April 1, 2014
Shortly after I joined PRSA, I decided to sit for the CAE exam to become a Certified Association Executive.
Although I had been an association executive for more than 20 years, I hadn’t chosen to pursue the credential, which is a daunting task. Fewer than 5 percent of association executives hold the “CAE” distinction, and the test covers a wide range of disciplines, from those specific to the nonprofit sector — lobbying and fundraising, for example — to basic management topics such as human resources management and finance.
Taking the CAE exam was a personal choice — no one asked me to do this. I had reached a point in my career where my real-world accomplishments were self-evident, and I didn’t “need” the credential.
So why did I do it?
I took the exam for many reasons: As the chief staff officer of an organization that owned a credentialing program, I wanted to demonstrate commitment to my work. I welcomed an independent validation of my abilities and skills. I was expecting to work for several more decades, and believed that the credential might be helpful in the future. I wanted to understand, in my own way, what candidates go through when they prepare for and take a test.
And so one spring morning in 2009, I found myself in a testing center in Midtown Manhattan with a half-dozen other candidates. When I finally left nearly five hours later, I felt like I was 19 years old and in college taking final exams — I thought I did well, but wouldn’t be certain until I received the results several weeks later. I was gratified, proud and (yes, I admit) a bit relieved when the letter arrived informing me that I had become a CAE.
I’ve worked hard since then to maintain my certification, which is something that I envision holding until I retire someday — and perhaps even afterward.
There are many reasons why credentials are important — especially in an unlicensed profession such as public relations, which doesn’ t have barriers to entry for aspiring practitioners.
PRSA continues to strongly believe in the value of credentialing. As an important sign of our continued commitment to the APR designation, we commissioned an independent review of the program last year. The resulting recommendations are available on our website, and were open for a period of time to member input and public comment to ensure that we heard all voices.
A task force is currently reviewing the consultant’s recommendations and member feedback, and will propose a course of action in the coming months.
In the meantime, we’re busy supporting the program. A key recommendation from the report was to strengthen the marketing of the APR program. A group of PRSA volunteers developed a marketing plan for this year, focused on the APR’s 50th anniversary. And the UAB, the administrative body that oversees the test, is well into its 2014 agenda as we all work to strengthen the program and administer it day-to-day.
Of course, our APR program is just one of the many benefits that we offer. For those members who recognize how Accreditation can support their own personal and professional development, it remains an important mark — one that will become even more valuable as we continue to take steps to enhance the program.
As you may have heard, I will be leaving PRSA at the end of May 2014 to take a new position at a national trade association.
Next month’s column will be my last, and I’ll be taking that opportunity to say “thank you” for having the opportunity to serve PRSA for the past seven years.