A group of influential PR practitioners today launched a petition drive asking the Public Relations Society of America to become more democratic.
Add me to their list of supporters.
The petition asks PRSA’s National Assembly to remove a longstanding obstacle that blocks 80% of the society’s membership from holding national office: a requirement that officeholders first earn the “APR” designation. The restriction was put in place in middle 1970s.
Among those leading the task force are: Richard Edelman, CEO of the world’s largest independent PR firm; Bill Doescher, former president of the PRSA Foundation; Art Stevens, a former national officer and past president PRSA-NY; and Deborah Radman, last year’s president of PRSA-NY and former chairman of the Counselors Academy.
Here is the committee’s statement:
We are calling on PRSA to abandon the decades old requirement that its national officers and board members be accredited.
Less than 20% of PRSA members are accredited meaning that 80% of the 21,000 members cannot become PRSA leaders unless they choose to become APR.
We do not believe that democracy is being served in PRSA so long as a small minority of its members can hold elective office. We believe that many worthy members of PRSA who meet national leadership criteria in many other ways are being deprived of the opportunity to serve the organization.
We believe that accreditation is a hallmark for professional improvement but not for governance. If PRSA is to become the relevant professional organization it can be then this accreditation requirement must end here and now.
If you follow PRSA politics, you know that Stevens published a strongly worded editorial on this topic last fall, soon after the National Assembly voted down a move to dump the APR rule.
It’s not a debate about the APR. PRSA accreditation has value to many. Preparation for the exam, when handled by competent mentors, is a crash course in PR theory, process, history and ethics. It’s background every PR pro should have.
What you learn during APR prep makes you a better professional, even if it doesn’t do much for your job prospects. Most employers don’t know what the APR is, nor do they care. That hasn’t changed in 50 years and no amount of “PR for PR” is likely to change it now.
Point is, the APR should not be an obstacle that blocks competent professionals from leadership positions. The APR just isn’t that big a deal, and it does nothing to enhance one’s leadership abilities. I believe excluding non-APRs from leadership may actually hurt PRSA and its potential to advance the profession.
For more on this story, see Jack O’Dwyer’s blog post.
Disclosure: I earned the APR in 1986 and was elected to PRSA’s College of Fellows 10 years later. After 27 years, I decided to take a year off from PRSA membership in 2010. If I miss it, I’ll be back.
Sadly, every time I write about PRSA politics on this blog, my readership numbers head for the Mendosa line. But someone has to talk about this issue.
[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by BillSledzik. BillSledzik said: Blogging about a move by PR bigwigs to remove the "APR restriction" for PRSA leadership. Yeow, that sounds boring. http://bit.ly/9ZLo3j […]
Blocking some of the best minds in the profession because of a designation the vast majority of your members don’t have is beyond words. This rule had a purpose in the 1970s, but it is now lost in a sea of membership politics. As a side note, I decided weeks ago to not “renew” my APR designation and I think I’ll be just fine without it as a professional. To your point, the APR does have its place, but just not as a barrier for so many smart and innovative people.
Thanks for dropping in, Allan. I’m so old that my “APR” didn’t require annual maintenance. I was grandfathered in. Never regretted taking the exam, but long ago stopped using the APR letters on business cards and other identification. To the world outside of PRSA, the APR’s value is marginal. All the more reason for the society to adopt a more democratic approach to governance.
I’m reading, Bill. PRSA’s slavish devotion to the APR over the years is a good example of what happens to an organization that equates a meaningless credential with leadership. The leadership pool dries up, and the organization declines into squabbles between the haves and have-nots, which comprise 80 percent of the membership of PRSA. After 30 years of watching this, I ended my PRSA affiliation a couple of years ago.
I am working toward my APR right now becuase I wanted to differentiate myself from others in the field. And even though you state that this post is not a knock against the certification, it sure sounds that way.
If there is point of having those three letters tacked on to your e-mail signature outside of the organization that is doing the recognizing, what’s the point of going through the process?
As I said above:
And that is the point of going through the process: to become a better professional. But if you expect placing the APR after your name will open doors at agencies and HR departments, you’re headed for disappointment. You do it for yourself.
I don’t expect red carpets to be laid in front of me, but I would argue that becoming a better professional = better opportunities down the road.
But I see your point. I really do.
I’m glad they have the APR requirement. I think members of the national board need to lead by example. If people want to be on the national board, they should take the time to get an APR.
Thanks, Mike. That’s the other side of the argument, and it’s a reasonable one.
If PR were a licensed profession such as public accounting, I’d be right there with you. But since the APR doesn’t see to lead to higher pay, better jobs or more clients, I’m afraid most in the profession just don’t see the ROI in APR.
