Does “APR” Accreditation Still Have Value in PR?

This may be considered blasphemy by some, but I’ll ask anyway.

As a former member of PRSA, I’ve been very active in several chapters during my career. In Chicago, I co-directed that chapter’s “Young Professional Network” for some time and created it’s Brown Bag Development Workshops. In Charlotte, N.C., I developed that chapter’s first mentoring program and also served as a go-to consultant for the directors of the chapter’s young professionals group. And, I was gung-ho about getting my APR accreditation some day.

But the desire for a comma and those three capital letters after my name has waned a bit in recent years. Maybe it’s because I rarely make PRSA meetings these days since they’re an hour round-trip away from the office. (One of the disadvantages to living in a three-city market that shares one PRSA chapter)

I think, though, there are other reasons why I’m wondering if APR still holds weight.

First, I’ve met, talked to and worked with many people who have their APR accreditation. Let me tell you, there are people running around with APR after their names who aren’t incredibly competent in the day-to-day work in this field. Don’t get me wrong. Many are. But having those letters behind your name doesn’t make you a PR swami, I’ve learned.

Second, I’ve met, talked to and worked with many people who DON’T have their APR accreditation. Let me tell you, there are a lot of incredibly smart and passionate PR pros among them who give their sweat and blood for the industry and their clients. And they’re well-respected among their peers.

Third, I’ve never had a potential employer ask whether or not I’ve obtained or plan to obtain my APR.

Fourth, I’ve never met a client for the first time who asked anything about whether or not I have my APR. They ask lots of questions about past experiences, past clients I’ve worked with, strengths, etc., but nothing about accreditation.

So I’m wondering if APR means as much as it’s made out to mean these days. For the record, I’m all for professional development, training and working to become the best practitioner you can. I think PRSA does a great job connecting professionals and offering ways for us all to get smarter about the business. I’m not sure, though, that APR is the highest mark of excellence in the PR practice that is necessary to prove you’re a kick-ass pro, as some have made it out to be. Doesn’t your body of great work tell that story, too?

What do you think? Is APR just a distinction these days? Does it actually mean you’re smarter than non-accredited peers? Would employers really not consider a really smart pro with an excellent track record because they don’t have their APR?

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31 responses to “Does “APR” Accreditation Still Have Value in PR?

  1. This is a debate I have with myself on a consistent basis. I know quite a few PR pros who have their APR and swear by it, but I wonder does it really provide a one-up in the industry? I still have a few years before I could take the APR test, but I go back and forth between APR and furthering my education with a master’s or MBA. I think your reasons are valid for questioning whether or not the APR holds its weight. I almost feel that the decision is up to the professional because we’ll always come across those who are for and against the APR.

  2. The way I see it, as a young professional, climbing your way up the PR totem pole to APR accreditation is a career milestone that we all look forward to as PR professionals. Unlike fields like the law and medical, there’s no license to practice Public Relations, which means any sort of certification/accreditation in our industry is desirable.

    Like you said, APR accreditation doesn’t make you smarter than somebody who’s not, but seeing the three letters next to your name brings a certain satisfaction that we don’t see everyday in our profession.

  3. I should begin my comment by stating that I’m don’t have a ton of knowledge in the APR or how difficult it is to get one. (In fact, I was under the impression that the APR was for mid-upper-level PR pros, seasoned vets.. etc.) That said…

    For me the answer would lie in two key issues.
    1. How often the criteria for the APR is updated. Does it reflect a knowledge of all aspects of PR, including social media, or just the traditional stuff.

    2. Who you’re trying to impress. If you’re a consultant looking to take on new business or a PR pro looking for a job in a traditional firm, it’s probably in a good idea to be certified in what you do. On the other hand, more forward thinking firms may be much more interested in things like your online media presence and experience in social media then a certification.

    Anything that makes you stand out from rest is a asset, but if I had to pick one or the other, I’d spend time improving my blog or interacting on Twitter rather than applying for the APR.

  4. Stephanie Elsea, APR

    Maybe it’s because I do have the comma and three capital letters after my name but I DO believe in the credibility of the accreditation. When I received mine (2001) it was an incredibly difficult process and I learned a lot about effected public relations during the process. At that time, you couldn’t even sit for the exam if you didn’t have >5 yrs experience.

