A proud past and a bright future: The APR credential turns 50

May 28, 2013

The Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential turns 50 in 2014, and the PRSA Board of Directors has decided to celebrate that milestone by investing in the future of the APR program. What should that future look like? 

A new post published on the PRSAY blog by Western District Director Marisa Vallbona, APR, Fellow PRSA, included quotes from professionals on Accreditation that, though anecdotal, reflect that there are divergent views on today’s program:

“In a profession where licensure is not required and many people practice public relations without knowing key competencies and appropriate ethical guidelines for decision-making, earning the APR credential communicates that you have the requisite knowledge for principled public relations expertise and proficiency,” says one APR holder.

Another comments: “The greatest part of Accreditation’s value hasn’t been realized yet...and that’s the value that hiring managers place on the credential within all range of companies and organizations.”

But some feel differently.

“[The APR has] never meant anything to any client organization I’ve ever encountered,” said one non-APR, who heads a $15 million agency.

And another said: “One earns his or her stripes in public relations in one way, and one way only: through on-the-job training.”

These views raise a wide variety of issues. Is credentialing, generally, and the APR specifically, meant to substitute for licensing? Can a testing process, no matter how rigorous, substitute for actual job experience? Does the APR simply need more and better marketing? And if marketing, in a classic sense, includes the “4 Ps” — product, promotion, price and place (distribution), are there deeper implications for “enhancing marketing” of the APR?

These are questions that deserve answers. PRSA’s Board of Directors has decided to find those answers by working with the Organizational Performance Group (OPG), an organizational development consulting firm in Hamden, Conn., to achieve a simple goal: Create a plan to enhance the profile and prestige of the APR credential.

This work will involve a number of avenues, including combing through existing research, undertaking new focus groups and surveys, benchmarking credentialing and looking at how other organizations are succeeding with their programs. Look for reports on the work by the end of the summer. 

Defining success

While there are many good reasons to undertake this project, one reason stands above all others: The many questions asked about the program betray that there isn’t a broad agreement as to what success should look like for the APR program, let alone what metrics should measure that success. 

We do, of course, have abundant data on the program. From a macro perspective, the data tells us that the number of professionals Accredited by the UAB has declined from an average of 256 per year between 1993 and 2002, to an average of 157 per year between 2003 and 2012. We also know that the number of APRs as a percentage of PRSA membership has been falling in recent years, from 25.47 percent of members in 1994 to 21.32 percent in 2004 to 18.43 percent in 2012.

Whatever those metrics might indicate, they reinforce that this is the best time to enhance the profile and potential of the APR. At age 50, the credential’s proud past should have an even brighter future — and we intend to make that happen.

Happy Birthday to the APR, and may you be celebrated in great company for decades to come!

Related reading:

  • PRSA Embarks on Effort to Enhance Profile, Prestige of APR Credential (PRSA Newsroom)
  • The APR at 50: Is the Best Yet to Come? (PRSAY)


William (Bill) M. Murray, CAE, is the chief executive officer of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
Email: william.murray at prsa.org


Harvey I Cobert says:

As a member of PRSA since the 70's (20th Century), I've been been pleased to be an APR. I don't believe I ever felt that "APR" would do much, if anything for my career, but I did feel that it gave me a certain amount of pride. Before that my career was in the newspaper business. I believe the move to PR was wise for many reasons, not the least of which was significant contributions to the development of my successors. Than again, we rarely felt that those who led PRSA ever did much to explore its value or the need for change.

June 2, 2013

Rusty Cawley, APR says:

Why does a manager earn an MBA? Why does an accountant become a CPA? Because the market puts value on those designations and is willing to pay more for folks who hold them. If we want more PR professionals to want the APR, we are going to have to create demand for the APR in the C-Suites. That's where the war will be won. Everything else is just handwaving.

June 2, 2013

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