At the recent 2002 PRSA Assembly in San Francisco, a debate ensued over the merits of continuing to require that assembly delegates be accredited professionals. While the issue has yet to be resolved, it is clear that the value and purpose of accreditation is a topic of enduring interest to PRSA members.Let's say your firm has a great group of professionals with a comprehensive array of abilities and work experience. They're working on interesting assignments for respected and grateful clients who pay the invoices. Your employees are active in the community and help generate new business. They go to professional development seminars. What more do senior managers need to ask of employees? At Edward Howard & Co., there's one more thing. We expect them to become accredited by the PRSA. In fact, being accredited or actively pursuing accreditation is a requirement for virtually every job description above account executive. All of our people are expected to seek their APR across the board, whether they have recently attained the minimum five years of experience, or have joined our firm after being in the PR business for decades. We pay for all the costs associated with attainment of this credential, an investment that is a drop in the bucket considering the dividends it pays. Today, 18 members of our firm are accredited, ranking us third nationally among all PR firms. We like to think this is impressive, but what's in it for us? We believe that a firm with a critical mass of APRs can justifiably brand itself as having the specific knowledge and perspective that today's clients seek. It is a credential - the only one the PR industry has - that symbolizes an ethical and strategic approach to communication programming and problem solving. And isn't it the strategic thinker who truly adds more value - the kind of value clients are willing to pay for any day of the week - to budget than the tactician? Because APRs also have a research- and planning-based commitment to solving communication problems, the credential also carries with it a promise that we will use whatever financial resources our clients can devote to communication wisely, and in a results-driven manner. We don't recommend a menu of tactics first. We determine what the challenge is, with special emphasis on understanding all key audiences involved, and then articulate strategies for overcoming that challenge. Appropriate tactics emerge from that process, and they will be more effective for having been identified last, not first. All this being the case, valuing and insisting upon achievement of the APR is also an initiative that is crucial to our very existence as a firm, and to our future prosperity as an industry. We speak frequently of needing to secure enough trust from our clients to be invited to sit at the management table. That privilege isn't a birthright; the knowledge and perspective that make someone APR-eligible are the ingredients that are prerequisites to earning clients' trust. I submit that having an APR, then, is a competitive advantage for any PR practitioner - or agency - aspiring to do the kind of work that will be valued over the long haul. It's not the letters "APR" themselves, but what they represent that confers that competitive advantage. In today's shaky economy, we have to look for such advantages as we never have before, particularly because the era of the "agency of record" has all but vanished. Nine times out of 10, we are going to be hired by clients to handle a specific project. Only if we excel at that will we earn more business, and then more after that. If we were ever guilty of complacency in the past, there's no room for it now. We are not fans of cookie-cutter solutions. Although there are certainly rules of thumb that apply in many situations, our clients count on us for original thinking and for a broad understanding of the world. We hold ourselves to a higher standard; we want to be the best, most valued counsel our client has ever had. Our critical mass of APRs is a badge that speaks to all of that. And there is a further benefit. All of us want the practice of PR to be viewed as a bona fide profession, with a body of knowledge all its own. If we don't fully believe that we possess that body of knowledge, and we don't demonstrate that we have mastered it, we will risk forever being relegated to the realm of flacks and spin doctors. That's what's in it for us.