    Accredited or not, you’ll always find bright, passionate people and those who haven’t had a good idea since Al Gore invented the internet. The reason I value the APR is not b/c it’s going to get me a raise (it didn’t) or a better job (I do see more requested APR but it’s still not the norm) but because of what it means to me. It is a mark of distinction, dedication and experience. In a competitive job market, it sets me apart from the competition — even if I have to educate the employer as to its meaning.

    What it is NOT is a terminal degree. It’s not a license to stop thinking, learning, creating and growing. I’m probably well above the age for being involved in social media, but I do it because I’m passionate about PR and quality, effective communications.

    My APR, coupled with my continued dedication to the field, is how I demonstrate my professionalism.

    My $.02.

  5. I don’t buy into it. I do want to preface this as well that I am not extremely knowledgeable about the accreditation, but I just can’t see how passing a test will make you a better PR professional.

    I learned what I know about PR from real-world experience, and a minimal amount from books/college courses.

    I don’t see the value of using a majority of your time to study for a very difficult exam. Think of what you could have been doing in all that time to enhance your career/profession in other ways than by adding 3 letters onto the end of your name.

  6. Okay, I am really going to get in trouble for this one, but I still don’t even have a PRSA membership. It’s been on my to-do list for awhile now.

    The problem is that I went to a school where the PR program was too small to have a PRSSA (according to the PRSSA guidelines). So, since they didn’t hook me as a student, I didn’t really race to enlist when I gradauted.

    As far as the APR goes, the people I have spoken with who value it most are those that majored in something other than PR/Journalism in college. They found the more academic approach to learning PR helpful and rewarding.

    For any professional certification though, I think the only way it becomes valuable to the people in the profession is if employers require it.

    Like any kind of course in professional development, I’m sure the work to achieve an APR has value, but just how much value is the question.

  7. I can say that for those who have the APR accreditation, that designation is hard-won. It is a difficult process, and I believe those who have achieved it deserve respect. Within the profession, I believe an APR carries weight and so those who wish to pursue corporate positions may want to consider it. Michael and Stephanie have given other good reasons to seek it.

    That said, I have not chosen to pursue my APR based on many of the reasons you outline, David. In particular, #4. I haven’t seen much demand (or even awareness) among potential clients, and so it just hasn’t made it onto my list of priorities.

  8. Offering accreditation is an effort by membership organizations to improve public relations’ status as a profession.

    After PR’s history of sometimes shady practices and a bad reputation, this is a step we should appreciate. Accreditation provides an opportunity to prove ourselves as dedicated and knowledgable professionals.

    That being said, I think accreditation holds most of its value within PR circles. I respect accredited practitioners; I know they worked hard for that distinction. However, I don’t know if someone in another industry would feel the same way.

  9. Also — nice use of the word “swami.”

  10. I have yet to encounter a situation – or even to hear of a situation – where one person was selected over another (for new business or hired on staff) because they had the APR (or ABC) designation.

    I’ll also counter your initial comment about ‘still’ having value with ‘When did it?’ this is not a knock on the APR designation or those who have it, but in my experience it was never a factor in any way, shape or form.

    At one time when PR education was limited (or if you’re as old as me, non-existent) it can be suggested that the APR filled that void. However the flip side was an industry filled with people who had learned the ins and outs of PR not from theory, but from hands on practice.

    So if anything, the APR designation has the opportunity to mean more if in the acquisition of that one gains information above and beyond what basic, theoretical education can give, or by being the vehicle for those who were not schooled in PR to gain necessary education.

  11. To clarify (that’s what I get for trying to write 3 things at once) APR may have been at its zenith several years back before formalized PR education became mainstream… it was a means by which post-grads had of getting info without going back to school. At that time the designation in and of itself was rarely a ‘deal breaker or maker’. The truth is that this still holds true now. So while having an APR is good, you likely don’t need it if you have a solid combination of education and experience.

  12. I believe communications accreditation of some sort generally adds weight in a job search. Very rarely, it will be a requirement or a bonus listed in the job description, but generally only if there’s someone else in the organization who is accredited and convinces HR the letters have value.

    When I am the hiring manager, I definitely give immediate attention to the few resumes with such credentials.

    But it doesn’t seem to matter to most executives whether the letters are ABC, APR, or QXGA – just that you passed some professional test.

    Frankly, I found the IABC process and test thorough and rigorous, but not nearly the “sweating bullets” experience that had been described to me by some colleagues who had gone through the gauntlet. I don’t know if that means I’m any smarter or simply had the benefit of more extensive experience.

