Q. What is “wrong” with the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) Credential as it currently exists?
A. PRSA’s 2011 membership Value, Perception and Satisfaction survey showed that the APR has high stated, but low derived, importance among PRSA members. In other words, PRSA members say that they value the Credential but, in reality, it has little or no impact on Member acquisition and retention.
Also, the number of professionals Accredited by the UAB has declined from an average of 256 a year from 1993 to 2002, to an average of 157 a year between 2003 and 2012. The number of APR’s as a percentage of PRSA membership also has been falling in recent years; from 25.47 percent of members in 1994 to 21.32 percent in 2004 to 18.43 percent in 2012.
As a result, the APR program posted only modest financial gains of $39,532 in 2011, $11,020 in 2010 and $68,944 in 2009; however, PRSA does not fully allocate indirect expenses, such as staff time and use of meeting facilities. In addition, under current accounting, these gains are absorbed to offset the $335,000 that PRSA has invested in the UAB since 1998, including the cost to reengineer the exam in 2000.
Q. Why has PRSA decided that “now” is the time to enhance the profile and prestige the APR?
A. The APR Credential will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2014, a milestone that invites a bit of introspection and a closer look at whether the APR is achieving its full potential. A beta-level test of an entry-level Credential also is underway.
Most compelling is that we’ve been hearing for some time that the Universal Accreditation Board (UAB) was desirous of more capital and human resources to support the APR Credential. At the same time, we’ve heard from PRSA Members that they would like us to do more to establish the Credential as a credible mark of distinction among employers and hiring professionals.
Additionally, there are signs that the APR is not well. As mentioned above, the number of professionals Accredited by the UAB is declining, as is the number of APR’s as a percentage of PRSA membership.
Finally, we’re now faced with new questions about the value of Accreditation to professional communicators generally, given the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC)’s decision to suspend all new applications for its accreditation program, the Accredited Business Communicator (ABC) credential.
Q. How did the PRSA Board of Directors reach this decision?
A. PRSA’s Board of Directors receives quarterly updates from its designated liaison to the UAB, as well as regular reports on pertinent trends, such as Member attitudes and perceptions toward the APR, the number of APRs awarded each year and the number of APRs as an overall percentage of PRSA members.
This information has led to confidential, Board-level discussions over the years about how best to strengthen and market the APR program. When PRSA’s 2013 audited financial results — which the Board voted to accept at its April 2013 meeting — showed that PRSA had funds available to invest in the program, the Board voted to retain an external consultant, who would conduct a review and analysis of the APR program that would incorporate the views and advice of the UAB and POs.
Q. Has an external consultant been retained?
A. Yes. PRSA has retained the Organizational Performance Group (OPG), an organizational development consulting firm in Hamden, Conn. OPG Group will be using a variety of tools — including discussions with key volunteer and staff leaders, data analysis, surveys, interviews, focus groups, benchmarking and meta-analysis — to explore different stakeholder perceptions on strengths and weaknesses of the current APR, pros and cons of maintaining the APR, desired services for APR holders, suggestions for improvements and strategies for supporting Accreditation and marketing it to PRSA Members and employers.
Q. What specifically will OPG be doing to “enhance the profile and prestige” of the APR credential?
A. OPG’s project parameters include:
Q. Is abandoning the credential an option?
A. No. Abandoning Accreditation is not an option that PRSA is willing to consider.
Q. Will OPG make recommendations with regard to maintaining the APR requirement for service on the PRSA Board of Directors?
A. No. OPG has not been asked to assess the APR requirement for Board service, and we do not expect them to do so.
Q. How will this project be funded?
A. In 2012, PRSA exceeded its annual financial goal — which is to increase its unrestricted net assets by a minimum of 1 percent of annual expenses — by achieving net earnings equivalent to 5.7 percent of its annual expenses. The PRSA Board of Directors voted to re-allocate a portion of those funds that otherwise would have been contributed to PRSA’s unrestricted net assets to fund the work of OPG.
Q. What is PRSA’s role in granting the APR?
A. Granting of the APR Credential is overseen by the UAB, a group of eight participating public relations organizations (POs): the Agricultural Relations Council, Asociación de Relacionistas Profesionales de Puerto Rico, Florida Public Relations Association, Maine Public Relations, Council, National School Public Relations Association, PRSA, Religion Communicators Council, and Southern Public Relations Federation.
While each PO contributes resources and senior-level volunteer members representing all segments of the public relations profession, PRSA provides the lion’s share of resources, APRs and volunteers, and also maintains legal liability for the UAB.
