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Accreditation in Public Relations (APR)

By: Kate Walter

Exactly one week ago today, I was rushing home to check my mailbox to see if I’d received PRSA logoa letter in the mail. I had! The wonderful news from the Public Relations Society of America informed me that I was now officially accredited in public relations (APR). Although the process was a long one, I’m still confident in my initial decision to become an APR. My decision, like many others who decide to go through this accreditation, was based on wanting to enhance the overall reputation of public relations as a growing and valid profession. In addition, I wanted to further my own knowledge base, inevitably providing more value to the clients I work with.

Just in the past week, I’ve already begun to get questions from peers asking for advice on what I did to help me through the studying process, whether I think getting his or her APR would benefit them and tips for passing. So, I thought I‘d share what worked for me in hopes that others will be persuaded to become fellow APRs. 🙂

  1. Wanting it

The first time I discovered what an APR was, I was still in grad school. I was perusing the PRSA website and came across the information about accreditation. Even at the time I was bursting with enthusiasm! Although I realized I needed to wait until I’d

APr logo

entered the workforce and gained some real-world experience before beginning the APR process, it’s been in the back of my mind for the past 4 years. Suffice it to say, I WANTED this. And I wasn’t going to let anything dissuade me from pursuing it.

  1. Timing

As a member of the Florida Public Relations Association, our organization offers APR classes that members can attend to help prepare them for the Readiness Review and the multiple choice exam. The accreditation chair began these weekly classes in February and they ended in May. I had written most of my 10-page Readiness Review paper by the end of the class and gave my presentation in early June. Having gotten a passing score, I gave myself two months of solid studying and sat for the exam on Aug. 29. The whole process took seven months. I remember at the beginning of February I tried to convince my best friend to take the class with me. As she was due to have her first child in July, she declined, thinking it would be poor timing. As with most things, she was right! Now we laugh about how there was no way she would have been able to focus, take care of her baby boy and put in the time it takes to study and prepare for the exam. Before you start this journey, you need to evaluate how much time you have to give. Does your job get busier during those months? Is your personal life changing? Are you able to allot time each day to studying? You have to be honest with yourself and make the right choice for you.

  1. Dedication

As I said, it took me seven months to complete the APR program. Would you still be Marvels-The-Avengersmotivated after seven months? I can tell you, its not easy. Instead of going home, relaxing on my couch and watching The Avengers with my puppy, I was studying; reviewing notes, reading chapters, taking practice exams, meeting up for study sessions, using flash cards….the list goes on. If you’re not dedicated, don’t start.

  1. Experience

I wanted to sit for the APR as soon as possible. In fact, I remember asking my previous employer (who happened to be the APR accreditation chair at that time) if she thought it’d be a good idea for me to begin the classes. At this time, I’d had about zero work experience, was just out of school and oh, did I mention I didn’t even major in public relations? She very kindly told me she thought it best if I wait a few years as the Universal Accreditation Board recommends you have five years of work experience first. I thought to myself, “Five years? I’ll do it in less. I like a good challenge.” But that self-assured attitude could have gotten me in trouble. I feel very fortunate to have worked on the agency side of public relations, handling a variety of clients in varying professions and industries. Without that broad scope of experience, I’m fairly confident I wouldn’t have passed. (I also have to shout out to my wonderful employers/mentors who not only trusted and believed in me, but also allowed me to prove myself by giving me a variety of projects to work on!)

More than the number of years you’ve been working, I think it’s more important to evaluate the type and breadth of work you’ve done. Have you dealt with a communication crisis, do you handle media relations daily, have you ever applied copyright law knowledge to a real-world situation, have you worked with non-profit clients and for-profit clients and understand how to market them differently? I think the APR can be a more difficult process if you’ve only worked for one company that conducts business in one industry AND you’ve only had a few years of experience. That being said, you’re the best judge of what you know and what you’re capable of. So, if you think you’re ready, go for it! Game on!

  1. Get Zen with it

MeditationThis might just be the yogi in me, but it worked and I’m swearing by it. The week of my test I decided to only study lightly and attempt (operative word) to not stress too much. I had prepared for the past two months for the exam and I didn’t want to over-think anything at that point. Instead of grueling morning workouts, I chose to take calming yoga classes and I visualized passing the exam. I think this visualization was key. In my head, I walked through the entire process of taking the multiple choice exam; walking in, setting up my computer, reading each question slowly, knowing that when I got frustrated I would take a deep breath and continue on. I even visualized the overall, passing score I would get. Result? I passed and I got the exact score that I visualized. Powerful.

 

Let me know if any of these tips helped you in the comments below!