    My quibble is the concept that you must pay annual dues in order to continue using an earned accreditation. I would agree with continuing education to keep your skills relevant, especially as new media tools emerge and the dynamics of reaching a given audience evolve. But the fact that I took a test some years ago, agree to write a check for $300, and occasionally attend a chicken with mystery sauce luncheon … what does that prove about my current ability to serve my clients?

  13. BTW, I have considered at various times taking the APR exam (if only because there are so few dual accredited folks out there). But one element that has always held me back is the need to study ancient PR history in order to pass the exam. Hard to reconcile how that means as much as how to get the job done.

  14. Both of my bosses have their APR and I have immense respect for them and believe that they are experts in the field of public relations. I believe that their expertise is proven more by the success of their business than through obtaining their APR designations.

    I believe that for me personally, however, having an MBA would be more valuable and impressive than an APR. I would much rather succeed by having a designation that is commonly recognized worldwide (the MBA) combined with my experience and expertise in the field of public relations. I think it doesn’t hurt to have the APR, but not having the APR designation doesn’t seem to hold anyone back these days.

  15. @Stephanie – Thanks for sharing such a thoughtful response. I think you’ve hit on an important vein when you say you value it because of what it means to you. It seems to me that it may be more about personal satisfaction than it is about professional development/career advancement.

    @llevy – “I learned what I know about PR from real-world experience.” I wholeheartedly believe that PR is one of the remaining “apprenticeship” businesses. That’s not to knock education. But there’s a big difference in theory in a classroom and days in the trenches. That’s where I’ve learned most.

    @libbykrah – I totally hear you on the “improving status as a profession.” and that’s a good thing.

    @PRJack – “you don’t need it if you have a solid combination of education and experience.” That’s where I’m at these days. Experiences mean more than an exam one took a few years ago. Not to devalue the exam. But we certainly shouldn’t devalue experiences, either.

    @Rick Your last point gets me too! In addition to paying up front (I can understand that), I have to pay annually to keep it through additional professional development courses, etc.? Sounds like a nice incremental revenue stream for PRSA, to me.

    @Susan – I believe an MBA would hold much more value than APR, both within the PR industry and outside of it.

  16. I don’t have an APR, but someone I have worked with for years and respect greatly, Stephanie Elsea, does have an APR. Is it because she has this distinction that I respect her, no, it’s because of the great work I’ve seen her do all these years.

    As someone who looks at resumes from time to time, the APR designation gives me some assurance that the person is serious about their career. But, there are other things in a resume and life experience that would tell me the same thing.

    I guess where I net out on this is exactly where Stephanie, Shannon and David net out – somewhere in the triangulated middle.

    Thanks for asking the question, David.

  17. What a discussion! I feel like I may be weighing in a little after the fact. But here goes. First, a disclosure. I am the Canadian Public Relations Society’s Toronto accreditation committe co-chair (take a breath). So yes, I have an APR (and, quite possibly, an agenda).

    I’d like to step back from the tactical view (i.e. will an APR get me a raise, a job, a new client?) and try to look at things from a more strategic level. And that is, like it or not, accreditations are an accepted mark of professionalism (i.e. practicing according to a peer-reviewed body of knowledge, processes, etc.). We don’t see accountants arguing over a CA. Or engineers for that matter. Their designations are recognized as integral to their respective industries.

    I think the challenge for us as PR practitioners, is figuring out a way to truly earn a place in the C-suite. And having a recognized professional designation is one of the things that could help.

    Now, I don’t say we’re there yet. It still feels like we have a long way to go – first, to get the industry on board, second to encourage business leaders to accept that we are as valuable, strategic and educated in our practice as any other professional. And finally, we need to inform both internal and external audiences what accreditation means.

    Does everyone need an APR (or ABC)? Right now, I’d say no. But, I think long-term the profession would benefit, if it took more than just hanging out a shingle to be considered a valued counselor. (I’m bracing myself for the fallout.)

    Speaking personally, I enjoyed the learning process, gaining a deeper understanding of communications theory, the history of PR and being challenged by my peers. And I was (and am) proud of the accomplishment.

  18. @martin – that’s the best argument for getting accredited that I’ve heard or read to date. That includes the reasoning on PRSA’s own Web site, which suggests you should get it to show your commitment to the industry. As if years of working your butt off to build clients’ businesses and elevate the PR field don’t demonstrate that on their own.

