Accreditation: How-To Stifle PR Industry's Bright Future

I am a fan of Kami Huyse, so when she forms a strong opinion on something, I give it serious consideration (or more often, I’ll just blindly follow her lead; it is easier). Kami recently blogged about the benefits of accreditation for PR pros, and on this front I’ll politely disagree.

PLEASE NOTE that I have tons of respect for many, many folks who did go through the trouble of getting their APR credentials. I also want to say that I agree with Kami (and Scott Baradell, and Richard Edelman) that PR has a PR problem.

But I don’t think that accreditation will improve the perception of PR pros — does a law degree convince us that lawyers are honest? More importantly I think that:

  • Accreditation only legitimizes one organization’s (the PRSA) view of what is entailed by "Public Relations." In this dawning era of new media, the PR person’s role is (thankfully!) more fluid and unknown than ever. This fluidity is an opportunity, one that would be quashed by force-fitting PR pros into the required learning & roles defined by a standards body. (I also think that the "institutional thinking" of the PRSA has made the organization woefully slow to consider the ramifications of the 2.0 phenomenon, but, that’s fodder for another post.)
  • Mandatory accreditation would raise unnecessary barriers to young people interested in "trying out" the PR profession. Lots of new graduates are ambitious about their career path, but not necessarily eager to think about studying for a huge exam that will need to be taken 5 years later to prove that they "get it." We need to motivate more entrants, if anything: I’d rather grease the skids than raise unnecessary barriers. (Besides, anyone got any stats on how gaining your APR credential impacts your salary or employment prospects?)

I look across the landscape of my own agency, which employs 75-odd (truly odd) PR people nationwide, all of ‘em stars that I admire. None have "APR" affixed to their business cards, yet there’s not a single one whom I wouldn’t trust to give solid PR counsel to a client. I think it is up to each agency to train its people to show "competency in the knowledge, skills and abilities required to practice public relations effectively in today’s business arena."

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Posted on: August 31, 2006 at 10:27 am By Todd Defren
20 Responses to “Accreditation: How-To Stifle PR Industry's Bright Future”

 

Comments
  • Issues In PR: Accreditation, Ethics & Why Journalists Hate PR Pros

    There’s been a lot of conversation going on lately about public relations (PR).  Many PR people are lamenting the sorry state of the profession and focusing on what can be done to improve it.  See below for a rundown of…

  • Kami Huyse says:

    I am all there with some of these arguments against what my husband calls “hoodism,” or the act of waving your advanced degree (and graduation hood) at people. However, I happen to know that the curriculum of the APR is quite advanced in many ways and not as behind as you might think. There is even a handout about New Media 101 that was written by Steve Rubel. Plus, the questions are now updated annually. So, let’s agree that people can see different levels of usefulness in accreditation, but also that those that choose to undertake it will learn a lot about public relations. Will it make them creative or successful? It all depends on what they make of it.

  • The Relative Value of Professional Accreditation

    Do some capital letters on your business card make you an expert?  Does their absence make you incompetent? The obvious answer is no.  So what possible reason is there to pursue a law degree, earn an accounting designation, earn your professional ass…

  • The Relative Value of Professional Accreditation

    Do some capital letters on your business card make you an expert?  Does their absence make you incompetent? The obvious answer is no.  So what possible reason is there to pursue a law degree, earn an accounting designation, earn your professional ass…

  • Otakar Schon says:

    Hi Todd,
    i am with you on this one. It is nice to wave your PhD or whatever title in face of everyne around you, but it doesnt prove that you are good at your job.

    With professional orgainzation, i am even more sceptic. This kind of orgs is just all about politics. It is not about skill, not about dedication, its only about intriques and strange deals. But then again, i am still too young and naive.

    Sure, membership can help you to get contacts and “credibility” but then again, why to pay for this when you can earn credibility just doing your work better than the acredited agencies and “trained” professionals?

    It is up to recruiters in PR agencies to choose the right people and up to clients to select the right agency for them. Titles and accreditations or not.

  • Todd Andrlik says:

    That’s interesting, Alan, that you think APR is more appropriate or needed at a big agency. I have been speculating just the opposite.

    My thought is that big agencies need it less because they have the big name brand and resources behind them – more so than a smaller agency.

    I just wrote up an analysis of the accreditation debate. At quick glance, a lot of the big PR firm pros were against it.

    By the way, I just checked out your blog for the first time. Good stuff.

  • Todd, I agree with you. I have been in business for 23 years, outlasted 3 major tech downturns, and have focused on just doing great work.

    I think the APR thing may be more appropriate, or needed in a big agency.

    For those of us who run boutique shops the best credentials we bring is the work we do and our track records.

  • Kami Huyse says:

    First, thanks to Ike for doing what he does best, boiling all of this down to a few statements that show this isn’t about right or wrong (despite the debate that Todd and I have been having).

    I do see APR as a recognition, but more I see it as a baseline of knowledge. I agree that creative thinking is essential to the practice of public relations. I also believe that you should know the basic “rules” if you will, before you throw away the playbook, at least then you would know what you are throwing away.

    I also think it is easy to overlook the benefit of “industry standards.” I wish, like Leo pointed out, that we could just say the ansewer to our woes lies in doing the right thing and giving our clients, customers and employers the service they deserve.

    However, this hasn’t worked out up until this point. We need some mechanism to measure the basic knowledge of employee in the field and I think accreditation is a good place to start.

    Now, the real issue here is more likely that we aren’t 100% happy with the speed of innovation by our professional societies, and that is a conversation that we need to have, while also keeping in mind that these groups are run by volunteers. So, if we want change, we need only look in the mirror. I will have more on that in the months to come.

