APR in PRSA Governance Debate: Pro and Con Voices

The most significant bylaw discussion to occur at the 2010 PRSA National Assembly in October revolves around the role of APR in PRSA Governance at a national level. There is a proposal before the Assembly to eliminate the requirement that candidates for national office and the national board of directors be APRs (all other requirements will remain and the nomination and election process will not change).

The PRSA Northeast District Board firmly believes that an informed member base is the best member base. This is an issue that impacts all members of PRSA. Not just Assembly Delegates or those considering running for national office.

We wanted to make sure all PR pros in the Northeast District have a chance to hear both sides of the issue. Therefore, we invited two of the most passionate and visible people to make their case (ideally in 500 words or less) which we would then post without any editing.

As of now, the PRSA Northeast District Board of Directors has not yet taken a position on this issue. We want to hear from you about what you think. Chapter presidents and leaders, please feel free to share this with your membership to find out what they think. Members, please let your delegates know how you would like them to vote.

Without further ado:

For Removal:
Expanding the Path to PRSA Leadership

One of the hallmarks of the Public Relations Society of America is the broad inclusion of communications professionals. Our more than 21,000 members represent a staggering range of institutions, corporations, non-profits, agencies of all sizes, government entities, associations, regulatory bodies, the military and educational institutions. And because there is no single defined path to enter our profession – such as mandated licensing for law or medicine – our members have a rich array of backgrounds and experiences.

As PRSA prepares for the upcoming International Conference in October, a very important decision will be made at the Leadership Assembly. Delegates will vote on a bylaw amendment that will expand the paths to leadership in our society.

Currently, there is one path to PRSA leadership at the national level. To serve on the national board, members are required to have their Accredited Public Relations (APR) certification. While other factors then come into play – such as length of involvement in our profession, service to the Society, leadership skills, etc – the APR is the sole standard for national service. Approximately 4,000 PRSA members have earned this certification.

We support a bylaw amendment that will create three paths to leadership in our society.  Support for this bylaw in no way diminishes the value of APR in our profession. Indeed, every member of our society should respect and applaud the PRSA members who have taken the time to earn this professional distinction.

By the same token, we ask those who have earned the APR to value the leadership skills, industry qualifications and desire to serve that exist among the 80 percent of our members who have chosen not to pursue the APR certification. APR is a hallmark for professional improvement, but not a standard for good governance.

Earning an APR is a professional distinction, and it is strong enough to stand on its own merits. It should not be the sole gatekeeper for those who seek to serve PRSA. All members of PRSA – regardless of which type of organization they represent, the path they took to enter our profession or what voluntary certification they chose to pursue – should have an equal opportunity to serve on the national board.

Certainly, there must still be high standards for those seeking a national board position. The proposed bylaw upholds those high standards by requiring that a nominee for the national board is a member in good standing and have at least one of the following qualifications:

– A previous leadership role in the Society, including, but not limited to, served as a member of a Chapter, District or Section board of directors, chaired a national or local committee or task force, or served as an Assembly delegate.
– At least 20 years of service as a public relations professional, with increasing levels of responsibility.

Under this amendment, the value and stature of APR is preserved while the value and stature of other forms of leadership are recognized. The Nominating Committee will continue to vet all candidates to ensure the very strongest leaders will be brought before the Assembly each year. With this amendment the pool of potential leaders will be broadened. In recent years, there have been many board positions that have only had one candidate to be considered by the nominating committee.

As each PRSA chapter prepares to send its delegates to Washington, D.C. for the Leadership Assembly, we ask that they discuss, evaluate and support this critical bylaw amendment. Making this change will require a two thirds vote of the Assembly, and it continues the discussion that was held last year on this important issue. The changing of bylaws should not be taken lightly. But we strongly believe that the long-term health and viability of PRSA is dependent upon having a broad, diverse and committed stable of leaders who may, or may not, have earned a voluntary professional certification.

