Since earning the APR designation, several of my colleagues have been inspired to start their own APR process. While some jump right in, others share very valid concerns that stop them — whether they don’t have enough time to study or they’ve started, but found the Readiness Review process overwhelming. At one time or another during my own study, I experienced these same obstacles, so I’ve crafted my top 10 tips (or bits of insight, rather) to provide clarification on the front end that can help candidates navigate the Accreditation journey.
Earning my APR has been a very important and rewarding professional achievement for me, and I really look forward to seeing others achieve this impressive credential. Let’s get started!
1. Understand from the very beginning that this is an endurance challenge and designed to test your real-world professional ability. Take a step back, a deep breath and spend time fully grasping the process, from Readiness Review and weighted KSAs to the computer-based Examination. Map out a game plan. You won’t be able to do everything at once, and taking one step at a time will make it much more manageable.
2. I found that writing and studying in one-hour blocks of time was the most productive for me. I personally can’t sit for hours on end and knock everything out. Since it can take up to a year to become Accredited, you really do need to make the process work around your schedule. Create a study process that is flexible so you don’t get completely off track, which can be discouraging.
3. The Universal Accreditation Board has structured the APR process so that it tests professional experience and ability to apply knowledge. While studying, think always in terms of how new concepts might affect a practitioner’s work, and how it could change based on the perspective of nonprofits, corporations and small businesses.
4. Put your new knowledge to work daily. Taking the time to use the RPIE process or incorporate a new communications theory will not only ensure that the information sticks, but will directly affect your team’s impact within your company or organization. The real goal here is to make you a more effective public relations practitioner and leader.
5. Take advantage of local support groups and resources, including your Accreditation chair, online courses and local classes. I took part in PRSA’s online study course and found it affordable, flexible — classes are recorded if you miss one — and incredibly helpful. It is absolutely imperative that you build relationships with other Accredited individuals who can help keep you on track and answer questions … you will undoubtedly have many. Lunch dates are great, but if you don’t have time, there are several Accredited practitioners who will review your materials by email.
6. Before working on your Readiness Review, I do recommend reading the APR study guide and one book found on the short bookshelf of texts, especially if you need a refresher on public relations techniques, business literacy and ethics. The insight you gain will improve the quality of your answers.
7. Try not to get stuck in the weeds with your public relations plan, especially when it comes to evaluation. Executing your ideal research methods might not be possible due to budget and time constraints, but this shouldn’t stop you from writing real objectives that measure a change in awareness, opinion, behavior or support. This is one of the biggest challenges you are tasked with, and I believe is an important attempt to elevate the impact our profession can have on achieving real results for our companies and organizations. Anecdotal evidence, social media engagement, internal community forums and other feedback channels are all options for telling your measurement story.
8. When writing and editing your Readiness Review, use a checklist to make sure you’ve written your goals, objectives, strategies and tactics correctly, and structured your plan accurately.
9. Remember that the computer-based Examination is weighted based on 10 KSA groupings. Use the list to prioritize your study. You’ll want to study the RPIE model, which makes up 30 percent of the Examination question topics, more than advanced communications skills, for example.
10. My biggest piece of advice to candidates just starting out is to first identify what you want to gain from the experience — whether it’s a more strategic approach to your work or a more thorough understanding of the field — and use that to motivate you through the entire Accreditation process. From there, the knowledge you can gain is limitless.
Best of luck!
Christina Connally Honkonen, APR, is a marketing manager for CRS Data, an innovative data supplier serving real estate professionals, MLS’s and bankers across the nation. She has worked with small nonprofits and large corporations to identify and reach key influencers using fully-integrated public relations campaigns designed to deliver measurable end results. You can find her on Linkedin and reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.