 

 

Etiquette and Protocal: How social media has turned into C3PO

By: Kate Walter

There has been a lot of talk lately on public relations forums about the etiquette of social media. Most recently, I read an article by Kevin Allen on PR Daily News. Although I agree with his main points about maintaining professionalism on LinkedIn, there were a few interesting comments he made that garnered my interest. Most notably, when he stated, “It sounds ridiculous, but people can really lose respect for you if you post things that are generally reserved for more informal social media outlets. Although we’re all saddened by the tragic events that took place in (insert location here), LinkedIn just isn’t the forum for sending your thoughts and prayers their way. Those expressions, however benevolent, should stay on Facebook or Twitter.”

logo-linkedin

I admit, that my opinion on this issue may have something to do with the fact that I was one of the early adopters of Facebook back in 2004 and remember how the social media site used to function. Yes, I remember the days when you had to have a college email address to sign up. Back when your aunt, your Mom, your neighbors and every business owner in the world weren’t able to look at your posts and tagged photos from last night’s Frat party. Social media was safe. You existed in a cocoon of your peers. You were surrounded by like-minded individuals who weren’t judging you on your level of professionalism or whether they might potentially hire you. Things have changed.

twitter-bird-white-on-blue

To get back to Mr. Allen’s comment, it’s interesting how he differentiates LinkedIn as being strictly professional and says that on Facebook and Twitter you are allowed to be more open, more empathetic and more ‘you’. I agree that LinkedIn is considered more of a professional social media site and there are different rules. However, I would argue that even Facebook and Twitter have become forums where self-expression is stifled, as one must consciously be aware of who is viewing your content. Yes, some of this depends on who you’re ‘friends’ with or who ‘follows’ you. Some of this depends on the nature of your job. Another part of this comes down to your settings and what you allow others to see on your social media page and what content you choose to share. But in truth, despite Facebook and Twitter being more accepting of creative posts, personal opinion and benevolent expressions, these social media sites aren’t the same entities they were when they first launched.

Facebook-logo-1817834

Also, when you consider that most individuals connect with the same people across all three of these social media platforms, this differentiation between the social media sites becomes even more blurred. Despite LinkedIn having the pretense of being more professional, if you have access to the content of a persons’ Twitter, Facebook as well, you’re still going to see the professional and ‘unprofessional’ content. And, therefore, your overall view and opinion of this person will still be affected.

It’s a definite conundrum and one that continues to grow as social media continues to grow and change. In addition to Mr. Allen’s tips about using proper etiquette on LinkedIn, I suppose my two cents of advice would be to use the same etiquette on Facebook and Twitter. Or learn how to change your privacy settings.

Musings on Corporate Social Responsibility

By: Kate Walter

Often when asked which area of public relations I’m most interested in, I will respond by saying, “corporate social responsibility.”  As a person who regularly volunteers within the community (Junior League of Fort Myers, Gulf Coast Humane Society’s Fast & Furriest), encourages others to give back to charitable organizations (Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, Relay for Life, Shy Wolf Sanctuary) whenever possible and believes in the overall good of humanity, the idea that corporations are beginning to place philanthropy in their overall business plans brings warm fuzzies to my heart.  But, should it really?

Carroll's CSR model

Over the years many different definitions and models of CSR have developed.  Perhaps the most memorable (since it’s been a few years out of the classroom now) being Carroll’s CSR pyramid.  The pyramid acts as a building block, where companies would first need to lay a foundation of economic responsibilities before they can move onto the next tier of legal responsibilities, then ethical responsibilities and finally their philanthropic responsibilities. This model proposes that for businesses to get to a level where then can focus on giving back, they first have to take care of their economic bottom line. From a practical standpoint, the bottom line is what drives all businesses.  You can ask almost any CEO, Stakeholder, COO and especially a CFO, and they will most likely tell you that if a practice or strategic business plan does not inevitably benefit their bottom line, they are not going to move forward with it.

However, herein lies the problem with CSR, the debate between theory and practice. The fundamental ideal behind this theory is that businesses are doing good for the sake of doing good.  Not necessarily to benefit their bottom line, although studies have shown that by adopting CSR practices, companies do see an economic benefit.  But, in theory the bottom line should not be the driving force behind pursuing a CSR plan. ^ Orlitzky, Marc; Frank L. Schmidt, Sara L. Rynes (2003). “Corporate Social and Financial Performance: A Meta-analysis” (PDF). Organization Studies (London: SAGE Publications) 24 (3): 403–441. doi:10.1177/0170840603024003910. Retrieved 2008-03-07.)

And you may argue that whether the reasoning behind pursuing CSR is one of idealistic, delusions of grandeur of benefiting publics, or the corporate ideals of improving the profit margin of the business, as long as both are occurring, should it matter what the reasons are behind it?  Perhaps, not.

You might also argue, as Milton Friedman did, that a company actually benefits society more by focusing on the bottom line.  This company offers jobs, spreads wealth within the community and government, and has added time and resources to spend on CSR.  In fact, many of the companies that have notable CSR plans do tend to be large corporations such as Coca-Cola, Ben & Jerry’s and Starbucks, that have the added finances to spend on developing CSR plans.  ^ Friedman, Milton (1970-09-13). “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits”. The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 2008-03-07.

Suffice it to say the debate will continue. But for me, I’m holding on to the warm fuzzies for a little while longer.

WarmFuzzies

Launching PKEBlue, a “colorful” initiative

By: Kate Walter

As marketing and public relations professionals, we keep our ears to the ground and our fingers on the pulse of changing trends and technology.  This benefits our diverse clients, plus since we’re avid proponents of lifetime learning, we love doing it.  One such example in recent years is the interest in “going green.”

