What’s the best way for American PR practitioners to get pigeon-holed as junior? By putting the letters APR after their name.
These initials – standing for accredited in public relations – are widely rejected in New York, one of the two global capitals of public relations. Ambitious practitioners know that the letters do nothing for them. That’s why only 7 per cent of Public Relations Society members in America’s financial capital bother to acquire them. Nationally, applicants for the letters has reportedly halved.
Clients, once they’ve got past thinking a PR pracitioner is claiming to be an “annual percentage rate”, only benefit from APR status in one way: the ability to push downwards on price. They are likely to assume it means a standard quality, thereby turning APRs into a commodity where the lowest price is best. In fact, the letters don’t actually mean that the practitioner will be any good at all. The only examination APRs have to pass is made up of multiple guess questions. That’s right: multiple guess. Ed Lallo, founder of Newsroom Ink, reports that “Neither writing nor creativity is tested at any point”.
This is incredible as those are the most vital skills that a practitioner ought to possess. Instead, it turns out that the APR exam requires students to learn about “the theory of diffusion of innovations”, developed by Dr Everett Rogers, and Prof James Grunig’s flawed “two-way symmetrical model” of PR.
PR practitioners who want to do well would be better off avoiding this irrelevant accreditation. The letters merely put you in a box, along with wanabes who think it will kick-start their careers or those who are desperate to get a committee position at the society. APR status says that you are the same as all the other people who’ve answered the multiple guess exam. No doubt the letters appeal to those with no personal brand, with nothing interesting to say about themselves. They can assert “I am an APR” – that makes me something.
That something, however, is a commodity. Of course, there are those who combine APR status with a prolific and effective career, who earn good money. But I would contend that their success is despite the letters, not because of them. Experts on consulting oppose the use of so-called post-nominal letters. In their ”tips for enhancing credibility”, the authors of The Trusted Advisor say that: “A text bio… is of particular vaule in new relationships [but] don’t get silly by having all those initials and certifications appear after your name on your business card.” Alan Weiss, author of Million Dollar Consulting, says “Using any other intials [apart from PhD] at all, whether college degrees, certification of courses completed, or professional recognition, is unnecessary at best and amateurish at worst… Such designations help to establish a pecking order within the association but mean next to nothing outside it. I’ve never met a buyer who made decisions based on such ‘insider recognition’.”
Given the letters APR require additional, ongoing payments to the Public Relations Society to keep them, it seems like a bad bargain. Instead, they’d earn more by developing their own methods and intellectual property, and by doing a fantastic job for their clients.
Meanwhile, the reformers who want a democratic Public Relations Society deserve to be heard. In 2010, the Committee for a Democratic PRSA was formed by industry leaders, including the legendary Richard Edelman. The committee said that it “does not believe that democracy is being served as long as a small minority of its members can hold elective office. We believe that many worthy members who meet national leadership criteria in many other ways are being deprived of the opportunity to serve the organization.”