I dropped PRSA years ago and have never once missed it. Moreover, I work in a department with more than 25 communications professionals and none of them are members, either. Despite Kent State doing its absolute best to bring young professionals into PRSA, including a strong PRSSA chapter, the truth is that there are many, many PR pros out there practicing at top levels who are not, have not and will not ever be affiliated with PRSA. You would think an organization dedicated, at least in part, to reputation management would recognize this and realize that three letters after your name is no substitute for a reputation built on actual results.
@CJE: My impression, locally, is that PRSA has lost its anchor in the corporate world. Not sure if that’s a national trend. Movement of HQs away from Northeast Ohio is part of the problem. But so is shrinking resources (both $$ and time). If you cross reference the big corporate players in our region with the PRSA membership list, you see some significant gaps.
We remain closely aligned with PRSA here at Kent State, and it pays dividends for our program and students. My focus is elsewhere for now, as we cannot and should not all focus on the same thing.
To paraphrase Epictetus, we should not moor a ship with one anchor, nor our careers with one hope.
Was hoping this thread would not become a debate over the value of the APR, but we may be headed in that direction. I see plenty of value in accreditation as a professional development tool. But when it becomes an obstacle to advancing the profession, it’s time to change the policy.
Maybe your traffic will go up on this one (ok, not to the level of your millennial post, but still …).
There’s an important nuance here. That is, this is an issue that must be decided by the members themselves. They must determine the type of leaders they want for their organization, and whether or not the APR credential is an important enough qualification to require of their leaders.
As you noted, this petition is similar to a recommendation advanced last year by PRSA’s Bylaws Rewrite Task Force, which would have allowed any PRSA member in good standing who is APR; and/or a Chapter, District, Section or Committee leader; and/or has more than 20 years of public relations experience, to run for the Board.
The PRSA 2009 Assembly voted down this recommendation, which furthers my point. The petitioners are following a time-honored, democratic tradition of bringing forward important issues that the Assembly, on behalf of all PRSA members, can debate and determine. And the Board of Directors and other PRSA leaders are content to let the democratic process play itself out, just as it did last year.
Arthur Yann, APR, is vice president of public relations for PRSA.
This is in reply to Arthur Yann.
The assertion is made in several of these editorials that members who do not have the APR cannot vote. If this is true, that vote was invalid, as it left out the majority of PRSA’s true membership. Moreover, the members who have the APR would have motivation to keep it as a requirement as it makes it a more exclusive group and increases their own chances of winning national office.
I am a young PR professional and would be interested in the APR, except that the costs associated with achieving those letters are astronomical. I work for a medical association now and the costs of a PRSA webinar are about double what our members pay for an in-person CME medical course, not just from our association but others. This is a problem with PRSA membership in general; we pay upfront but then the costs of actual participation in PRSA events are huge. I’ve thought about leaving PRSA for the American Marketing Association for this reason. They are much more active in the Chicago area and their events are inexpensive.
Hi, April. I won’t presume to reply for Mr. Yann, but the assertions you see in other comments are incorrect. In 2003 (or maybe it was 04), PRSA dropped the requirement that Assembly delegates be APR. So at least some of those casting votes come the rank and file.
I’ve asked PRSA President Mike McCormick (via my comment at PRSAY) to tell us precisely how many of those who voted in the 2009 Assembly were APRs. And I have been assured, privately, that the data will be made available later today.
If we learn that the Assembly was dominated by APRs, one might conclude that the vote on this rule didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell.
I’m not that cynical. I know a few APRs who feel as I do — that PRSA leadership opportunities should be open to all members. And I believe they will prevail in the end.
Though I’m “on vacation” from PRSA this year, I can tell you that if my home chapter ask me to return and serve as Assembly delegate tomorrow, I’d do it. Then, I would march on Washington next fall and vote to bring democracy the masses of PRSA members heretofore excluded by their status.
Damn, I love it when a methaphor comes together.
Like it or not, this IS a debate over the value of accreditation. The rule change would obviously knock another prop out from under the designation. PRSA already undercut its value when it made it easier to earn a few years ago.
I for one will be sorry to see the APR lose more value. I think that the learning and attainment it represents valuable to the profession, the practitioner and society as a whole.
@Arthur: Thanks for chiming in to clarify the point. However this one plays out, it will come from the membership, as it should.
Not sure what percentage of assembly delegates are “APR” these days, and that could be a variable in the outcome. In my 4 trips to the assembly (mostly in the 90s), the APR was required for admission. That could explain why this proposed rule change has only been suggested recently. If memory serves, the APR restriction was dropped for assembly delegates 5-6 years back.