According to the United States’ Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2009, more than two million companies were producing goods or services that benefited the environment or conserved natural resources.  The data isn’t collected yet for 2012, but we can extrapolate that this number has grown proportionately to the amount of buzz surrounding sustainability.

As we observe the sustainability industry expand, we have noticed the lack of marketing and PR services specifically for earth-friendly organizations.  And since educating the public is the foremost priority in the world of “green,” we are stepping up to provide those services.  We have attended multiple workshops and seminars, read many books and journal articles and researched sustainability to ready ourselves for this new adventure.  And we have already successfully implemented our “green” services to three of our eco-friendly clients.

In keeping with the growth of this industry, PKE Marketing & PR Solutions is proud to announce a new division of our firm, PKE Blue. Of course we will continue to serve our new and existing clients from all different areas of expertise – the added division allows us to provide specialty services customized for those involved in sustainability.

PKEBlue provides and implements communication strategies to businesses and individuals in the industries of sustainability, green building and eco-friendly products.  It is our belief that, although the term “green” may be overused, the ideals behind it are not a passing trend.  We hope to bring awareness to businesses that are addressing environmental and energy issues by communicating their accomplishments, developing strategic marketing plans, creating collateral materials, writing traditional and online news releases, arranging speaking engagements, managing social media and writing award submissions.

We are very excited to take this new step, and we can’t wait to see what lies ahead for this “colorful” initiative!

 

 

 

Networking + Networking = Relationship Building

By: Kate Walter

 

For the past year, the Public Relations Society of America has been engaged in an effort to modernize the definition of public relations. Through opinion polls and other research the organization officially updated the definition to read, “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” Although building and facilitating long-term relationships is the ultimate goal for a business to achieve their bottom line interests, many organizations ask, “How do I accomplish this?”

There are numerous strategies and tactics for relationship building – one of the mostwidespread and effective is networking. Despite the importance of social media, advertising, branding, etc. there is still the underlying, old school method of face time. If someone likes your business outlook or your personality, then most often they will want to know more about your product or service. Of course, the next question becomes, “How do I network effectively?” Although there are many schools of thought on this, I believe individuals should take their cue from public relations and consider the PRSA definition of mutually beneficial relationships. Therefore, the core foundation of effective networking should focus more on relationship building than on networking for networking sake.

 


For example, we have all been to those after hour meetings where you enter a room of 200 people and are immediately accosted by someone who flings their business card at you, tells you briefly about what they do and then saunters off after their next victim. This person is on a mission. They feel that they must hand out as many business cards as possible, because quantity over quality is what counts. However, if you were on the receiving end of this onslaught, most likely you will never remember this person and/or will never use their product or service.
There are always exceptions, but taking the time to talk to someone, to truly listen and engage in conversation is invaluable. Instead of spreading yourself thin, focus on one or two people at each meeting whom you have not spoken to before. You will be remembered and others will talk about how you took the time to get to know them and word will spread. The person you speak with may become a client. He may refer business to you. She may serve as your word-of-mouth marketing team. He or she might become one of your closest friends. Leave yourself open to possibilities and don’t focus solely on your destination. Focus instead on building lasting and rewarding relationships.

News Releases: the artist formerly known as press releases

By: Kate Walter

News Releases.  Such a simple task can seem daunting when faced with so many pieces to make the puzzle come together.  I was always the “A” student in English class. The one who read every required reading book and would rather have written a ten-page paper than take a multiple-choice exam. However, even I have to admit there is a learning curve for writing in the field of public relations. You are faced with AP stylebooks, word limits and writing for various media like print, online and social networking sites. Many times you are writing about an industry or a product that you weren’t familiar with 20 minutes ago. And in the end the information has to be accurate, newsworthy, unique or informative (or both), and ideally further the branding of your client. So where to start?

I recently read an article in Tactics, the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) monthly newsletter that discussed common mistakes in writing news releases and how to fix them. I liked the article so much, that I not only saved it, but I’m going to share the advice.

  • Think in terms of audience benefits- Essentially, why should readers/consumers/publics care about your bit of news. Your news release should be answering the question, “What’s in it for me?”
  • Focus on the news- Don’t let your news release sound like a commercial for your product, event or accomplishment.
  • Cover the basics- Include the who, what, why, where and how. In fact, it wouldn’t hurt to include this in the lead.
  • Keep your message clear and readable- Try not to use abbreviations, corporate buzzwords, industry jargon or too many technical details. Remember you are writing a news release to be submitted to the general public.
  • Don’t use lame quotes- Instead of making the quote client-centric, make it customer-oriented, punchy and interesting. Use the quote to add perspective, meaning and color to the news release.
  • Use keywords- Keywords are crucial when it comes to search engine optimization so make sure that you include them throughout the news release.

We have committed to blogging more frequently with relevant, timely glimpses into the PR life.  So stay tuned in for more anecdotes, strategies, words of wisdom and all things PKE!