Useless. Useless.

APR Logo bw I've just received an e-mail from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) encouraging me to sign up for an intensive, four-day APR preparation boot camp.

For the unenlightened, APR is an ersatz credential that has been bandied about for decades as proof positive that one is, indeed, accredited in public relations. I've been reluctant to comment publicly about APR because, frankly, I didn't want to offend some industry leaders who actually believe the APR is meaningful.

But, the time has come to take off the gloves and enter the fray. An APR is worthless. It's never meant anything to any client organization I've ever encountered. Nor has it ever made one iota of difference in considering a prospective employee's strengths and weaknesses.

Created long ago and far away, the APR has always lacked any real teeth and is based on a false assumption: that a PR pro should master rules and regulations in the same way a doctor or lawyer must. But, because PR is an art and not a science, there are no hard and fast rules, regulations, practices, policies or procedures that a public relations professional must study and then prove competence in some sort of 'bar exam.' One earns his or her stripes in PR in one way, and one way only: through the School of Hard Knocks.

The APR is even more irrelevant in today's social media environment in which black has become white, and vice versa. Controlled, top-down, inside-out communication has gone the way of the carrier pigeon. And, no four-day boot camp or three-day written exam is going to help me learn to listen or react any better to the quicksilver changes being made by consumers who now decide with whom they wish to speak, as well as when and where.

I wish Dr. Kevorkian could euthanize this bogus test (and credential) once and for all. In the meantime, I'll continue to associate the APR with the immortal final words of John Wilkes Booth who, having been mortally wounded by pursuing Union soldiers, looked at his hands and uttered, “Useless. Useless.”

24 thoughts on “Useless. Useless.

  1. Same could be said for “PR degrees” I suppose. Though most employers up here like their entry candidates to have “studied” the field etc. before they start working in it. Doesn’t old fashioned critical thinking hold any value anymore?

  2. Steve: You are 100% right. APR is a political party in the PR Society and has little, if anything, to do with education. It is basically non-New Yorkers vs. New Yorkers and those on the East Coast.
    Jack O’Dwyer

  3. Thanks Elisa. I think a degree in public relations is much more valuable than an APR. With a degree, at least I know an individual is grounded in the basics of media relations, publicity, agency management, budgeting, and the role of public relations within the marketing mix. The APR is positioned as a high-level credential that the PRSA hopes would carry the same weight as a ‘Dr.’ before some professionals’ names and an ‘Esq.’ after others. It doesn’t.

  4. Thanks Jack. I’ve never thought of the APR as a political hot potato, but it does makes sense. I can’t believe that in this economy, corporate communications departments or PR agencies would foot the bill for their professionals to take a meaningless test.

  5. This rhetoric is a bit hyperbolic for me, Steve. Is it just link bait to get all the APRs to visit your blog??
    The fact is, the APR credential is valuable to those practitioners who earn it; to the agencies, clients and organizations they represent; and to the public relations industry generally.
    Established in 1964, the Accreditation program measures a practitioner’s knowledge and application of communications theory and ethics, and capabilities in research, strategic planning, implementation and evaluation. The program is relevant to any industry or practice area. Currently, more than 5,000 professionals hold the APR mark, Harold Burson and Daniel Edelman notable among them.
    All APRs are required to complete continuing education programs or to pursue volunteer work or other professional development activities to keep their skills sharp and their accredited status active.
    Unlike other professional certifications, accreditation in public relations is a voluntary demonstration of competency; as such, it reflects a strong commitment to professional excellence, and provides a distinction that can open doors to career and salary advancement.
    Accredited professionals contribute to greater understanding of public relations as a vital — but often misunderstood — management function. The credential also undermines those who would refer to our craft as spin, our professionals as flacks, and our currency as misrepresentation.
    Is accreditation necessary for industry success, or for our industry to be taken seriously? No. Can it make individuals better-qualified professionals and enhance the standing of our profession? The answer to those questions is yes.
    Arthur Yann is VP of public relations for PRSA.

