April is Accreditation month: Chapters share best practices for success

April 1, 2010


April is Accreditation month at PRSA, a time to learn how Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) can take your career to the next level. APR is a voluntary certification program for PR professionals. APRs demonstrate their commitment to the profession and to its ethical practice by advancing the Readiness Review process and passing the computer-based APR Examination.
The expression, “the end justifies the means,” does hold some truth.
Take the subject of ushering professionals through the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) process as an example.
I asked PRSA Chapter APR chairs to share the tactics and strategies employed to build awareness of Accreditation and help candidates through the process. Some Chapters offered established, structured programs. Others introduced candidates to Accreditation in a casual setting or partnered with neighboring Chapters. And, some Chapters had to reinvent or develop a new program.
Nationally, the results reflect a positive trend: 222 candidates passed the computer-based Examination to earn Accreditation in 2009, a 12 percent increase from the previous year. Here’s an analysis from several Chapters across the country.
Arkansas Chapter
During the first quarter of 2009, three Arkansas Chapter members received their Accreditation. To maintain the interest and momentum, the Chapter hosted a happy hour that allowed participants to network and learn about the APR process.
Chapter leaders promoted the “APR Affair” via e-mail and the Chapter’s social media sites, and a targeted list of potential candidates received personal invitations.
Chapter leaders briefed participants on the steps involved, and recently Accredited members fielded questions.
APR Chair Andrea Smalec, APR, said that the spring event was followed by the “Arkansas PRSA APR Fall Study Series,” a nine-week comprehensive study series facilitated by 12 senior members. 
Austin Chapter
Last year, Samantha Sipowicz, APR, organized a free April 1 (April Fool’s Day) teleseminar titled “Stop Fooling Around With Your Career.” In August, the Chapter hosted a panel discussion in conjunction with the PRSA Southwest District.
Hands-on study groups featured local experts who stressed the need to prepare a portfolio case study built on research, strategies and tactics. Throughout the year, she also enlisted existing APRs in the Chapter to participate as mentors and Readiness Review panelists.
Hoosier Chapter
Based in Indianapolis, the Hoosier Chapter has an impressive history on the Accreditation front, with 26 percent of the nearly 400 members holding the APR. They keep Accreditation advancing through a 10-week review course offered for free to any Chapter member. 
Two APR co-chairs play a large role throughout the process: coordinating all aspects of the course, providing study resources, recommending mentors, confirming Readiness Review locations and assisting with paperwork. Co-Chair Vanessa S. Stiles, APR, notes that the Hoosier Chapter Board also takes an active role in encouraging professionals to achieve the APR.
Madison Chapter
Wisconsin’s Madison Chapter markets Accreditation through collaboration. Accreditation Chair Barbara Hernandez, APR, reported 38 professionals attended a four-hour Jump Start program organized by colleagues from the Northeast and Southeast Wisconsin Chapters.
Accredited members also offered individual coaching and mentoring and Readiness Review preparation advice. To date, seven local members are participating in the Accreditation process.
Orlando Chapter
The PRSA Orlando Chapter partners with the Florida Public Relations Association (FPRA) to present a 10-week workshop series. The workshops, held twice annually, are structured around the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) that comprise the questions posed on the Examination for Accreditation in Public Relations.
Lisa F. Lochridge, APR, said the collaborative program helps channel the best resources of both organizations and eliminates duplication of efforts. The Chapter recognizes new APRs at a July Media Roundtable, co-sponsored with FPRA.
Portland Chapter
The Portland Chapter also follows a relatively structured training program that resulted in seven successful APRs in 2009. It’s been so successful, in fact, that this year the Accreditation team plans to take seminars on the road to Salem and Eugene, as well as across the Oregon state line to Vancouver, Wash. Preparation for the Examination is built around a six-week course taught by four established Accredited members.
According to Mara Woloshin, APR, Fellow PRSA, classes are free to members. Part of the program includes a practice Readiness Review and a peer critique of the candidate’s case study that’s required as part of the Accreditation portfolio. Woloshin notes that the Portland Chapter enlists senior APRs to participate as a way to give back to the profession.
San Diego Chapter
Since 2004, the San Diego Chapter has coordinated a program that leads to as many as a dozen new APRs annually. The program is built around spring and fall semesters and includes a study course offered six to eight weeks prior to opportunities for Readiness Review panels.
The Accreditation chair maintains a spreadsheet for each candidate to monitor progress. This structure keeps candidates from procrastinating and makes it easier to recruit volunteers to provide instruction and serve as Readiness Review panelists, said Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR. There’s additional incentive for Chapter candidates who earn Accreditation: $100, recognition at a ceremony during the annual awards program and a congratulatory ad in the local business journal.
St. Louis Chapter
The St. Louis Chapter actively promotes the Accreditation study courses offered online through the UAB. In addition, they offer face-to-face training provided by APR volunteers.
Ten candidates were enrolled in the program in the fall of 2009, says Accreditation co-chair Tina Carroll, APR. Carroll cites the “structured and comprehensive approach to managing the APR committee” and split duties by the co-chairs as key factors in the program’s success. Four Chapter members earned Accreditation in 2009.
Tampa Chapter
In a few short years, the multi-faceted APR program put into place in Tampa has shown impressive results: Nine candidates who completed the program in 2009 earned their APR.
 Jeff Caponigro, APR, Fellow PRSA, says that the Chapter builds awareness through a casual social event where candidates learn the steps involved from APR and commit to Accreditation. The candidates are assigned a mentor who provides guidance from Readiness Review through the Examination.
 After a group of candidates advances through Readiness Review, the Chapter holds six two-hour preparation courses and provides a CD with study materials.
Copyright © 2010 PRSA. All rights reserved.
Edward M. Bury, APR

Edward M. Bury, APR, manages public affairs for the Urban Transportation Center, a research unit at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His key responsibility is executing strategic technology-transfer communications.

Email: edwardmbury at yahoo.com


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