Spring is in the air and graduation season is rapidly approaching. While college seniors are likely eager to get away from higher education – at least until many of them go to grad school – continuous learning on the job is essential for professionals at all levels.
For PRSA (Public Relations Society of America), April is APR (Accredited Public Relations) Month (#APRMonth ), its annual month-long promotion to educate members about the APR process and the benefits of attaining the certification. Naturally, any time of the year that works for an individual candidate is the right time to consider pursuing the APR as an important element of their professional development plan.
Why get your APR?
The APR designation demonstrates an individual’s dedication to public relations and to advancing his or her career. It provides an additional credential that supplements the work experience of PRSA members as they become candidates for director and vice president-level positions.
The important point for any PRSA member contemplating applying for candidacy is to truly assess the pros and cons, requirements and time commitments necessary to complete the process, and then decide if it is really a certification that they want or need. Certainly, holding the APR isn’t a requirement to continue progressing in a successful PR career, but it is a very respectable personal achievement that illustrates education and overall excellence in the field.
PRSA outlines the traits of having the APR as follows:
- Asserts professional competence
- Communicates expertise, personal and professional dedication and values
- Reflects progressive public relations industry practices and high standards
The APR process can range from a few months to a year to complete all four steps:
- Complete the application
- Prepare and sit for a panel readiness review of select portfolio samples.
- Study for the computer-based examination
- Demonstrate a commitment to lifelong learning through maintenance via membership renewal and periodic activity credits
The Steps in the Process
After completing the application and being accepted to proceed, you may want to seek an APR member in your local chapter to serve as an advisor to you. Many chapters offer periodic preparation workshops that you can participate in to keep you on track. It is important to note that once your application is accepted to proceed in the process, you have up to a year to sit for the final test, allowing you to plan your work/life schedule and dedicated study time accordingly.
The first step is writing a personal narrative that addresses several career and experience questions.These essay answers can range from three to five pages and will be read by three local APR judges prior to setting a portfolio panel review date. The panel review calls for you to present two significant career projects that include the core steps of strategic public relations – research, planning, execution and evaluation/reporting.
A reminder to young and seasoned professionals alike who have changed jobs over the years, be sure to keep PDFs of written samples, screen shots of digital content and copies of any reports or other published materials. Maintaining a comprehensive portfolio of your most memorable or successful projects and campaigns will make the portfolio review process an easier lift so you can focus on studying for the computer exam. Keeping your best work in an electronic or scanned format can also help you if you want to enhance your personal blog or online career portfolio.
After you pass the panel review, you can schedule the computer test, which is an intensive, three-hour, multiple-choice question format with a variety of knowledge, skills and abilities areas that cover many of the key principles, standards and best practices of public relations. By reading a few of the PRSA-recommended public relations textbooks and practicing some APR sample tests, you can be ready for the exam in four to six weeks. Even after studying for several weeks, the test is still fairly difficult, similar in effort to a GRE or GMAT test.
You Passed! What’s Next?
As lifelong learning goes, even after you pass the APR test, you are never truly finished. Part of maintaining the certification is earning continuing participation and education credits that can come in various forms, such as giving back to your chapter as a panel judge on future APR candidate, award judging, serving leadership roles on committees, mentoring or giving presentations.
There is a set amount of points you must attain in a three-year period to maintain your APR standing; these can be easily accumulated by serving on the board, presenting to organizations, attending conferences and participating in professional development events. If you are an active PRSA member, satisfying the requirement and logging your activities is a naturally easy task to complete.
Ultimately, it is up to each PRSA member to assess if the process and time commitment involved in attaining the APR can fit into his or her busy live. Once you receive the APR designation, you will have not only fulfilled a major personal career accomplishment, but you will find yourself thinking on a more strategic level for questions to ask, outcomes to plan for and results to measure for all the work you encounter.
If you decide to take on the APR, good luck! It is a worthwhile challenge and it is a great accomplishment when you pass the test and join the ranks of other APR holders in your chapter and across the national membership of PRSA. Plus, you also have the distinct privilege of adding “, APR” after your name like a graduate-level degree for your business cards, email signature, LinkedIn profile and all PRSA-related materials.
For study guide material and to take the APR practice exam, visit PRSA’s website. Take a Self-Assessment while you’re at it to determine if you’re ready to obtain your APR.