Jul 19

RepMan, APR

So, did you notice those little three letters that follow my blogging nom de plume above? Pretty 
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darn impressive, no? The letters stand for Accredited in Public Relations. And, they are the subject of a surprisingly heated debate within the greater public relations hierarchy.

One earns an APR by successfully completing a three-hour, SAT-type test that probes one's views, actions and reactions to hypothetical crisis and brand challenges. Having successfully completed the test, a PR practitioner is considered accredited in public relations. Critically, he or she can henceforth have the APR letters printed on his or her business card.

I wouldn't bother writing about something so insignificant if it weren't for the following:

– An alarmingly large number of otherwise informed and intelligent PR executives actually believe the APR automatically implies quality counseling and leadership ability.
– This same cult believes APR is a critical component in making PR a more credible industry.
– The Public Relations Society of America refuses to allow anyone to hold a senior position without possessing said letters.
– The PRSA charges a hefty sum for individuals to take the test.

Here's the bottom line on the APR. It's a nice little test that agencies can use as part of an overall management training and development program. And, I'm sure it's an ego boost for John Smith or Jane Doe to add the APR to their business cards and correspondence. But, that's as far it goes.

The APR is not an M.D. It's not a Ph.D. and it's not even remotely close to being the equivalent of passing the bar or the Series Seven. In short, it's meaningless in the larger public relations and business worlds. Clients don't demand their agencies are staffed with APR-certified staff. In fact, the vast majority don't even know what it is. Those who do consider it worthless.

And, yet the tempest in the teapot rages on in the power circles of the PRSA. It's sad to see so many 'fundamentalists' hold on to their ancient, bogus beliefs and withhold leadership opportunities to the many highly competent executives who, like me, have never bothered to take the APR test. All this, mind you, while advertising, interactive and other marketing disciplines continue to blur the lines between what they and we do.

It's akin to fiddling while Rome burns.

Jul 12

Was Isaac H. Brown the George Washington of PR?

Depending upon who you ask, Edward Bernays or Ivy Lee is typically credited as having
11brown-cityroom-articleInline 'invented' modern public relations.

But, if one agrees that the average American believes PR is little more than party planning (and PR Week lends that ersatz supposition credibility by naming Kelly Cutrone to its list of PR's 25 most powerful people), then Isaac H. Brown should be seen as our industry's George Washington.

A fascinating New York Times article says the 339-pound Brown was the original Manhattan party planner. In fact, from 1845 until his death in 1880, Brown was the go-to guy for New York's monied class. He'd plan the most minute details of weddings, parties and must-attend events. A chronicler of the era lauded Brown's “…efficiency and authoritative manner.” I wonder if he screamed at his lackeys and played head games with them a la Ms. Cutrone?

Like Ms. Cutrone and her badly abused minions, Brown knew “…just the right merchants from whom tables, chairs and appropriate linen could be rented.” Man, would the housewives of New York and New Jersey not kill for a party planner like the I-Man?

If we are willing to abdicate the image and reputation of PR to party planners, why not go all the way and create an Isaac H. Brown Society (a la The Arthur Page Society, which honors the legacy of America's first corporate communications executive to serve as officer and member of the Board of a major public corporation.) The Brown Society should be highly selective in its membership criteria, choosing only those party planners who have rammed their Mercedes SUVs into Long Island restaurants, besmirched the image of public relations in a long-running television and movie series (think “Sex and the City”) or publicly berated underperforming employees a la Ms. Cutrone. I'd also limit membership to party planners of 25 years of age, or under (Ms. Cutrone and her ilk would be 'grandfathered' into the Society and be named permanent members of the executive committee). The female gender would constitute 90 percent of the Brown Society's membership. Poor behavior would be encouraged at the annual spring conference and backbiting encouraged throughout the year.

Based upon party planning's meteoric rise, I could see the Isaac H. Brown Society becoming our dominant industry organization. There really would be no need for Page, PRSA, the Counselors Academy or IAB since more and more high school and college students aspire to “…do, like, cool parties and like, um, check in celebrities at black tie events and, um, yeah, cool stuff like that. And, wear, like uber cool clothes and stuff.”

Wherever he is, I'll bet Isaac H. Brown is laughing a hearty, 339-lb belly laugh. Manhattan's original party planner was way, way, way head of his time. And, how sad is that for him, for today's party planners and, for the declining fortunes of PR's overall image and reputation?