Embracing Professional Growth: State Farm Provides Benchmark to Help Practitioners Earn Their APR

April 1, 2015

Kelly Savage, APR
Kelly Savage, APR

In 2002, Brenda Smith, APR, Fellow PRSA, became the first State Farm employee to earn the Accreditation in Public Relations credential.

In 2003, two more State Farm public affairs practitioners followed in her footsteps, including Lewis Pryor, APR, who is now State Farm’s assistant vice president of public affairs.

And less than a decade later, Kelly Savage, APR, a State Farm community relations specialist based in Wisconsin, made Accreditation a goal in her State Farm personal development plan.

“I thought Accreditation would help my credibility as a trusted adviser,” Savage said. “At the time, there were only a handful of State Farm employees with APR behind their name, so I reached out to them for advice when I started the process. The internal encouragement and help was priceless.”

Savage went on to earn her APR, and with her new credential, the Accreditation program started gaining momentum at State Farm.

“Last year, five employees earned their Accreditation in Public Relations,” said Savage, who personally spearheaded efforts for an organized internal program called APR Interest. “This year, we are taking the program further, using these five newly Accredited professionals to help mentor other employees seeking Accreditation.”

A commitment to improvement

Long known for its emphasis on professional development, State Farm covers the application fee and online course tuition, and purchases reference books on the APR Shortlist.

“State Farm is huge on employee education and development,” Pryor said. “Whether it’s insurance or financial services designations or subject matter designations like APR, the company is willing to provide financial and other support.”

In 2014, the timing was perfect to launch an organized APR study program within the company.

“We had a lot of changes going on in our department,” Savage explained. “This allowed us to further develop our ‘PR craft’ and increase the focus on honing our skills and staying on top of industry trends.”

Savage, who described herself as passionate about helping others, reached out to State Farm’s public affairs leadership to get buy-in and support from other Accredited employees. Soon after, public affairs employees received a memo, encouraging them to include Accreditation as part of their professional development and self-improvement.

“Overnight, our interest jumped to 25 people in the ‘APR pipeline,’” Savage said. “Combined with the existing 11 State Farm APRs, it represents more than 10 percent of our department seeking, or having already earned, their Accreditation.”

John “Kelly” Dunkerley, APR, a public affairs manager with 20 years of experience with State Farm, earned his Accreditation last year after a push from senior executives. He was motivated by discussions of APR in department meetings, small group conversations facilitated by APRs, mentoring relationships and the establishment of a cohort of fellow employees hoping to become Accredited.

“My manager was very supportive of me pursuing Accreditation,” he said. “And State Farm reimbursed all my expenses related to APR under professional development.”

This year, State Farm continues to talk up the program, and each Accredited employee is taking on three or four practitioners to mentor, creating a ripple effect in the department of more than 300 employees. The company also noticed that as more employees enroll in the online prep course, the course cost per employee goes down.

“It’s rewarding to work in a company that truly supports professional development as a key to creating a high-performing environment and improving business results,” Dunkerley said.

Pryor agreed, adding that professional development among public affairs professionals at State Farm doesn’t stop with Accreditation.

“The company also continues to support me financially and cover expenses to serve PRSA on the local, district and national levels,” he said. “In the last year, I’ve served as the local Chapter president, on the Midwest District Board and as a Silver Anvil judge. State Farm believes it’s mutually beneficial when I participate in these types of endeavors, because I bring back what I learn from these experiences and share with others.”

Savage thinks that the Accreditation movement at State Farm is creating a new communications culture at State Farm.

“I’m seeing a change in how people approach their work,” she explained. “I think they are much more strategic and metrics-focused after earning their APR, and together, we are becoming more strategic and in-sync with each other.”

5 Secrets to Embracing APR in Your Organization

Corporations, agencies, nonprofits and associations can encourage Accreditation among PR and public affairs practitioners by implementing a few techniques.

• Endorsement by senior leadership: Written and oral communication from senior leaders encouraging
employees to pursue their APR puts Accreditation in the forefront of employees’ minds.

• Link to employee goals: Employees who indicate that the APR is a professional and personal goal have a
greater likelihood of completing the program as it is part of their personnel records.

• Recognition: Companies that publicly recognize and celebrate employees’ Accreditation as an
achievement have a higher chance of garnering employee interest in the program.

• Internal mentors and organizational support: APR candidates who have colleagues who they can look to
for support and mentoring are more inclined to start and earn their Accreditation.

• Financial support: Organizations that pay for the application fee, exam, online course and other aspects of the program are more likely to gain interested candidates. — A.P.K.

Ann Peru Knabe, Ph.D.,  APR+M

Dr. Ann Peru Knabe, APR+M, is director of public relations for Kane Communications Group, a Milwaukee firm specializing in strategic communications. She is a colonel in the Air Force Reserve with over 30 years experience in public affairs, and serves on the Universal Accreditation Board.


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