PR pros have many options to pursue when determining how to stay relevant in today's evolving agency environment.
While real-world experience is always valuable, some senior-level executives say that pursuing voluntary PR credentials - most frequently, the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) designation - is an exceptional way to keep in touch with the profession's most indispensable skills.
"It makes you better as a practitioner," says Steve Knipstein, SVP and GM at Cushman/Amberg in Chicago. Becoming accredited - a requirement for Cushman staffers VP-level and above - "forces you to go back and really restudy some of the fundamentals of the industry," he adds.
It also allows employees to reflect over the span of their careers and determine how they can make advancements for the future. "It's a symbol of somebody who takes the profession seriously and wants to improve," Knipstein says.
The credentialing process has been called everything from "intense" to "grueling." But the benefits are apparent, he notes, especially when a staffer is confronted with making quick client decisions. "When someone goes though the APR, we start to see [they] have more confidence in their own instincts."
At Padilla Speer Beardsley, too, accreditation is strongly encouraged, though ultimately the choice rests with each employee, says SVP Kathy Burnham.
"From the standpoint of education and continuous development, we support [accreditation] 100%," she says. "[But] it's not something that is mandatory, nor [will it] hold someone back."
Burnham adds that though "within our firms, we think it's pretty prestigious," being credentialed is not necessary seen as a differentiator in the eyes of a client. "That boils down to the work you do," she says.
Still, the process of earning credentials "forces us to kind of take a few steps backward and think again... about some of the original theories and principles that shaped what we do everyday," Burnham notes.
While the APR designation is "nice to have - it shows that the individual is getting into furthering their knowledge in the PR area - I don't see it as an essential," says Sara Hafele, HR manager at Text 100 in New York. "We tend to look more at an individual's background, where they've worked before, and whether they're a cultural fit for the agency as a whole."
Paula Slotkin, principal at Woburn, MA-based Topaz Partners, agrees. "We feel it doesn't hurt to have the APR," she says. "But real-world experience is definitely more attractive."
When hiring and promoting, Slotkin says she will sooner consider an employee's internships and work experience, portfolio and writing samples, and "unique approaches to meeting clients' objectives" than the capital letters after his or her name.
Though the pursuit of credentials is a matter of each employee's personal choice at Chicago-based PCI, the firm "will pay and give staffers time to study and take the test," says principal Jill Allread.
PCI has "three owners, and two of us have an APR," she adds. "In a way, it's lead by example."
In addition to sending "a message that I take the profession seriously," Allread says, her own accreditation also serves as an unlikely ice-breaker.
"At new-business meetings," she notes, "people will ask, 'What does that mean?' It's a great conversation starter."
Accreditation can help agency execs stay in touch with fundamental PR skills
Along with real-world experience, earning credentials can help with staffers' professional development
Though the preparation process can be "intense" in terms of time and effort, accreditation can benefit both employee and firm