Sandra Fathi
Bill Doescher
Deborah Radman, APR, Fellow PRSA
Rene Henry, Fellow PRSA
Eric Moses
Dave Rickey, APR
Art Stevens, APR, Fellow PRSA
Monty Hagler, APR

Against Removal

Why I am opposed to dropping the APR requirement for national PRSA leadership
By Steven L. Lubetkin, MBA, APR, Fellow, PRSA
Managing Partner, Lubetkin Communications LLC/Professional Podcasts LLC
Past PRSA National Board Member, 2003-2005
Past Member, Universal Accreditation Board, 1997-2003

With great respect for the leaders of the proposal to decouple the APR credential as a requirement for national leadership of PRSA, I still disagree strongly with their contention that they are not devaluing the APR credential with their amendment.

I think if these “deep in their career” professionals who don’t have the APR truly want to lead our Society, they would demonstrate their commitment to professionalism and leadership, and leading by example, would study for and obtain the APR, to show other, junior members of the Society that they value credentialling as a way to preserve professional standards.

If they truly want to be leaders of the Society, they would not be seeking a shortcut to the leadership chair, they would gladly submit themselves to this demonstration of their knowledge and ability.

The message that’s sent by the amendment is that if you want to be in charge of something but you don’t meet the requirements, change the institution and remake it to your own liking.

That approach, rejecting and attempting to circumvent a standard that we dislike, reinforces some of the baser elements of the PR profession today. It’s manipulative, hypocritical, and damaging to professional development goals.

I don’t think that’s in PRSA’s best interests, and I don’t think our membership believes that either.

Requiring APR for PRSA leadership is not about proving their competence. It’s about individuals who wish to lead the organization making a tangible, personal sacrifice and public commitment to the credential that says, “Being credentialed by the organization where I want to be a leader is important. It shows my commitment to professional development for myself, and shows that I am personally willing to put my neck out there and take the time to prepare for an examination to test my abilities as a PR practitioner.”

All major professional organizations with credentialling programs require their leaders to be — at the very least — minimally involved in the organization’s credentialling programs.

Why do the leaders of this amendment drive think that PRSA leadership should be disconnected from its own credential? What’s the big deal about earning it?

The leaders of this amendment will argue that this is a debate over democracy. They will say that the APR requirement prevents 16,000 members from running for national office. I suggest that it gives them a challenge to demonstrate their own commitment to professional development if they want to lead.

The supporters of the amendment claim there are “world class” agency presidents unable to serve as leaders of PRSA because they don’t have the APR. I’ve never seen one of those people actually raise their hands and say “I want to be a PRSA national leader.” It’s all based on rumor and supposition.

I challenge the supporters of this amendment to publically explain why they prefer to do away with the requirement for APR.

I challenge them to say to our younger members of our organization, “You know, APR is a good thing to have, it’s really a mark that distinguishes someone who is willing to keep learning about PR from those who slime the ethics of our profession, and I am taking the exam to show younger practitioners that this is a way for them to stand out and create a positive reputation for themselves.”

The bottom line for me is this: If we as a Society that claims to value professional development don’t full-throatedly support our OWN credential for people who want to lead at the very top of our profession, how can we ever expect anyone else to take it seriously?

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7 Responses to APR in PRSA Governance Debate: Pro and Con Voices

  1. This is a well-written piece. If it’s ok, I’d like to share the link with our chapter as well. We will be discussing this at our September board meeting.

  2. mmcclennan says:

    Abbie, that’s why we posted it here. Most of the discussion has been going on in membership forums (which is fine) but we also wanted a place where all members could quickly read both sides of the issue.

  3. Jack O'Dwyer says:

    Hello PRSA Members:

    This debate over the value of APR should examine the revised APR Study Guide.

    Test-takers are told to study 23 chapters of college PR texts. These texts are typically years and years out of date and are at a rudimentary level. Asking PR pros to take the APR exam is asking them to go back to college. APR is by no means a “hallmark of excellence,” as proponents claim.

    The only college text whose editor is live on the web twice a month is Fraser Seitel, author of The Practice of PR. His text is not on the “short list” and none of his chapters are recommended.

    PR, which evolves day by day and is subject to numerous marketing and political pressures, is not something that can be captured in a textbook. Below is a blog I wrote for Sept. 8 on http://www.odwyerpr.com. Free sample user/pass for Sept. are fall & news to view this column and many others about the Society.

    Wednesday, September 8. 2010
    APR Study Guide Ignores Seitel (and Reality)
    The newly revised APR Study Guide of the Universal Accreditation Board (PDF) all but ignores one of the leading textbooks — “The Practice of Public Relations” by Fraser Seitel.

