When Eddie Bernays
was alive and kicking, he advocated licensing PR professionals.
He once told me
“Any crook, nitwit, dope, charlatan or ignoramus can use the words public relations.” He believed if our profession was regulated, “it would give our vocation a status comparable to lawyers, architects and doctors.”
Most people disliked (often hated) the idea of licensing. They felt it was a violation of first amendment rights and stifling to entrepreneurialism. They figured if a person wanted to hire someone who’s not “professional” and doesn’t have a reputable track record, then it’s their right to do so. Conversely, the PR practitioner shouldn’t be denied rightful employment.
Eddie’s idea might have been too overpowering, but the essence of his idea has never been more germane.
Like virtually every other business, the Web dis-intermediated the PR industry. The competency bar was lowered. Thousands upon thousands of new practitioners came into being globally. Limited (or no) public relations experience? No problem. Simply launch a website, stake out a position and make any claim you want. You’re an instant PR professional/agency/firm.
Recent case in point: BSMP LLC
founded by Sarah Palin’s 19-year old daughter Bristol Sharon Marie Palin. The founding paperwork says the new entity “intends to provide lobbying, public relations and political consulting services.”
Credibility is one of the reasons the idea behind “APR” makes more sense than ever. Created by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) in 1964, it stands for “accredited public relations practitioner.”
More than 5,000 professionals from agencies, corporations, associations and education hold this PR mark. I’m one of them. Speaking from experience, the screening and testing process is thorough, well run and rigorous.
Because April is APR month, I wanted to get a current view on accreditation. I spoke with Anne Dubois, APR, Fellow PRSA Chair within the Universal Accreditation Board, the group that oversees Accreditation. She had some interesting perspective:
- APR is moving in the right direction: “More professionals than ever are becoming accredited … we hope this growth continues.”
- APR still needs to create more momentum: “Not enough professionals are APR.”
- APR moves us forward: “The fundamental purpose of accreditation is to unify and advance the profession.”
- APR separates wheat from chaff: “On a personal level, achieving APR status gives professionals a mark of distinction that demonstrates their commitment to the profession and willingness to abide by the ethical and public standards held by the field.”
- APR needs more ROI focus and visibility: “We must be diligent to continue to educate the marketplace on the value of Accreditation.”
- APR isn’t consistently regarded by employers and clients: “It’s mixed.”
- APR will improve if it becomes more front-loaded (i.e. more emphasis on taking it at the beginning of a career vs. waiting later, similar to earning your CPA or passing the bar): “Interesting. We’re in the research and development phase of an entry-level certification. It’s our hope we’ll be able to roll-out this new certification within the next two years. We believe this will enhance the overall value of accreditation."
- APR needs to become more pervasive: “In a perfect world, all employers and hiring managers of public relations professionals would require Accreditation of every candidate applying for a public relations position.