When I left television news 22 years ago, I was impressed by several PRSA Chapter leaders’ professionalism and how their work seemed on a higher level than other public relations practitioners I’d met. Later, I learned all of these leaders were Accredited. One suggested I “audit” the Chapter’s Accreditation study sessions as part of my transition into the field. Having never taken a public relations course in college, it was an excellent way of quickly learning about communication theories and best practices.
During the past 20 years, I have progressed from working on a tactical to a more strategic level for clients. I was ready for the challenge and saw this as a way of demonstrating my knowledge while also showing thanks to the many mentors who shared their time and expertise with me.
Earning my Accreditation is a validation of the commitment I have as a professional, as well as the completion of a long-term goal. When I decided to sit for the Examination for Accreditation in Public Relations a year ago, I committed the time to study and pass with a high score. I found the entire process reinforces thinking on a strategic level, understanding the big picture and being able to be a trusted counselor for senior management. The need for research and developing clear, measurable objectives for any communications program becomes second nature. I came away much more confident of the knowledge and skills I had developed, and understanding weak areas that needed improvement.
Before taking the Examination, I may have been seen as a “senior PR practitioner,” because I have some gray hair and 20 years’ experience. Taking the Examination validated (for me) the knowledge and skills I have acquired and demonstrates the credibility we have as professionals. What surprised me more than anything was the pride others around me — my family, co-workers and colleagues — demonstrated after I’d earned my APR. That spoke loudly to me that earning Accreditation is an important professional accomplishment.
Setting aside time (an hour each night or a half-day each weekend) to read the textbooks and work through the APR Study Guide in a consistent, methodical manner pays huge dividends. The study sessions offered by the Chapter were very helpful — and having a study buddy to push/challenge/inspire you is something worth pursuing. I highly recommend the online study course — participating in the weekly cohorts and completing the various section exercises. It keeps you focused and really prepares you for the Examination. This was my first experience with an online course (the first generation of personal computers were just hitting the market when I graduated from college) and it helped my studying.
If you have a minimum of five years in the field, you should consider it. Ten years or more, I encourage you to do it! While you may start the process for personal reasons, what I found was that it not only enhances your own reputation but that of our field. The people around you — family, friends, co-workers, clients — recognize the commitment you have to professionalism and ethics.
W. Patrick McSweeney, APR, is a senior account manager at St. John & Partners, where he directs media relations and crisis communications response for a variety of clients. He has worked as a reporter for print, radio and TV outlets in addition to working in public affairs for a state government agency.