Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I Believe in Accreditation

Anne Keever Cannon, APR

I believe in accreditation.

We’ve seen lots of opinions over the years in favor of and against public relations accreditation. One old argument is that “APR” doesn’t equal a bigger paycheck. That may be true. Nevertheless, the process helped me greatly increase my knowledge and expertise in the field.
That’s because I came to PR through a side door. I studied Spanish in college with a vague intention of foreign service. After a 5-year stint in the Air Force, I got a master’s in theater, with the idea of becoming an actor. Finally the Army hired me as an intern in public affairs (what the federal government calls public relations).

That got me two years of on-the-job training and two months at the Defense Information School. I had the basics—news writing, photography, media relations, community relations, how to write a speech, etc. I was doing OK.

Some years later my boss at a Corps of Engineers office in Dallas told me about PRSA and accreditation. She encouraged me to join the organization. She sent me to a two-day PR seminar at Southern Methodist University. The speakers talked about measurement, strategic planning and other things that were new—and very interesting—to me. The Dallas PRSA chapter offered free accreditation preparation classes on PR history, the code of ethics and much more. I got my APR in 1991.

When the accreditation maintenance program began, it stretched me again. I took seminars, gave presentations myself, attended the national conference and became active in the Dallas chapter. (Full disclosure: I was accredited soooo long ago that I’m exempt from the maintenance program. But I still try to keep it in mind and continue my professional development.)

So I always encourage students or new PR folks to pursue accreditation—even though many of them have the educational background that I lacked. Putting together that portfolio (something I didn’t have to do back in the “old days”) can help identify strengths and weaknesses. The exam preparation serves as a skills review. The maintenance program pushes people to brush up on some areas and learn new ones.

The bottom line: Accreditation and maintenance make up an outstanding way to develop and to keep current—something that’s especially important in this fast-changing world.