Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
April 6, 2011

Three Decades Later: How Far Have We Come Preparing Candidates for Accreditation

Those of us who are stakeholders in the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) credential — current APRs, coaches and the candidates themselves — more than likely are aware of the tremendous online resources available today. On the Universal Accreditation Board website, there are four:

Plus, these digital and printable tools are augmented by some tremendous structured training programs offered by PRSA and various PRSA Chapters across the nation. APR candidates today certainly can take advantage of training and preparation that lets them study independently and within a group.

Now, let’s turn the clock back three decades and compare training resources used in the pre-digital communications world with those above. Obviously, there were no computers to rely on. But a quick analysis of the content of one study document reveals this: The knowledge and practical skills expected of candidates for Accreditation — the hallmark of the practice of modern public relations — hasn’t changed dramatically.

In 1981, PRSA produced the “Pre-Accreditation Seminar Notebook” as a resource by Chapters to help prepare candidates pursuing Accreditation. Presented in a three-ring binder, the 61-page guide obviously is considered old-school by today’s standards. The content was produced on a very early word processing program or perhaps an electric typewriter.

Yet, after exploring the content, one comes away impressed. Much research and analytical thought was expended to give Accreditation chairs 30 years ago a solid foundation to prepare candidates for the challenge of earning the APR. Much of what’s presented — the theories, the foundations, the ethical standards that define the practice of effective public relations — is relevant in 2011.

For example, the “checklist” for planning a public relations campaign features four steps:

  1. Research and analysis
  2. Strategy and tactics
  3. Action-events and communications
  4. Evaluation and projections

That’s pretty similar to the four-step process widely accepted today: Define the threat or opportunity, conduct research, communicate/execute the plan, and evaluate and make modifications.

The “disaster plan checklist” section — we now call it “crisis communications” — offers some straightforward, common sense advice, prefaced with this statement: “Develop a contingency plan of operation well in advance of any emergency, which includes management approval and cooperation.” Makes sense even today because the best time to plan for a crisis is before it happens.

And the section on theories of public opinion offers some sound historical insight and makes note of popular theories of the era; however some of the supporting graphics (a line drawing of a concert pianist to illustrate how to combine public opinions in a “harmonious whole”?) are a bit peculiar.
Public relations is an evolving management practice. It adapts to changes in technology, business and culture. As evidenced by the 1981 “Notebook,” the industry needs to continue to evolve and adapt training to remain relevant. Tactics and tools may change, but we should not stray too far from the fundamentals that define effective public relations.

Edward M. Bury, APR, is director of marketing and communications for BOMA/Chicago. He currently serves as co-chair of the Universal Accreditation Board Marketing Communications work group.

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