industry knowledge and continued involvement in their local chapter.
Having the APR right now means I completed the process and feel I have more experience in overall public relations knowledge, and it makes me want to continue contributing to the professional community and Phoenix PRSA Chapter. I have become more dedicated to being an advocate for MarComm & PR pros to get involved as much as they can afford with their busy lives and careers while enhancing their industry expertise.
Learn more: APR, Phoenix PRSA