John Smith, APR. Over 5,000 public relations practitioners are Accredited Public Relations professionals who use this moniker (highlighted in red) after their name and title. According to the PRSA, APR means that these professionals take a variety of courses, tests and workshops to ensure that they have the knowledge, skills and abilities to practice PR effectively in today’s business arena. My partner recently wrote on his blog that this accreditation isn’t worth a dime in today’s fast shifting marketplace. (I think he actually used the word bogus.) I completely agree.
Many practitioners wear their APR credential like a badge of honor. I see this when meeting my peers at networking functions and never really understood it. OK, I’m sure the path to accreditation offers some value through understanding important tools to leverage in public relations programs and by becoming acutely aware of certain set of guidelines (mostly ethical) that practitioners should follow. But, as my partner flatly stated, there isn’t an accredited program today that prepares PR professionals with the instinctual savvy that is so needed to operate and counsel clients in our new era of social media. Sorry, but APR is no different.
I decided to conduct a little research to better understand what practitioners actually learn as they are working to become accredited. So, I went to the PRSA site. There, I listened to a variety of Podcasts from accredited folks on the value they derived. One woman enthusiastically discussed how she excelled at developing important processes focused on campaign development and implementation. She talked about the necessity of pre-planning for (as an example) promotions with everything from proper research of target audiences and venues to budget criteria. She claims that her accreditation was critical to mastering this. Great. Awesome. Except, we have a half a dozen professionals in our special events/promotions group (Peppercommotions) who have nothing to do with being APR accredited and can do this stuff in their sleep. And, they do it really well.
My point: I’ve met hundreds of the most talented PR professionals out there who aren’t APR accredited. Should they be looked at as being only partially qualified because of this? On the same note, I’ve had the fortune of meeting a variety of APR professionals who are really good at what they do. And, of course, have met a few APR dopes throughout the years as well.
I have two major problems with accredited programs like APR in the public relations world. The first is that I truly believe 90-95 percent of what we do is learned through hands on, real life experience. A smart young account executive will find the most talented boss or mentor out there and grow though complete osmosis (that is watching, discovering and learning everything possible that a mentor does from client counseling to writing to strategic planning). While APR can offer great rules of thumb, theories and process tools, its real value is minimal in our world because everything is so focused on just getting that experience.
Sorry to be so blunt, but my second beef with APR is that no one cares. Let me restate that. Of course, those accredited APR people care. But, outside of that, clients, prospects, business people, Wall Street, high level governmental professionals, media, etc., etc., etc… can’t be bothered with it. And, I know that because no one (and I mean no one) has ever asked the question to me or my management team– are you APR accredited?
And, why is that? I think it’s because the main concern is always focused on what real experience do we have? Based on that experience, how smart and creative can we be? And, can we deliver on those results we agreed to based on having done it before for others? I really don’t see APR playing a key role with any of these needs.
I believe that once upon a time, our leaders felt it was critical to create real rules and ethics to live by so that the public relations field would be seen as a professional, respected industry. That is still important. But, I question whether APR or any other accredited badge of honor is needed (and more importantly) can maintain a PR person’s relevance in today’s incredibly fast changing world.