  19. As a professional development tool, I think it’s fine. I’ve never discouraged anyone from participating in the education and taking the exam. But as a credential, APR has no teeth and offers zero guidance to potential clients as to the level of competence, skill or talent of an individual PR practitioner.

    Some people seek APR for the right reasons. They are well intentioned about improving as professionals and will likely participate in other development programs over the course of their careers. They have a passion for the profession and are in it more for the education than the initials.

    For too many others, it’s about seeking validation or obtaining a tool to fuel a misguided sense of self importance. It’s essentially the “scarecrow effect.” If you believe that once you have a diploma, you’ll have a brain or once you can put APR after your name, you’ll magically become gifted in the field, or even competent for that matter, you’re mistaken. The rest of the world understands that the Wizard of Oz is just a movie; because of this, APR will never mean much as a credential.

    And because PR professionals are notoriously bad at their own PR, I would argue that APR has actually contributed to the profession’s poor reputation. That may sound counterintuitive, but because it’s easier to obtain the initials than to earn a reputation for doing excellent client work, APR has become a bad crutch. Remember, PR is what others say about you, not what you say about yourself.

    I’ve worked with APRs and non-APRs alike for 25 years, and I can categorically state that APR offers no meaningful measure of competence.

    Here’s my advice: Never stop learning – not just about PR, but about everything. If you’re considering APR, learn the material, pass the test, and leave the initials OFF your business card. Don’t try to tell a prospect/client you’re good, show them. If we all did that, then our reputation as a profession would likely follow.

  20. I do believe that there are some industry certifications which are worth earning, but not really for someone in my role. The reason I say this is because I’ve never heard of anyone getting a raise or a promotion in a research role by earning a certification.

    Let me break down the value of certifications in my own opinion of cost vs. value:

    Cost: Most of our industry certifications cost anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars to take the course(s) and pass the exam. I don’t know about you, but if I had a couple thousand bucks laying around right now, I’d be putting it toward paying off my last remaining student loan. I think this is worthwhile only if your company sponsors your certification exam or if you’ve got a lot of expendable cash (I doubt many of us do at this point in time!) You can continue to learn within your industry by talking with industry experts and reading books, blogs, etc. for free.

    Value: If you’ve approached your employer about a certification, have you determined whether you will earn a raise or a promotion upon completion? If the answer is no, I say don’t do it. Certifications look nice on a signature line, a business card, and a resume. But let’s be honest, most of us are un-impressed with the string of certifications listed by our colleagues. The only time I personally feel the need to see a comma followed by an acronym of some sort is when I’m visiting my physician or attorney.

  21. I still believe in the APR and hope to earn that title one day. Although I do not believe it is essential to being an effective or well-respected PR practitioner, I do think it’s icing on the cake.

  22. Pingback: Industry Certifications - What’s The Value? « Amybeth Hale - Research Goddess

  23. You raise some interesting points. The real value to me in attaining an APR was contained in the process itself. Going through the process compelled me to think and practice much more strategically. Can one get there without going through the APR process? Of course; and many do. But for me, it accelerated that professional development by several years.
    Did earning the designation gain me more money or respect? Not in and of itself, but I truly believe the knowledge I gained–and use daily–in the process has.
    And I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with my colleague Leo. While there are some with the APR designation who aren’t the most competent (I believe the same could be said about some with MBA and PhD behind their names), the vast majority of those I know who have gone through the process are accomplished and effective public relations practitioners. I believe the net effect of their proudly using the designation would be positive.

  24. Oooh, David, you’ve got a hot one here! It’s close to my heart, too, because I’ve just recently embarked on the journey of reading and studying to take the APR exam. I’m doing it mainly for professional development and a personal challenge. My university did not offer any PR courses or a PR major, so I want to make up anything I missed out on.

    There’s another reason too, though, related to personal development. The APR exam is exclusively for practitioners with five or more years of PR experience. I think that’s significant. By five years in you know the job and are confident at it, but many practitioners may experience a doldrums of sorts somewhere between five and fifteen years – I know I did. I think studying and sitting for an exam like the APR can rejuvenate and invigorate one’s professional interests. In just the short while I’ve been reading and studying for my APR, I have found that it is making me a bit more disciplined and strategic in my approach.

    So I’ll keep going with the studies and I’ll take the test and do the presentation when I feel ready. And here’s where I’ll respectfully disagree with Leo, above – I do plan to put those three little initials on my business card. I will have earned them!

