Last Thursday, I received a survey from the board ofdirectors of the Detroit chapter of thePublic Relations Society of America (PRSA). The board is seeking the inputof chapter members to help determine whether it should take a position on aproposal to repeal of a national bylaw requiring that national PRSA officersand board members be Accredited in PublicRelations (APR).  The rationale behind the proposal argues thatbecause 80 percent of PRSA members do not hold APR status, national leadershipis not truly representative of the membership.

On a normal day, I wouldn’t have taken much note of this surveyor the argument behind the petition. However, as the chair elect for thesociety’s technologysection I had spent the previous weekend at my first PRSA Leadership Rallyin New York, where discussion of the APR bylaw was prevalent.  I had seenmy share of the bylaw discussions online, the arguments for and against, but,as is often the case with written communications, the passion within thisdebate was lost on me.  I was unaware of the degree of polarity on theissue and how long the debate has been active and, dare I say, controversial.

Accreditationis the PR industry’s version of certification or licensure, although the natureof the profession does not allow for APR to be looked upon in the same way asthe accounting industry views a CPA.  

The process to become APR can be understood as a three-stepprocess: the first requires one to submit answers to a number of questions to apanel of APRs charged with gauging your understanding of fundamental concepts,theory and program design; the second is to elaborate on those answers and todemonstrate your understanding through presentation to the panel; assuming thepanelists deem you ready to sit for the test, the third step is to pass arigorous computer exam. 

Once you’ve earned accreditation, ongoing maintenancethrough continued professional development is required by the accreditingorganization, the Universal Accreditation Board, and requires you file everythree years.

For my part, I earned my APR (I do not use the word “earned”lightly here, as I dedicated many hours of study over the course of six monthsto ensure I passed the accreditation) a number of years ago.  In thebeginning, I did not aspire to become APR out of anything more than acompetitive spirit; I’m fairly competitive by nature and I work for acompany lead by a number of professionals who also are APR. Anything you can do, I can do… 

However, going through the process illuminated areas I wasdeficient in and allowed me to take steps to improve.  Becoming APRimproved my ability to develop strategy and made me a better professional. I believe that investment accelerated my career.  I believe myorganization’s investment and cultural support of APR has made us a strongercompany, allowed us to grow faster and attract some of the technologyindustry’s brightest companies as clients.

As for the debate within PRSA, I think there are moreworthwhile professional endeavors than arguing this topic. That said,here’s my two cents: the bylaw hasn’t encouraged more of us in our industry toachieve APR and doesn’t serve the organization’s interests. PRSA is an entitythat depends upon the volunteer service from its membership to help it drivethe profession forward. 

In my experience, APR will not create more time to volunteernor make you a better or more dedicated board member, so the APR requirementmerely serves to limit the potential contributions from the organization’sbody.  

The APR process does makes you a better practitioner and isthe only mark of differentiation and competency the profession has, so if youaspire to leadership within PRSA at the national level, you should beAPR. True leaders set an example for others to follow and like many of theefforts we champion, most of the APR’s value is in the journey, not the endresult. 

— Kevin Sangsland