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September 10, 2010
What's a PR Pro? 'APR' Needs More Recruits
What's it take to be a sure-enough PR professional? Practitioners pondering that question might also be considering whether to invest in "Accredited in Public Relations" (APR) status in the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). Yes, it's a worthy investment. No, it's not an end-all determinant of PR smarts.

Should practitioners who aren't APRs be able to serve on the PRSA board? APR certification has been a long-standing requirement for board membership. The subject is heating up, Jack O'Dwyer's blog notes, partly because participation in APR certification has been dropping among PRSA members. 

"Only 904 Society members have become APR in the past six years," O'Dwyer's notes, "which represents a decline of more than 50% in participation by members over the two previous six-year periods.

"In the six years from 1997-2003, there were 1,623 new Society APRs and in the six years before that (when membership averaged 15,702 vs. 21,000 currently) a total of 1,782 APRs were created."

In a field that can be as loosely characterized as public relations, preparation for the day-long accreditation exam brings a structure of communication theory and practice into focus. It's a worthwhile exercise, even though the APR study guide (available free on PRSA's website) is being criticized as "high-schoolish." One wonders, though, about what's wrong with professional training being accessible and easily understood. What's most important is to have perspective and a point of view, and APR helps in developing that sort of involvement in PR.

APR won't make you a brain surgeon, but it can certify you as likely to be a competent communicator, or at least provide a standard to measure what being a competent communicator involves. It's, as we say, a worthwhile indicator. Sadly, apparently growing numbers of PRSA members are deciding that it's not worth the time and $385 fee it takes to qualify for the three-and-a-half hour APR exam. 

Critics charge that the APR exam doesn't measure creativity. We know of few examinations that do. What they certify is that attention has been paid to given material -- and communication skills are worthy of such attention.

It's advisable for PRSA board members to have APR certification, but maybe the board should be relating more vigorously to explaining why APR training is desirable for PR pros -- and updating the curriculum as desirable. 

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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