Is the APR credential necessary for PR practitioners?

Golin Harris' Mark Dvorak and PR Consulting Group's James Haggerty debate the APR credential's necessity

Golin Harris' Mark Dvorak and PR Consulting Group's James Haggerty debate the APR credential's necessity


Mark Dvorak, SVP at GolinHarris: Nearly 20 years of experience in PR. APR-credentialed for 13 years

Will you uncontrollably flub the next crisis if you haven't earned your APR? Not likely.

Should you forget applying for your dream job because you're not accredited and the competition is? Probably not.

Is the APR credential necessary? Absolutely.

Earning the APR credential can – and should – be an essential step for anyone who yearns to become an expert PR practitioner and valued counselor.

When I decided to pursue my APR a decade ago, I did so because I knew it would make me more competitive with others with similar education and work backgrounds. In hindsight, the process of preparing for and taking the exam proved even more valuable. Those ethereal communications theories that didn't mean a whole lot to an undergraduate suddenly had practical applications for a practitioner with a few years experience under his belt.

Now, even on my worst day, just remembering the work that went into earning those three letters can be the boost I need to keep me focused, confident, and on top of my game.

The APR is most necessary, however, because of its unique ability to help PR continue to gain credibility. It is the single most significant expression of our industry's commitment to professionalism and standards.

The process of earning your APR builds or reinforces knowledge in critical areas, such as ethics and the law. Clearly, that's not only the right thing to do, but it also helps to answer critics who argue that we sometimes lack the former and don't understand enough about the latter.

In a profession where pros come from so many backgrounds, APRs are more likely to speak a common language.

And APRs have one other thing other pros do not: a requirement to participate in professional development and community service activities that ensure we are constantly learning from some and giving back to others.

It really comes down to just one question: Is it important to you to work in a profession that people take seriously? If you say “yes,” the APR credential might not only be necessary, it might also be just a start.


James Haggerty, president of the PR Consulting Group: More than 20 years of experience in marketing, PR, and public affairs

My father used to say: “Without a degree, you have to prove you're smart; with a degree, they have to prove you're dumb.”

Words to live by, I'd say. I'm generally all for professional credentials – except, ironically enough, when it comes to the PR pro's own internal designation, APR. Let's face it: The APR designation is little used, rarely requested, and not particularly respected – even within its own profession. So, though I mean no offense to the fine practitioners who have earned the credential, I question its value.

Consider: APR accreditation is not a predicate for any particular license or regulatory approval (like a Series 7). Moreover, a small percentage of PR pros actually care enough about it to become APR-certified – and I'd wager that most of the top names in the business are not credentialed. This, more than anything, highlights a key flaw. Imagine if only 20% of the top attorneys in the US had passed the bar? Would you still consider it important? Probably not.

APR is also one-size-fits-all in a way that ignores the richness of PR. Our diverse backgrounds, specialties, and credentials provide much of the value we bring to clients. Among the PR ranks are lawyers, journalists, political consultants, and financial and investment pros. This diversity doesn't lend itself to a homogenized credential like “APR.”

I'm a specialist in litigation communications and related crisis matters. I could no more handle a new product launch than I could perform brain surgery. Alternately, I don't think many product PR specialists – no matter how good they are at their specialty – would do well managing communications for a billion-dollar lawsuit. Yet, we'd take the same test for APR designation. It doesn't make sense.

In the end, I think the search for an appropriate credential for PR stems from the same insecurity that makes PR pros search for new names for what they do: “strategic communications,” “reputation management,” etc. We are PR pros – we should be proud of that. The way we can earn a C-level “seat at the table” is not by mocking-up some vague credential, but by providing value-added strategy and counsel that gets us there.

PRWeek's View:
Though preparing for the APR credential can offer valuable experience for PR practitioners, it is not ultimately necessary for success in the profession, nor something that is needed in order for the PR industry to be taken seriously.

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