  25. Lara, I hope you got my point about using the initials on your business card. Display them proudly, but consider this: At the end of the movie A Few Good Men, Lt. Kaffee (Tom Cruise) tells Cpl. Dawson that he doesn’t have to have a patch on his arm to have honor. Nor do you need APR after your name to be a talented and ethical public relations practitioner. Initials or not, your clients will come to their own judgment about your abilities.

  26. David, excellent conversation starter. First off, I do not have my APR (yet) and I have been struggling with the decision for some time now.

    I think what has plagued the distinction is the fact that hardly anyone outside of PR knows what those three letters mean. As an industry we’ve done, in my opinion, a poor job of explaining what it means to be accredited.

    How long did it take for CPA to be the accepted standard for accountants? Would you think to take your taxes to someone who was not a CPA? We are not at that place yet.

    I applaud anyone who has taken their time to dedicate themselves to this worthy professional development and achieve the distinction. Now I’ll hang-up and listen.

  27. I completely agree with Leo above. I have been practicing PR forever but I am loathe to hire anyone who has a degree in public relations or communications. Why? Because PR is not like a CPA or an MD…it is a highly creative field where formulas and processes change with the wind. I want people who are risk takers, creative thinkers and writers, students of history, people with intellectual curiosity. They make the best PR practitioners. I think people should stop putting APR after their names. It’s not like we are saving lives…please.

  28. When I first arrived in Charlotte as a young professional over four years ago, I was in the audience when an accredited PR professional was speaking about the accreditation process. Trying to make a point, she compared the time and effort she put forth earning her accreditation to the same time and effort one would put toward earning an MBA. She followed this up by saying that she has never, in fact, gone after a master’s in business administration, but could imagine it’s just as hard as earning a PR accreditation.

    Come on. Seriously? Not to discredit the APR or accreditation process, but there’s no way it’s 1) harder to achieve than an MBA or 2) more valued in the business world than an MBA.

    I don’t have either an MBA or an APR, though both are on my radar. Why? I earned an undergraduate degree in journalism and, although I took a handful of courses in the business school, I never received a full-fledged business education. I feel now that I’ve been in the “real world” for a bit, I could bring my acquired knowledge to the b-school table and get a lot out of a formal business education.

    As for the APR, I did major in public relations as an undergrad, but there’s only so much one can fully understand when studying PR in school (not a knock on my professors…you were great). I really learned the most from my internships. I learned even more when I started my first job. And I continue to learn more about my profession and my abilities every day. I think going through the APR process can only improve my abilities as a PR practitioner, whether it be by re-learning the things I (should have) studied in college or learning from APR and non-APR professionals who are a part of the accreditation process on a local level.

    I agree with Richie Escovedo’s comment above about CPAs.

    I disagree with Martha Keeley’s comment above. She said, “…Because PR is not like a CPA or an MD…it is a highly creative field where formulas and processes change with the wind…” I understand the point she is trying to make, but don’t agree with her reasoning.

    Did you know public relations professionals in some countries like Brazil and Panama need to be licensed by the government to work in PR? In fact, Edward L. Bernays lobbied for a public relations license in the U.S. before he passed away. Read more about it here.

  29. Pingback: Revista MBA » Blog Archive » Poll: APR versus M.B.A.

  30. While I have a lot of respect for what the PRSA and similar organizations do, I feel that until the PR industry is a regulated one, accreditations don’t mean as much as they could.

    Yes, they say you have passed a certain board’s approval system, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have great or moral work ethics when working.

    I’d much rather see a regulatory board that has powers to censure poor PR practices and practitioners, as opposed to a Code of Ethics that isn’t really enforced.

    After all, even if a PR professional is stripped of their APR, it won’t stop them getting clients. But, if a regulatory board stopped them from working in PR or running a company because of bad practice, then it would offer a whole new level of authority.

  31. I agree with some of the comments already posted that PR practitioners in general, and PRSA in particular, could do more education about the credentialing of a PR professional. It is a rigorous process, and, once a PR practitioner achieves accreditation, that accreditation must be maintained through professional development. I think PRSA needs to address this lack of education and also more fully support the process.

    PRSA to date has opted not to go the regulatory route, as suggested by Danny Brown. The CIPR, Britain’s professional PR organization, has a regulatory body (, but I don’t know that their membership has used this avenue widely.

    I opted to pursue both a master’s degree and APR, each for different reasons. That said, I believe integrity and quality of work should speak the loudest.

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