  • Mike Spinney says:

    Siding with Todd on this one. In many industries, accreditation is practically a necessity to demonstrate technical competence in a profession where such may be required.

    I earned my bona fides as a Certified Information Privacy Professional, an arena with a broad array of state, federal, and international laws and regulations that must be known and understood.

    In PR & communications, the skills necessary to provide solid counsel are not so well defined, and may vary widely from client to client, situation to situation. As a communications consultant, I chose to earn my CIPP because of the focus of my specialty; an APR would be much less valuable to me.

    As an anecdotal aside, the APRs I’ve known have been unimpressive and, in an industry that is woefully short on creativity, operated “by the book.” Our industry needs more professionals who are willing and able to innovate, not who have been trained to be formulaic. (Yes, I know my blog is woefully out of date…)

  • While I don’t think accreditation can hurt a practitioner – I don’t believe it’s the panacea for our image problem.

    Accredited or not – practitioners still make the CHOICE to act professionally and ethically.

  • Todd Defren says:

    Ike:

    “Kami sees APR as a recognition of demonstrated ability, not a training course. And she is right.

    Todd sees APR as an antiquated measure of skills, because it is not Open Source and is too slow to incorporate new PR. And he is right.”

    Right on.

  • Ike says:

    Let me share one additional thought. In the martial art I teach, we have an outlook on advancement:

    Once you act, think, and demonstrate the proficiency of a Novice, then you test and are recognized as such.

    Once you act, think, and demonstrate the proficiency of a Student, then you test and are recognized as such.

    Rather than the rank granting mystical powers, it is simply a recognition of a reality.

    In reality, there are a lot of great PR practitioners that don’t have the label on their names. Most who do don’t really see a tangible benefit from the study, other than a confidence that their “big picture ability” is true and will be externally recognized.

    Todd and Kami are in disagreement over how they see the terms:

    Kami sees APR as a recognition of demonstrated ability, not a training course. And she is right.

    Todd sees APR as an antiquated measure of skills, because it is not Open Source and is too slow to incorporate new PR. And he is right.

    And I see no reason to cross-post this, because most of the smart people I know in the blogosphere read both Todd and Kami. And I am right.

    Ike Pigott, RBS

  • Leo Bottary says:

    Todd -

    I agree with you on this one. You may have read the comment I left on Kami’s site, but here it is again for some of your loyal readers:

    Sorry, but I disagree with you (Kami), at least in part, on this one. The accreditation process can be a great and helpful professional development tool, but it’s nothing more than that. There are other great professional development tools out there as well. In 20 years in this business, I’ve worked with the accredited and unaccredited alike, and believe me, there are great ones and bad ones in both camps. PR professionals have a reputation problem because many care more about “themselves and their profession” than they do about their clients and achieving real results. If we want to improve our reputation, then let’s step it up across the board on our client’s behalf and help deliver real value to their enterprises. I applaud the training and think the lessons learned from the accreditation process are valuable, but having more “self-accredited” PR professionals in the world isn’t going to improve our reputation. If we (as PR pros) were our own client, we would have fired us years ago.

  • Todd Defren says:

    I think Phil’s comment best sums up my attitude (succinctly and with more humor, damn him).

    Kami – I left my comment at your site; thanks for engaging with me – always fun.

    Marie – Great post at Flackette. I would not dream of telling you to NOT go for the APR… it’s up to each person to gauge the value of that process. Since you are already savvy on blogging, etc., I’d be curious to hear how you reconcile the lessons of New Media with the more traditional stuff taught by PRSA’s accreditation prcedures.

  • Kami Huyse says:

    I was about to comment, but it turned into a post. I am ready to fight, like a refined lady, of course ;-)

    This is my lazyman’s trackback as my link above connects directly to the post.

  • phil gomes says:

    I tend to agree w/ you, Todd. To tell you the truth, I don’t trust a professional organization in the comms industry to keep accreditation mechanisms current.

    Again… Nothing against those who seem to have gotten value out of and apr or membership in iabc or prsa.

    My *personal* experience with those orgs was terrible. I described my experience at one org to be akin to “getting stuck in an elevator w/ betty white.”

    Anyway… I would encourage folks to make their comms careers richer by pursuing those interests that make them unique and provide them with a fresh perspective.

    First time making comments using a blackberry…

    Neat…

  • Ike says:

    Hey Todd — here’s my pair o’ pennies:

    I was getting cranked up to study for accreditation, and already had a killer project (Branded RSS Reader) picked out to use for my portfolio.

    I got that promotion, though, and that pretty well wiped out my time for prep.

    That said — I lurk on the fringes of PR anyway. I’m not really cut out to be an agency guy — I do what I do very well. My interest in snagging an APR would have simply been a credential to sell my services. It seemed to be the sort of thing that would matter more to a high-level client than to me.

    I also saw it as a way to keep some options open down the road, to be able to pick up a freelance project or two down the line when the seminars and consulting was slack.

    In one sense, my new job experience will give me more credibility than an APR designation ever would. I may still reach back for accreditation a few years from now, but not because I think it will save PR.

    Ike Pigott, RBS
    (Retired Blogger Society)

  • Wow, I never would have guessed you felt that way about APR, Todd. You make some great points here, but I think I’m gonna have to side with Kami and Stuart on this one.

    Just posted on this at Flackette if you want to take a look.

    -Marie

  • The value of PR qualifications

    This started as a brief comment to respond to Todd Defren’s thoughts on accreditation for PR practitioners, but it became rather lengthy for a comment so here it is as a longer post. I understand Todd’s points, but I’m not

  • The value of PR qualifications

    This started as a brief comment to respond to Todd Defren’s thoughts on accreditation for PR practitioners, but it became rather lengthy for a comment so here it is as a longer post. I understand Todd’s points, but I’m not






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