By: Kate Walter
Exactly one week ago today, I was rushing home to check my mailbox to see if I’d received a 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. 🙂
- 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
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.
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.
As I said, it took me seven months to complete the APR program. Would you still be motivated 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.
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!
- Get Zen with it
This 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!