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Do you need to be accredited in PR?

This is a post by guest columnist, Alison Kenney.

It’s back to school time, and that has me thinking about PR courses and accreditation.  Most of the PR professionals I know majored in English, Communications or another liberal arts degree.  A few majored in Public Relations; even fewer have their masters in PR or Communications.  Clearly, you don’t have to major in these subjects to work in the field.  Many successful PR professionals switched gears or leveraged a degree in a different field.

PRSA’s Accreditation Program, the only certification program for our industry, is another story altogether.  It’s a certification geared to those who’ve been working in the industry for some time as it judges your aptitude in various PR knowledge areas, e.g. research, planning, implementing and evaluating programs, ethics and law, etc.  I know several PR professionals who received their APR, but overall fewer than 25 percent of PR practitioners are accredited.

Which leads me to wonder:  is accreditation worth pursuing?

The PRSA stresses the importance of a national standard for legitimizing the profession and building accountability.  Andy Beaupre, CEO of Beaupre & Co., agrees and blogged earlier this year on why PR accreditation makes more sense than ever.  And, while there are no hard numbers that show professionals with the APR mark earn more than their non-accredited colleagues, survey results show that PR professionals find accreditation to be a source of pride (91%), a help in developing professional skills (78%), provide personal benefit (75%) and help resolve ethical dilemmas (58%).  This blog from the PRSA member site underscores those reasons and highlights the satisfaction the writer got from earning her accreditation.

Others argue that an APR mark is not necessary as it only confirms the knowledge that can otherwise be ascertained by reviewing a PR practitioner’s work record.  SHIFT Communications principal Todd Defren blogged several years ago that accreditation is not the solution to the PR industry’s perception problem and not the benchmark for demonstrating competency.

What do you think?  If you have an APR, what made you pursue it?  And has earning accreditation improved your career satisfaction?  Please leave your comments below.

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on You can find her at Learn more about Alison Kenney.

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6 Comments - Add yours!

Kim Ciesla (August 31st, 2010)

Hi Lindsay, thanks for the post. I’m eager to hear the responses. I’ve often considered my options in this respect. Thanks!

Jason Sprenger, APR (August 31st, 2010)

I have my APR, and I’m incredibly glad I went through the process to get it. I absolutely think it’s worth having.

Whether you’re trained in PR in college (or have a journalism or other degree like me), the APR process gives you the academic background to supplement your real-world experience. I’ve been surprised by how many times that background has made a difference in my work already since getting the APR – not only am I more confident, but I have more knowledge and skill to draw upon, and that makes me better.

Also, I think APR is a sign to prospective employers and clients that I care that much more about my work (and about doing a good job) than my competition. I’m not saying people who don’t have APR don’t care – I’m just saying that one big reason I went through a grueling accreditation process was that I cared enough about delivering value for them and doing it the right way to go through the process and make sure I had the goods. Put yourself in your boss’s shoes – I don’t know about you, but any day of the week I’d want to surround myself with people and teams who make the effort and go the extra mile. It’s just good business.

Finally, APR is good for the industry. How can we expect the business world in general – and the executives and gatekeepers out there who really matter – to take the PR industry seriously if we as practitioners don’t take it seriously ourselves? Lawyers believe in their craft enough to take the Bar, and accountants have earned that credibility through the CPA process. There exists a path for the PR profession to put itself on par with these others, and it’s called the APR. Our credibility is at stake here – and as Darwin would say, it’s survival of the fittest.

This debate continues to rage on, but for me, any self-respecting PR pro who wants to validate their work, do their jobs better, add more value and legitimize their industry needs to get their APR – or have it as a goal for their future. It’s not just about us as individuals – it’s about the business and industry as a whole. APR is good for everyone, if we take it seriously.

Jason Sprenger

Candee Wolf (August 31st, 2010)

I am the 2010 PRSA Minnesota President and have my APR. I know some chapter members differ on APR and I am not speaking on behalf of the chapter, but rather in my own opinion.

The reasons for obtaining APR vary. Because it is not mandatory, it is a very personal decision/experience. I am proud I achieved APR and wouldn’t trade the experience of pursuing it or the credentials, which has gained me entry into some new endeavors. I definitely think it is worth pursuing at any level of career. To me, it’s about taking pride in my profession and setting an example for other professionals, especially younger professionals. If I don’t have my APR, how can I ask others to pursue it?

The PRSA Minnesota chapter follows PRSA national guidelines that board leaders have APR. I didn’t achieve my APR so I could serve on the chapter board, but board service has been such a remarkable and rewarding experience–an experience I would not have had except by earning my APR. And yes, I know the APR/leadership debate is another issue. :)

Yes, it takes some time to pursue, but it’s an achievable effort! I hate hearing that people can’t find the time to pursue it. I feel they don’t want to make time. In the end, like a lot of things in life, the people around us help shape us. If you’re in an area with more APRs or have mentors who are APRs, you’re more likely to pursue it. I credit a mentor for helping shape my APR viewpoint and experience. I believe APR is good for the profession as a whole. Beyond some time and some dollars, show me the downside.

Candee Wolf, APR

David Jacobson (August 31st, 2010)

Hi Alison,

I’m going to be bold here. I have been in this business for more than 12 years on the agency and client side and have met ONE person who had an APR, and I know lots of PR people. This current license is clearly unneccessary, impractical and unneeded to enter the PR industry or advance your career. And when I scan the biographies of PR agency presidents and heads of PR for Fortune 500s, I can’t find a single one with APR after their name.

Having an APR or similar acronym after your name does not mean you are better qualified or can charge more for your services. What counts is your experience, contacts and strategic skills. And an APR is completely unnecessary to establish your credibility or erect some kind of barrier to a different level of PR practitioner. This industry needs good people and we shouldn’t create barriers. Some of the best PR people I know started as journalists or lawyers and came in that way. And as you note, many of us didn’t even take PR in college.

Whenever regulation or license is proposed for any industry, it’s either to serve a need or protect people against something bad happening. Licensing PR practitioners as APRs would do neither of these things. I’ve never, ever heard a disgruntled client or CEO say things would be better if the PR people were licensed. Moreover, I’ve never heard of an agency, client or recruiter ever say “APR required to apply for this job,” and none of us ever will. Licensing – including the current APR accreditation – is a solution in search of a problem.

The PR Coach (September 2nd, 2010)

Good post and discussion. I’d argue that APR is a good measure of PR knowledge and useful in the same ways as a university degree. It should not be considered as a measure of competency. I’m proud to have my APR but truly the most competent PR pros in agencies I’ve managed or owned were those who had street smarts to back up the intellectual horsepower.

Does APR elevate PR industry? – Textifying (February 20th, 2011)

[...] Additionally, to serve as a national leader in PRSA, one must have his/her APR. However, less than 25 percent of practitioners have this certification. Currently there is an industry-wide debate regarding the [...]

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