  6. Hello Steve and Arthur:
    Arthur, you have done a fine job of defending APR but you have a flawed topic to work with.
    APRs have run the PR Society since the mid-1970s, allowing no one but APRs on the board and as officers although only about 20% of members are APR.
    Their spending on the APR program totaled $5,056,075 from 1986 to 2002, losing $2,926,080. The year-by-year chart is on odwyerpr.com. In 2000, the subsidy per new APR was $1,794.
    Suppose that $2.9 million had been spent on “PR for PR” instead of trying to boost the profession one person at a time?
    APRs have almost completely neglected the power of the web. The PRS website does not have a search engine worthy of the name. A search for anything brings up a solid page of committee names, program notes, etc.
    Elections are held as though it were the 1950s. A small group will meet next weekend in Chicago to pick the new chair-elect nominee and several board members although none of them have had to state their views on the Society website so all members could see them.
    Draconian changes in the bylaws are being proposed including robbing from the Assembly the right to hear out and elect officers and board members, and the right of each of the ten districts to have a representative on the board. A member of the board would chair the nomcom, allowing even more politics to be played with board and officer positions.
    Art: how many members signed up for the boot camp by the deadline July 24?; did COO Bill Murray get his contract renewed at the July 24 board meeting?
    –Jack O’Dwyer

  7. Elissa, with respect, those of us teaching in undergraduate programs with a PR focus care deeply about developing critical thinking (CT) competencies in our students. PR subject matter is just as conducive to CT development as is the study of Chinese classical rhetoric or the Carolingian Renaissance.
    The debate over APR designation and mid-career development in PR strikes me as quite different from the also-important discussion of the optimal approach to entry-level career preparation for PR. I will add, Steve, that the social-scientific research on PR continues to improve.
    Brian McGee
    College of Charleston

  8. Arthur, I love you and I love the PRSA. But, the APR is bogus. And, the blog was not intended to lure APRs to RepMan. We do quite fine with and without APR visitors, thank you very much.
    My blog was intended, instead, to respond to the unsolicited e-mail from PRSA. The APR test needs to be put out to pasture. No one cares.

  9. In retrospect, I wish a major in public relations had been available when I attended Northeastern University in the late 16th century. I majored in journalism and knew absolutely nothing about PR when I first set foot in Hill & Knowlton’s lobby one early Spring day in 1978. Some would say I don’t know a heckuva lot more today.

  10. “The fact is, the APR credential is valuable to those practitioners who earn it;”
    You should have stopped right there, Art Yann. That’s where the value ends, unless one aspires to hold high office in PRSA someday.
    Bill Huey
    Strategic Communications
    Atlanta

  11. Bill: I know some APRs insist their firm’s prospective employees pass the test before they’ll even consider hiring them. I guess it assures some sort of additional capabilities on the part of the hiree though, to me, it’s akin to wearing suspenders and a belt at the same time.

  12. Steve: Yes, what it says is, “they’ll think like me, therefore they’ll be like me.”
    APR in the United States is the ultimate meaningless credential, based on a multiple-choice test given to a steadily dwindling number of candidates who don’t have to demonstrate any qualifications other than the fee to take the test. It’s like Certified Mortgage Broker, or Certified Dog Groomer.

  13. Arthur,
    All APRs are NOT required to complete continuing education programs or to pursue volunteer work or other professional development activities to keep their accredited status active.
    Harold Burson and Daniel Edelman were grandfathered and never had to take a written test.
    Guess those are some of the reasons you aren’t an APR.
    Richard Newman, APR, Fellow PRSA

  14. Your summary of the program misstates what it covers and how it tests candidates. Read up on the current facts before you start throwing daggers.
    People capable of passing the APR aren’t just memorizing rules or spouting back an outdated system by rote. They are proving the ability to make outstanding business decisions under pressure in a variety of situations applying the basic principles of human behavior.
    Today’s new channels and environments don’t change the need to understand these basic principles. No one has been through the school of hard knocks yet for technologies that don’t even exist yet – not even you. Communications professionals must understand the basic principles and strategies to adapt and apply the latest tools, and the ones that have yet to be invented.

  15. Steve,
    Where’s your research on the uselessness of the APR? Certainly you have a right to express your opinion, but I am assuming you base this on something other than your personal feelings, right???! (And I am assuming that you wouldn’t counsel a client based on your feelings alone, correct?)

