My APR Journey

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Connie Cochran, APR, is the community relations officer at the City of Stockton in northern California. Publicity Committee Conference Article

I learned about the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) a few years ago at the CAPIO Conference in San Diego.  Unfortunately, I did not know about it earlier in my career, because it is the single most career enriching experience that I have ever had.

The foundation of the communications planning process is research, planning, implementation and evaluation – RPIE.  Reflecting upon this year and the APR process, I’d like to offer you some sage advice.

Research

If you are like me and are unaware of the APR credential, do not be afraid to admit it and talk with as many people as you can before you make the commitment.  Life is complicated. There will always be reasons to put it off or postpone the process and each of us must decide when the time is right.

Planning

When you embark upon this journey, it is a bit overwhelming. I read, over-and-over again, “Study first, then apply.”  However, I did not heed that warning. I investigated a bit, spoke with a few of you, had a false start at forming a study group, then applied, which officially started the one-year clock running. (P, in my case, also stood for “panic.”)

Implementation

I officially applied to Universal Accreditation Board (which administers the APR) and was accepted effective Dec. 1, 2017.  Initially, my pace was leisurely, I cracked open the study guide, bought a few of the recommended text books and began working my way through reading the chapters.

Since I had been practicing public relations for years, everything made sense. In the beginning, reading was very internally distracting, as I recalled thousands of scenarios and situations, past and present. Things that I had done well and “ah-ha” moments about things that had not turned out.

To establish a structure and make my way through the material in an organized fashion, I decided to sign up for the online webinar offered by PRSA. Just like college, a new cohort begins each fall, winter, spring and summer.  Weekly sessions are one-hour long, facilitated by an instructor. Each week at least two people who have earned their APR stripes share their experiences. If you choose this mode of learning, you participate by completing the online exercises, engaging in the chatroom and volunteering to present during one of the webinars.

To study, I tried everything. Group conference calls, outlining chapters, index cards with terms and definitions, Quizlet, a bulletin board full of sticky notes, even talking to myself. What was most effective for me is taking what I was learning and intentionally applying it to what I do every day; keeping this mess of materials on my desktop and in binders and referencing it throughout the day.

It was on one of those webinars that I heard someone mention the idea of a Boot Camp where you could present and take the online exam all in one week. I decided this was the best approach for me and signed up for a Boot Camp hosted by the Lansing, Michigan, PRSA Chapter. I successfully passed both the panel and online exam the same week, earning my APR on Sept. 14, 2018.

Evaluation

I’ve had the opportunity to reflect or evaluate my process and journey over the last several weeks. This came at a time when I had put my three children through college and my husband through graduate school. The city that I work for is closed every other Friday, so I had the benefit of long weekends to study and prepare, neglecting all housework, home improvements, hobbies and a meaningful social life.

The Boot Camp crammed panel presentation, test-taking techniques, and the online exam into an intense three-day experience. It worked for me, but I strongly encourage you to find the right path for you.

If you’ve started and stopped, start again. If you do not have a support group, call on those of us who have been through the process. I emailed APRs across the U.S. who were complete strangers to me, and everyone, without exception, was willing to help.

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t stop to reflect upon and appreciate this past year and my APR journey.  If it makes sense for you, I encourage you to begin your own journey, because you’ll never finish what you don’t start.

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