Accreditation Command: A Career Military Officer on Earning His APR+M

April 1, 2019

Army Col. Martin Downie, APR+M, recently earned his Accreditation in Public Relations and Military Communications. The career military officer is the Commandant of the Defense Information School (DINFOS) at Fort Meade, Md., leading an institution that has trained thousands of public affairs specialists, including officers, enlisted personnel and Department of Defense civilians.

To help mark PRSA’s annual APR Month, Downie discussed his journey toward Accreditation.


What motivated you to earn your APR+M?

In my role here at the Defense Information School, I lead a sizable team of dedicated professionals who are responsible to teach public affairs and visual information to the Department of Defense. We teach at all levels, beginner through advanced. Our curriculum focuses on the ideas and techniques that our military communicators need to help connect our troops with key publics at home and around the world.

After 20 years as a military public affairs officer, I considered myself a professional in the field, but I felt the APR+M credential was an important step to take to make it “official.” The credential demonstrates that I have that experience recognized by groups external to the military.

I’ve noticed in many organizations other staff members fail to recognize the special skills and knowledge it takes to succeed in our business. The best in our profession make it look easy, so many people assume it is. The APR+M credential is a small reminder that our career isn’t a profession that just anyone can jump into without formative training and education.


What surprised you the most about the Accreditation process?

I was surprised at the robust amount of material that I would have to master in order to earn it! I do have a master’s in public relations, but I earned it 14 years ago and most of the focus was theoretical. Accreditation was a much more pragmatic approach that tested my ability to apply these concepts in realistic scenarios from today’s information environment.


How would you describe the process to someone interested in getting Accredited? 

The best preparation I did for the exam was to go through the APR preparation course material. Watching and hearing professionals talking with the candidates was reassuring and instructive.

I used hundreds of practice questions and always looked up the reference material to ensure I fully understood why certain answers were more right than others. I also set aside a good chunk of time to study just before the test, a solid two weeks over the holidays.


Why do you feel others in the public affairs field should consider setting a goal to earn their APR+M? 

Whether they’re relatively new in the profession or senior-level like me, public affairs professionals can benefit. The fundamentals of quality, meaningful and effective public relations never get old.

The process of studying and preparing for Accreditation forces you to make connections between what you do every day and industry best practices. Although I’ve always been aware of the need for solid research and clear, measurable objectives, the sheer volume of examples the preparation provided motivated me to take tangible steps to establish a formal research team in my organization. The Accreditation process was the inspiration to more rigorously and professionally approach our measurement challenge.

The preparation for Accreditation really activates your imagination. During the study process and after you earn it, you start to think of your job in fresh ways. I immediately found useful ways to apply many of the concepts.


How does Accreditation build on the existing skillset of public affairs officers?

Every public affairs officer completes initial training at the Defense Information School, and leaves with a fundamental understanding of the public affairs mission and a basic set of skills that enables them to succeed in the fleet and field. But this foundation must be built on immediately and consistently throughout their career.

The knowledge and rigor of the APR+M process takes that fundamental knowledge set we provide at DINFOS, and adds the depth and context needed to fully understand how things work in the civilian and military arenas.


Do you see APR+M playing a more formal role in the future of professional development for military public affairs?

Over the last 18 months I’ve been working with my team to bring together the public affairs training and education leadership across the military services so we can work as a team.

The idea is to share knowledge and resources to raise the level of support we can provide for our practitioners in the fleet and field. In early discussions we noted how the Navy’s graduate program with San Diego State University builds in support and encourages students to earn their APR+M.

We agreed this model was a positive step for our profession, and that we would examine the possibility that all of our midlevel to senior public affairs officers across the services might earn this credential. In short, I’m a big fan of making APR+M a recognized marker for achievement as we continue to rebuild the education framework for the public affairs profession.


Is there anything else you would like to add about APR or APR+M?

As organizational budgets continue to shrink and the information environment becomes increasingly competitive and complex, it is more important than ever that we validate the necessary skills of our profession to perform at the highest level.

Certification programs provide a reliable avenue to accomplish this validation. In the process, we learn the value of branding and reputation, and stress the importance of maintaining the trust and confidence of our key publics. Bottom line: Achieving and maintaining the APR+M is just responsible branding of ourselves.


Col. Martin Downie, APR+M, Highlights

Col. Martin Downie, APR+M, assumed duty as the 19th Commandant of the Defense Information School (DINFOS) on June 4, 2015. As Commandant, he leads a team of 400 military, civilian and contractor professionals in training approximately 3,000 students a year in various public affairs and visual information disciplines.

He graduated from Syracuse University in May 1989 in a variety of leadership positions before switching tracks when he completed the public affairs officer course at DINFOS in 1998. His Army public affairs assignments have taken him to Kosovo, Kuwait, Iraq and other countries. Before becoming the DINFOS Commandant, he served as the Chief of Public Affairs, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. 

Visit throughout April for more Accreditation-related articles.

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.


Mark Cheadle says:

Thanks for the inspirational and logical explanation of why achieving an APR is worth the effort for military members. I'm working to learn what I need to earn my accreditation now so I can be even more marketable when I retire from the Army next January.

April 1, 2019

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