@ Joe. You articulate the other side well, but I gotta disagree. Still believe the APR’s value derives from the preparation process, and not from the credential. Hey, it ain’t exactly the bar exam. Those who value it should seek it, but those who don’t should not be excluded from the leadership group.
As for the test being “made easier” in recent years — I’m told that’s the case, but I have not actually seen the exam since the changeover. But anytime you leave an essay format exam in favor of objective testing, you lose something — especially when the test takers are trained communicators.
While I agree with the move to be more egalitarian, after seeing the he press release from The Committee for a Democratic PRSA, I have to wonder (if I may briefly go all Dan Rather) if it’s a matter of closing the barn door after the horse is out:
If it’s already an irrelevant body, will this move really change that?
Hi, Bill. I understand where you are coming from, but as a five-year veteran of the Universal Accreditation Board and a three year veteran of PRSA’s national board, I make some observations:
1. The new APR exam, which neither you nor I had to take, is a far tougher exam than the one in use when we earned the credential. It’s based on a survey of actual work skills and competencies that practitioners said they use on a daily basis. That’s what gets tested, not trivia about the history of PR. It’s all about communications theory and all of the tools PR professionals should know how to use to engage in effective activities on behalf of clients.
2. Many organizations have their own professional credentials and require their members to earn the credential to be considered worthy of leadership. Why should PRSA take the opposite approach? It’s like saying 60% of the students in this school are failing so from now on we won’t use A’s and B’s to determine who the honor students are. PRSA members should be demanding more willingness to support professional competence in PR from their leadership, not less.
3. If practitioners don’t value their own professional development as a key differentiator from someone who just decides to hang out a PR shingle because “I like meeting people,” then how can the profession expect any respect anywhere?
Steve Lubetkin, APR, Fellow, PRSA (proudly)
PRSA National Board 2003-2005
Universal Accreditation Board 1997-2003
Here’s a piece of news, Steve: I value my own professional development so much that I don’t rely on passing a multiple-choice exam to differentiate me from the party planners, “brand flirts,” or assorted flacks and time-serving round pegs who populate this business.
PRSA has been described as “a bunch of people selling hats to each other.” Nowhere is that more true than its reverence for the APR.
In response to both Steve and Bill, who are clearly on opposite sides, I’ll add a few comments to the debate. But know that I respect both of you as professionals.
The APR is NOT an essential credential to success in this business, nor does it guarantee competence or ethical conduct. A lot of people who don’t have the APR are better equipped than those who do.
I’m glad I took the APR exam. I benefited from it. But I’m not gonna say I was “proud” to have passed it, as it really wasn’t that big of a deal (at least in 1985, when I sat for it.)
The APR is not the CPA or Bar Exam. It requires weeks of study, not years. Some months back I began using a Boy Scout analogy. The APR is to a merit badge, as the the CPA is to making Eagle Scout.
“But accounting and law are true professions. PR is not,” he said, deliberately lighting yet another fuse 🙂
I support the Ad Hoc Committee lead by Stevens and Edelman because I believe in inclusive governance. If I return to PRSA, or any other professional organization next year, I want the chance to support the candidate I believe is best for the job. The APR isn’t a litmus test for me, and never will be.
And yeah, I use the term “PR professional” all the time. I consider it a branding term. Legally, we aren’t even close.
OK Bill, I’m coming out of the closet on this one – even if it results in a cease and desist letter from PRSA!
I let my PRSA membership lapse two years ago for a number of reasons, not the least of which was “just what is it that I’m getting from this organization for a couple of hundred bucks a year?”
Keep in mind I’m a past chapter president and national section chair. I belonged back in the days when spending five minutes in the hallway with Pat Jackson was worth the ridiculous price they charged us to attend the National Conference. Unfortunately, those days ended when Pat went off to provide higher counsel.
I’ve given up trying to explain what value PRSA National brings to a local chapter member. I’ve given up making excuses to local chapter leadership about the “any warm body” membership attitude that most have experienced from National. And I am dumbfounded why PRSA would have spent so much time, energy and resources over the last 30 years (yes, I joined in 1980) to distinguish accreditation only to now diminish it. All of this begs for leadership, but I wonder if it’s too late – even if this petition succeeds.
Pat said we were best when we acted as behavioral scientists. When we focused on changing behaviors – not column inches, not hits, not posts, not tweets. We need to cut through the noise and get back to what it is that allows us to create value for our clients and our practice/profession/function (circle one).
Bill Koch, APR, Fellow PRSA is right there on my business card and it will stay there until the letter from PRSA’s legal counsel shows up to tell me to stop. It’s not there because it brought me a job or client. It’s there because I’M proud of it!
