Professional development is a large piece of your success as a solo PR pro. To provide the most value to your clients, it’s key to be aware of industry best practices and relevant techniques plus how to apply them to elevate your work.
Have you ever considered going through the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) process?
If you’re a whiz in your day-to-day and clients sing your praises, it might be time to supercharge your PR experience and position yourself as a credentialed leader in the field.
To provide background information on what the APR is and how to navigate the application process, the Universal Accreditation Board (UAB), which administers the APR, hosted a webinar, led by these PR experts (and solo PR pro members!):
- Mary Barber, APR, Fellow PRSA, President of The Barber Group
- Gayle Falkenthal, APR, Fellow PRSA, President of the Falcon Valley Group
- Kristie Aylett, APR, Fellow PRSA, Agency Principal of The KARD Group, UAB member
Here’s what these experts shared about the APR and how to begin.
APR accreditation: a quick recap
The APR is a voluntary professional credential with a rigorous and lengthy process.
Aylett says, “It's designed to demonstrate your commitment to professional advancement, your knowledge, skills and abilities,” and your high-level professional experience and competence.
With an APR credential, you’ll not only grow and maintain your expertise, but you’ll learn even more ways to demonstrate your mastery of what you do best.
Does the APR matter to your career?
Since the APR accreditation is voluntary and won’t disqualify you from job prospects, do you need it to grow your business? Ultimately, that’s up to you to decide, but know there are many benefits to being a certified solo PR pro.
For instance, Barber has a liberal arts degree with an English major rather than a PR or communications degree. When she moved from San Francisco to Alaska and first learned about APR, she doubted her professional abilities.
To prove her expertise, Barber pursued the APR credential. “It was an amazing process because I also learned a lot about the profession,” she shares. “And I learned I knew what I was doing, which was very affirming.”
Even if you believe in your skills and education, the APR still provides plenty of opportunities. When Aylett earned her APR, she says, “The senior members of the PRSA chapter in Texas started looking at me differently.”
Aylett recalls they saw her as a professional and a peer, plus other PR pros realized she took her career and the profession seriously. “It opened up opportunities for me with leadership, committees [and] serving as an assembly delegate to the PRSA chairing committees.”
She says the APR changed the trajectory of her career and made room for perks, like better paying job opportunities. Aylett and Falkenthal also shared a major benefit of the APR is the confidence boost.
While the APR’s four-step PR process helped Aylett defend her ideas and better understand PR ethics, the credential gave Falkenthal the foundation she needed.
“You're going to become more confident in yourself and your abilities based on this objective standard, and be able to advocate for yourself and advocate for your clients,” she says. “It's paid for itself over and over many times because of that.”
How to get your APR accreditation
Before we jump into the five-step process, keep this in mind: You don’t need a PRSA membership to apply, but you have to be a part of one of the UAB’s nine organizations. You should also have at least five years of professional experience.
To take your career to the next level, here’s how to start the APR process:
Step 1: Apply
Although this is the first step, Aylett says you can initiate the application process at your discretion, whether it’s after you prepare for the exam or before you complete your panel presentation.
Once you submit your application, pay the $385 exam fee (which can be divided into two payments) and receive a letter that approves you as a candidate, “The clock starts ticking and you have one year to complete the process.”
If you need an extension, Aylett says the UAB will gladly grant one, but there might be a $50 fee. However, she advises you to reassess your readiness for the APR if you need two or three extensions.
Step 2: Study
To support candidates, the UAB prepared a 160-page APR study guide. Now on its fifth edition, Aylett explains, “It's kind of like all the APR textbooks put into one free resource.”
When you’re ready to start the process, first explore the study guide to see how it aligns with your current knowledge, skills and abilities. But if you don’t want to tackle it alone, you don’t have to — besides these free APR resources, organization chapters or districts often host virtual and in-person study groups.
Plus, Aylett says there are intensive three-day boot camps available to help you complete the entire APR process.
Since candidates have plenty of time to schedule the exam, Barber offers some advice: Set a deadline or goals to help you stay on track.
Step 3: Panel presentation
This part is where you meet with three APRs — in person or virtually — and they ask you questions based on your portfolio and the panel presentation questionnaire you complete beforehand.
Similar to a self-assessment, the questionnaire is where you explain your professional and educational background, your organization and your role, “plus how you assess your readiness to take the computer-based exam,” explains Aylett.
During the presentation, the APRs will evaluate your competence in areas the exam can’t gauge, like public speaking, quick thinking abilities, management skills, the four-step process, research planning, implementation and evaluation and more.
In the end, they decide if you advance to the next step.
This can be an anxiety-ridden experience for some, but Aylett says the panel presentation is a friendly and supportive environment, and the APRs want to ensure you take the process seriously — if you don’t advance, it only means they want you to study more.
“These are people who want you in the fold; who want you to succeed,” reminds Falkenthal. “What they're looking for is areas where they can advise you.”
Step 4: Computer-based exam
You have three hours and 45 minutes to complete the exam, whether you take it at one of Prometric’s in-person testing centers or at home through remote proctoring.
The exam is $385, but some associations offer rebates or scholarships to support members through the process.
Here’s how it’s set up:
- There are 132 multiple-choice questions, plus several beta questions that are not scored.
- The four-step process is 30% of the exam.
- Leadership is 20% of the exam.
- Managing relationships, ethics and law and issues and crisis communications are 15% of the exam.
- Models, theories and history are 5% of the exam.
Once you’re done, you receive a preliminary score, so you’ll know right away if you passed or failed.
Now, what happens if you fail? Simple: Study some more and retake it. The pass rate for second-timers is in the 90 percentile, says Aylett, and it’s likely because you know what to expect, the structure of the exam and your problem areas
After all, what do you call someone who passed the APR after three tries? An APR.
Step 5: Renewal
Once you earn the accreditation, you never have to retake the exam. As long as you submit a renewal form with a $75 fee every three years, you’re an APR for life.
Still, you’re not off the hook — you have to remain involved in the PR industry and a member of your organization. Plus, you have to earn at least 15 continuing education units (CEU) every three years (think: speaking at conferences or webinars, attending chapter meetings and more.)
Are you already APR credentialed? Share your experience in the comments or on social media using #solopr! How has it improved your career?
This blog post is based on a webinar conducted for members of the Solo PR Pro community. If you’re interested in watching the recording, click here to become a Solo PR Pro member where you’ll gain access to the webinar + hundreds of other resources, videos and guides.