  16. I totally respect your point of view, Eileen. But, in this case, the bottom line is the bottom line: clients simply don’t care. And I don’t know of a single significant agency that factors the APR into their hiring process. In tennis, that would qualify as ‘Game. Set. And match.

  17. It’s definitely not based on my feelings alone, Linda. I’ve had countless discussions over the years with senior counselors on the client and agency side alike. We were of the same mind when it came to the APR. That said, I admire your discipline in successfully completing the test and hope that it does provide some sort of benefit to you in your professional counseling.

  18. Steve,
    I completed my master’s in journalism/PR along with the APR course. I can tell you that I learned a great deal from both tracks with very little overlap between the two. One primarily tested knowledge; the other primarily tested application. Yes, I agree that experience is always a good teacher, but in my geographic area, I know a lot of people who would rather hire someone who has taken the time to invest in himself or herself. The thought is that those PR practitioners can be trusted to know and practice best communication practices to deliver results. That said, I feel I derived a great deal of value from completing the APR course and would encourage others to take the course.
    Just curious – does your firm hire account folks with no college degree? And does your firm help pay for ongoing education for employees? If so, I don’t understand your point about the APR. I think most folks would agree that education is a positive aveneue to follow.
    Thanks for the opportunity to discuss this issue.

  19. This may be a geography or “size” discussion, Linda. I’ve been in the industry for 30-plus years and have yet to run across a single prospect or client who asked about, much less, insisted, her or his account team be APR credentialed. Re: our hiring practices, I assume you’re being sarcastic. We not only look for the best and the brightest college graduates, but insist that, once hired, they participate in our internal management development program. The latter is robust, up-to-date, reflects current and anticipated client needs and is constantly being re-evaluated. A one-time, four-hour test tells me nothing about an individual, except that they’ve completed the test.

  20. Steve,
    Just to clarify, no I was not being sarcastic. I don’t operate that way. I look on the APR as an a “course of self study,” which took me more than a year to complete, in between my work and family obligations.
    I’m sorry you feel this way about the APR. I found it to be a comprehensive test covering a range of KSAs that, if you wish to compare the two, was much different than my master’s comps. Again, two tests covering very different things. Guess you could say that passing master’s comps is also nothing more than passing a four-hour test.

  21. Excellent discussion with a variety of opinions that can contribute to the development of the profession. But wait!
    According to the APR “Maintenance of Accreditation” form, practitioners only get credit for “each article, op-ed or book review published in a public relations journal, magazine, newspaper or newsletter.”
    They do not earn points for all the work that goes into authoring blogs – such as RepMan – yet online sources are where a lot of current and relevant information can be found these days.
    I think that focus on traditional media says a lot about the program.
    Jeff Davis, yes I passed the APR test
    Sawmill Marketing Public Relations
    Baltimore, MD

  22. Great observation, Jeff. Thanks so much. I’ve had more than one person write to me to say the APR can actually be a detriment to being hired because, as you state, it reinforces a person’s focus on traditional, as opposed to, new media. Others have told me some APRs project an arrogant, superior attitude in job interviews, believing the credential somehow automatically qualifies them for the job. Hopefully, the PRSA can figure out a way to make the APR a meaningful credential in the years to come.

  23. Interesting discussion, and while I’ve visited your blog before, Steve, I probably wouldn’t have seen this post were it not for PRSA’s decision to comment on it. There’s a lesson in engagement in there somewhere…
    Somebody mentioned the M.A. If you’d permit me to create a rabbit trail here, I’d love to get feedback from you and others on the merit of this degree. I’m considering a few graduate programs related to communications and leadership, and while my primary objective is simply to expand my base of knowledge, the ancillary benefit of its impact on my long-term career growth is an obvious consideration.
    Thanks
    Daniel Fisher
    Xenophon Strategies
    Washington, DC
    Twitter: @fisherdm

  24. Thanks for the comment, Daniel. And, I agree about the lesson on engagement. I’m just not sure exactly what it is. That said, the APR and comments from others to the contrary notwithstanding, I am a huge proponent of lifelong learning. I believe an M.A. can be a significant career enhancer depending upon one’s long-term goals. Without knowing your end game, I couldn’t say whether it would be a wise investment on your part.