Thanks for the post Bill – I think I can hear Pat chomping at the bit right now to jump into the dialogue on this one!!
I appreciate your candor, Bill. We’ve talked many times about the value Pat Jackson brought to the table for us and for PRSA. The national conferences just don’t have that highlight anymore.
I won’t get into the value of of the national membership, but I suppose it says something when two guys, both with “APR” and “Fellow” after our names, stop paying dues. I only wish a “local only” membership could be made available, as our chapters in NEOhio do a great job, and I value my relationships with the people.
As for the APR, I believe past leadership has placed it on too high a pedestal is all, and it created two levels of membership. I believe if the entire membership were to vote on the Stevens petition, it would win handily.
I fully agree with this cause. I don’t see any value in my professional life for getting an APR designation. My employer doesn’t even know what it is. I’m a very active PRSA member and I am on the local board for PRSA-CNY in Syracuse, NY, but I cannot advance any further because I do not have my APR. You can add my name to the list!!
Thanks, Joe. Let me say again, for those who have no formal grounding in PR — and many who do — the APR is an excellent way to enhance your knowledge. But don’t expect anyone outside PRSA to be impressed by those letters after your name. They’re just as likely to ask you what the interest rate is this week.
The true believers in APR don’t appear to be flexible on this one. Check out the convo over at PRSA’s “PRSAY” blog.
A just posted a second comment to that thread, and in it I asked PRSA President Gary McCormick to tell us what percentage of those who voted against this rule change last fall are APRs. Clearly, if a majority of those voting on the issue are accredited, it’s gonna be tough for this issue to get a fair hearing. Ever.
That’s why I support the Ad Hoc Committee’s effort to take it to the membership at large. Let them decide. I heard the same sentiment in Mr. McCormick’s post on the PRSA blog.
Thanks for the link to the PRSAY blog, Bill.
The pro-APR group is so entrenched that PRSA should divide itself into a House of Lords (APRs, Fellows etc.) and a House of Commons (the other 80 percent).
That way, a preponderance of members would get representation and control governance by virtue of their numbers while a tiny minority carries the flag for APR, debates the merits of fox hunting, and other irrelevancies.
Here’s the comment I made at Valley PR Blog (http://www.valleyprblog.com/hype/should-an-apr-be-required-to-hold-national-prsa-positions/), and I stand by it:
It is a continued downward spiral for public relations. First, the field is glutted with interns and inexperienced employees. As the author of this article, Ms. Vandevedre, previously noted, there are few men in public relations. Employers are to blame for that. The belief men cost more than women was why employers hired at 90% (in Phoenix anyhow) females for all public relations positions from the ‘90s throughout the 21st Century’s first decade.
Recently I took the effort to become CIW Master certified, that means I spent nearly $6,000 to learn social media and Web management, development, deployment and design. It took time I could be watching television, going to sports events, using Four Square in coffee shops. It took dedication; as it did when I got my M.B.A.
So when I read, “a group of PR executives has petitioned the national society to eliminate the APR requirement for holding office,” I see a field going downhill – rapidly. It should be a REQUIREMENT that anyone who has been in Public Relations Society of America for more than three years (not as a PRSSA member) MUST be certified.
I was in Toastmasters and I had to be certified during my first year.
As it stands now, telemarketers are making more $$$ than LOTS of public relations practitioners in Phoenix. It no longer is a professional field– again, thanks to employers’ hiring practices. As Dan Wool once noted, companies like Go Daddy fill public relations positions yearly. What continuity is there for a company? This is the equivalent of how secretarial positions are filled every few months.
Now that I am social media and Web savvy certified, I laugh at those calling themselves “social media” experts. I’ve worked with some of the developers of the Internet and social media. I don’t see the knowledge base these alleged “social media experts” should posses to call themselves experts, or professionals. I see the same trouble in today’s public relations practitioners. It’s not their fault. If you’re trained by people who don’t understand the “science” of public relations, you can’t pass it down to the next generation. That’s what has happened to the public relations field.
Advice to employers and those hiring public relations agencies – DEMAND APR.
I hear you, M$, but I worry you’re comparing apples to oranges. I don’t know much about the CIW program, but I do know about the APR. It provides useful knowledge — maybe even a little enlightenment. But it’s not all that rigorous.
As to your suggestion that ALL members of PRSA be required to pass the APR — that would solve the problem that Bill Huey likens to the rivalry between the House of Commons (non-APRs) and the House of Lords (APRs). But I predict it would also drive away 75% of PRSA’s membership. And leadership isn’t about to let go of all that dues revenue.