Q. What is involved in becoming Accredited?
A. The APR involves completing a candidate qualifications questionnaire, advancing through a “readiness review” presentation/interview with three professional peers and passing a computer-based examination. The process is intended to measure a public relations practitioner’s fundamental knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) in 10 specific areas:
It’s believed that these skills are applicable to any industry, practice area or environmental setting in which public relations practitioners work. The Accreditation process was reengineered in 2000 from an oral/written examination (paper/pencil) to a Readiness Review/multiple-choice examination. The multiple-choice examination questions are refreshed on an annual basis.
Q. How many professionals are Accredited ?
A. Currently, more than 3,800 PRSA members hold the APR Credential. Another 30 hold the Accredited in Public Relations + Military (APR+M) Credential, an enhanced Credential available to military personnel and defense department contractors that signifies mastery of the APR KSAs, plus an additional 12 KSAs related to military public affairs in joint operations. A beta-level test of an entry-level Credential in public relations also is underway.
Q. Is this number rising or falling?
A. The number of professionals Accredited by the UAB has declined from an average of 256 a year from 1993 to 2002, to an average of 157 a year between 2003 and 2012. The number of APR’s as a percentage of PRSA membership also has been falling in recent years; from 25.47 percent of members in 1994 to 21.32 percent in 2004 to 18.43 percent in 2012.
Q. Does PRSA make money on credentialing?
A. The APR program posted only modest financial gains of $39,532 in 2011, $11,020 in 2010 and $68,944 in 2009, $35,161 in 2008 and $23,664 in 2007; however, PRSA does not fully allocate indirect expenses, such as staff time and use of meeting facilities. In addition, under current accounting, these gains are absorbed to offset the $335,000 that PRSA has invested in the UAB since 1998, including the cost to reengineer the exam in 2000.
Q. Is the APR a requirement to hold a PRSA leadership position?
A. Currently, the APR Credential is a requirement to serve on the national Board of Directors and on the Board of Ethics and Professional Standards. Twice in recent years, however, attempts have been made to remove the APR Credential as a condition of Board Service.
In 2009, as part of a comprehensive set of suggested revisions to PRSA’s by-laws, a motion by the Board of Directors to expand the criteria for National Board service to include APR and/or PRSA leader and/or public relations professional with 20+ years of experience, was voted down by the Leadership Assembly.
In 2010, an ad hoc committee of PRSA members petitioned to re-vote on the expanded list of criteria for Board service. Despite gaining more than 350 signatures on their petition, the proposed by-law amendment was again defeated by the Leadership Assembly, and the APR Credential remains a mandatory eligibility requirement for PRSA board service.
Q. Are there any other professional credentials for public relations and communications professionals?
A. The APR is one of two national post-graduate certification programs for public relations professionals and other professional communicators — the other being the ABC credential offered by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC).
IABC stopped taking applications for its accreditation program in September 2012. The organization has said that it wants to make the 30-year-old accreditation program “fit for the 21st century.”
Under the changes being considered, IABC members with eight years of experience would be “CCPs” (Certified Communications Professional), while and those with 15 years would be “CSCPs” (Certified Strategic Communications Professional).
Q. Is APR important to PRSA members?
A. Of the 149 APRs who responded to PRSA’s 2011 membership Value, Perception and Satisfaction survey, more than 85 percent ascribe “extreme” value the Credential. Of the 527 non-APRs who responded to the survey, however, only 38 percent value the APR “highly.”
Q. Is the APR important to the broader public relations profession?
A. The 2005 “Value of Accreditation” survey found that:
The survey also showed that:
Q. Is the APR important to hiring managers?
A. Hiring practices would seem to indicate that the APR lacks awareness, understanding and respect among the ranks of employment decision-makers. For example, less than .05 percent of PRSA Jobcenter postings “require” or “prefer” APR. This compares with the more than 25 percent of postings that require the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)’s Professional in Human Resources (PHR) or Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) credentials, which “validate mastery in the field of human resource management and to promote organizational effectiveness.”
Q. Do APRs earn higher salaries?
A. A 2005 PRWeek/Korn Ferry salary survey, found that Accredited public relations professionals’ annual salaries were approximately 20 percent higher than those of their non-Accredited colleagues, when factors such as age and experience are controlled.
As we prepare to celebrate the APR's 50th anniversary next year, PRSA is embarking on a plan to enhance its profile and prestige.
Find out more about this entry-level credential from Janet Kacskos, APR, chair, Universal Accreditation Board, and Jay Rayburn, Ph.D, APR, Fellow PRSA, CPRC, chair, Entry Level Accreditation.