    Although undoubtedly one of the three major college texts, along with Cutlip and Center’s “Effective Public Relations” and Dennis Wilcox’s “Public Relations: Strategies and Tactics,” the Seitel book does not even make the “short list” of texts recommended for APR candidates.

    “The Practice of PR” has sold more than 250,000 copies since it was introduced in 1980.

    Seitel is the only textbook author whose latest views are available on the Internet via his twice monthly column on this website, which he has done for seven years. He also does impromptu columns whenever a major PR crisis appears.

    It’s doubly-odd that the PRSA-dominated Universal Accreditation Board should slight Seitel since he was the founding editor of its Strategist monthly in 1995, a post he held for five years.

    If there is any “public voice” of PR it’s Seitel since he has taken part in hundreds of TV and radio talk shows in recent years (averaging two a month).

    The only explanation we have for this hole in the APR preparation materials is the PR Society’s animus toward the O’Dwyer Co. Politics has trumped educational values.

    Seitel also teaches in the New York University Graduate program in PR and corporate communications headed by John Doorley.
    Comment Sought from Dubois

    Anne Dubois, chair of the UAB and also a delegate to the 2010 Society Assembly, who was on the 2007-2008 UAB Study Guide Task Force that revised the Guide, has been asked for comment.

    APR is the subject of a heated debate in a Society e-group since the Committee to Promote Democracy in PRSA has proposed that non-APRs be allowed on the board of the Society

    Almost all of those participating in the debate are against any change, several falsely charging that it has been brought up “repeatedly.”
    Dubois said in the e-group that APR issue was “decided several times earlier.”

    The APR proposal has only reached the floor of the Assembly once in the 11 years since it was first proposed. That was last year when the topic was briefly discussed. Most of the 2009 Assembly’s time was spent on a bylaws revision.

    Under both the PR Society Code and the UAB Code, Dubois is supposed to correct any error in a communication “immediately with all audiences.”

    APR supporters hail it as a “mark of distinction” while critics say the study materials prove that the test only covers the rudiments of PR and APRs should have no special status.
    23 Textbook Chapters Recommended

    The Guide recommends the study of 11 chapters in the Effective PR textbook and ten in the Strategies and Tactics book.

    There is no recommendation to study chapters in the Seitel book, which is named on “the Longer Bookshelf” in a section on “Information and Resources” in the Guide.

    Also on the “short list” is Primer of PR by Don Stacks (2002) and Strategic Planning by R.D. Smith (2004 by Lawrence Erlbaum).

  4. Hello, I just wanted to provide another perspective to the APR experience.

    Not all of us who are against the requirement are looking for “shortcuts.” I did in fact study for the APR for 4 months while laid up after some surgery, and purchased all the recommended books, took all the online tests, met periodically with one other person in the group to study together. I knew when I saw the online sample questions, however, that I was in trouble.

    I missed passing I understand by just a couple of points. I have decided not to go through the process again not only because of the expense, but primarily because I disagreed strongly with how the online test questions were formatted and worded.

    I found out after the fact that certain chapters, such as San Diego, have extremely good programs in place to help APR candidates. So there is discrepancy across states about what is provided on a local basis, separate from the online course and the recommended texts.

    I find it disheartening that members feel that not gaining an APR shows lack of commitment. I have 25+ years in PR and a master’s degree in communications. I just don’t do well on the current test format, and would urge the delegates to take a more inclusive, balanced approach with the APR requirement.

  5. Howard Sholkin says:

    I have been active and a leader in Boston PRSA for about 20 years. While APR may be important for some professionals, it has never been critical in my 30 years in PR and marketing programs. In fact, as my career has evolved I am asked to plan and implement an increasing number of digital programs that are not traditional PR.

    Without an APR designation, I am blocked from advancing from local leadership to national. The same can be said for about 80% of the membership who have not chosen to pursue APR status. In my experience with volunteer groups one must be more inclusive rather than limiting to tap into the energy and expertise of members. Why should PRSA limit its leaders to about 20% of its membership?

  6. [...] PRSA Northeast District presents an argument for and against (kind like of a “He Said, She Said”) on their blog. Since this is sure to be a hot topic [...]

  7. Casey says:

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