I do hear your core message, and I agree with it. The barriers to entry for PR pretty much disappeared in the 1990s, and I can’t help but think the proliferation of college-level PR programs is, in part, to blame for that. Too many schools see PR majors as cash cows that help them retain marginal students and their tuition dollars.
How else to you explain all those “communication” majors who can’t write for s#*t?
Loved your comment – and insight – to the cash cows. This is your expertise.
I was turned down for PR jobs 30 years ago because I was lacking the “required” 10 years in the news business, so I went out and got that.
You comment, “your suggestion that ALL members of PRSA be required to pass the APR — that would solve the problem that Bill Huey likens to the rivalry between the House of Commons (non-APRs) and the House of Lords (APRs). But I predict it would also drive away 75% of PRSA’s membership.” This reiterates how far PR has sunk as a profession.
The person who sold you your home is certified, the plumber and electrician who come into your home are certified – probably the person who set up your television from the retail store, too.
Why are PR practitioners so unwilling to be certified? Remember the drive to make it a profession like lawyers or accountants?
Today the field is occupied by the lame whose career progression was pretty blond in college, goes to work for local non-profit, onto major corporation and up the career ladder of that corporation all on looks and shape. See how few blacks, obese and other minorities are in PR at any professional PR function – including men; unless they own the firm.
As I stated, any PROFESSIONAL organization REQUIRES members to be certified over a specific time frame. Not so with PR. Again, I blame employers who discourage this practice because they’d need to pay more for that certification.
Allow me to embellish that. Believe Donald Trump has one of those beauty shows coming up this weekend. See how many of the contestants are majoring in “communications.” My prejudice is – ALL OF THEM!
All true. And I don’t think PR people are “unwilling” to be certified. It’s simply that states don’t require such certification, and the marketplace, as a whole, doesn’t really care.
If PR had a defined body of knowledge like plumbing or real estate, we might be able to pursue a licensing model. But that isn’t the case. The PR practice model defined by PRSA and by the APR regimen doesn’t reflect the activities of many who claim to be “PR professionals.” They have their own definitions.
Point is, we have no defined body of knowledge that everyone will accept, and it’s damned difficult to decide where PR ends and other forms of communication and management pick up. A good many people in the blogosphere believe PR is a branch of marketing. And good luck convincing them otherwise.
So while the APR exam is an attempt to “certify,” it doesn’t get it done, and it probably never will. As for requiring some form of certification, the only way to do that is to license PR professionals as we do CPAs, lawyers, nurses, physicians, etc. And that will never happen, as 1st Amendment concerns would preclude it.
It’s interesting that no one cares if their PR professional holds the APR or ABC. But almost everyone prefers to have a licensed accountant (CPA) working on their tax or audit issues — even though you don’t need certification to do either.
Not to muddle the waters, but does anyone have the list of all those non-APR, big agency CEOs and corporate communications VPs who feel disenfranchised and are anxiously waiting in line to dedicate their lives to the politics of PRSA leadership?? Just thought I’d ask.
Great question, Mr. Koch. I don’t know how eager these executives are to join PRSA, but you might find some of them here and here.
I suspect that’s a recruiting campaign destined to fail.
Yeah, I wouldn’t even waste the postage. I was a member of AWP for a short time before departing the corporate world and they live in rarified air. It was nice to breathe it for a while, but it was way too rich for my independent PR consultant blood!
Love you mentioned Arthur Page Society. Since I started my PR career in AT&T’s Mountain Bell, I’ve idolized that organization.
In response to my request, PRSA President Gary McCormick has produced some revealing data. He just posted this comment to the discussion on his PRSAY post dealing with this issue.
With more than 70% of those voting on the APR restriction issue also holding APR status, I’m not surprised the measure failed in last year’s PRSA Assembly. And unless chapters instruct their delegates to vote differently in 2010, I would look for the same to occur this year.
I do appreciate Gary’s quick response and PRSA’s transparency on the matter thus far. A special thanks to VP of PR, Arthur Yann, for putting up with all my queries.
Another comment. When I was transitioning from news print to public relations, Deborah Radman had a fountain of advice for me. I am forever indebted to her and the others who helped me become a PROFESSIONAL.
Ms. Radman’s advice? The hardest part of public relations is explaining what it is and what it can do to your own organization’s management and internal key publics.
Are today’s practitioners mentoring with such sage advice; or is it like all those questions on Linkedin, “Where do I send my press release?”
[…] this story really begins on May 11, when Bill posted a comment to this blog. In that comment, he disagreed with my assertion that PRSA should open its national board positions […]