When you seek quality health care, do you look for an accredited hospital that meets national quality standards?
True, you could receive care anywhere, but when it comes to your health and safety, you probably seek out a facility that has demonstrated its competence. For that matter, who dreams of earning a degree from a non-accredited college or university?
Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) is a mark of distinction for PR professionals who have demonstrated their commitment to the profession and to its ethical practice. As the largest and best-known certification program for our profession, APR signifies high levels of experience and knowledge, strategic perspective, sound professional judgment, and understanding of ethical issues.
Earning the APR designation was one of my most meaningful professional and personal accomplishments. What I learned about myself and my profession through the accreditation process cannot be quantified, but I can sum it up this way: It's not the destination, but the journey that matters above all else. It's what you learn getting there that makes all the difference in the world. That said, numerous independent studies (including one by PRWeek) confirm that accredited professionals also command substantially higher pay than their non-APR colleagues.
Promoting awareness of APR strengthens the practice of PR by informing the public of the rigorous standard of ethics and professionalism to which APRs adhere. Trade publications, such as PRWeek, can contribute to the continuing elevation of the profession by appending "APR" after the names of professionals who have earned the designation.
When I broach the subject of accreditation with members of the media - in particular, former journalists who are in transition into the PR profession - what I hear isn't that surprising. Time after time, I'm told that there is a discernable difference between PR professionals who are accredited and those who are not. If an individual is accredited, they "walk the walk and talk the talk," enhancing their personal reputation and adding value to their company, organization, or agency.
Those who pursue the APR are afforded the opportunity to go beyond the day-to-day aspects of their job and take a fresh look at the theory and structure of PR - the reasons why and the methods they use to do it. They master the strategy behind communications by researching, setting goals, quantifying objectives, and evaluating progress at every step. The dedication required to earn accreditation fosters a lifelong commitment to pursuing excellence and upholding professional ethics.
Just as the designation MD or CPA assures clients, colleagues, or the media of a practitioner's qualifications, so should APR. As the importance of clear and ethical communication increases, so does the need for reliable standards recognized by practitioners and the public. In order for the public to be informed regarding a PR professional's credentials, it should be common practice for the letters APR to follow an accredited practitioner's name in business correspondence and marketing materials, as well as in print and broadcast media mentions.
Marisa Vallbona, APR, is 2007 chair of PRSA's Universal Accreditation Board.