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2013 Leadership Assembly punctuated by accreditation “discussion”

(Please note that the links below are to documents on the PRSA website, prsa.org. To view these documents, you must be a PRSA member and you must login to the site using your member number and password.)

The 2013 Public Relations Society of America Leadership Assembly gathered in downtown Philadelphia Oct. 26 to hear from the Society’s volunteer leadership team and paid staff. This was my fifth leadership assembly in the last eight years and the agenda distributed weeks before the meeting implied that this would be one of the least controversial assemblies in which I have participated. For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed, but as you’ll read below, when it came to discussing “Strengthening the APR”, a number of assembly delegates spoke passionately in response to the presentation that shared the results of a study of PRSA’s accreditation process.

As they have in the past, the assembly opened with the “State of the Society” presentation, which is offered by the current Chair and CEO, the chair-elect, PRSA’s president and COO, and the Public Relations Student Society of America representative.

The treasurer’s report provided some encouraging news given all the challenges PRSA National faced in October 2012 when the Society’s New York City offices were heavily damaged by Super Storm Sandy, and again in 2013 when a leaking water pipe caused additional damage to the office.  The good news is that national dues will not be raised beyond the current $255 per year. A complete copy of the report is available by clicking

Chair-elect Joe Cohen, APR, was next in line and presented the strategic plan that will guide the Society for the next three years, 2014-2016. Like any effective planning document, the strategic plan identifies the organization’s vision, mission and goals for the next three years. The goals include advocacy, communities, education, excellence and growth.  Each of the goals is further explained in the strategic plan presentation, which is linked above.

In addition to approving two minor bylaw amendments and giving a thumbs-up to the 2014 board of officers, assembly delegates heard about the accomplishments of the PRSA Foundation, were encouraged to support the Champions for PRSSA with financial donations, and learned about the six universities, including one from South America, whose academic programs earned a Certification in Public Relations. To earn the certification, each of the schools undergoes a rigorous evaluation by seasoned PRSA members. In some cases, schools have been evaluated several times before earning the certificate.  The number of certified public relations academic programs worldwide now stands at 33.

Now, for the Strengthening the APR discussion. If you’re accredited, it’s difficult to say how the study results will impact you moving forward; however, for those who may seek accreditation in the future, there could be changes to the program, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2014.

The Organizational Performance Group (OPG), hired by PRSA, was asked to examine how the APR could be enhanced and, perhaps, be made more relevant.  The process OPG used and the results presented to the assembly are available through the link above. One of the biggest surprises to me was that “accreditation” is a term typically used for recognizing institutions, organizations or businesses…not individuals.  Another fact is the number of accredited PRSA members is on the decline, more than 7 percent since 1994, which may explain why those surveyed said accreditation is “not seen as worth the investment of time and money.”

More than 60 percent of employers surveyed said they do not hire or promote based on a person’s accreditation.

Based on its research OPG presented three potential options:

  • Discontinue the APR
  • Initiate some low-key changes
  • Overhaul the credential


Each of the options is examined in greater detail beginning with Slide 13 in the linked presentation.

Personally, I don’t see PRSA discontinuing the accreditation program. While it currently may not hold the same level of prestige and recognition as a Certified Public Accountant, the APR has been around too long to let it fade away. I also don’t see PRSA making minor tweaks to the accreditation program, which would be like putting a Band-Aid on a major hemorrhage.

The OPG report sheds interesting, and disturbing, results that can’t, and won’t, be addressed in the short-term.  Recommendations include returning some prestige to accreditation; re-evaluating the current accreditation process, specifically the Readiness Review procedure; re-evaluating APR maintenance procedures, and many other suggestions outlined in the linked presentation.

The OPG presentation was followed by a Town Hall session that focused on assembly delegate feedback to the report.  Based on what I heard, support for the continuance of the accreditation program was strong (and loud) and many delegates said they would like to see the recommendations outlined in the report given serious consideration.

If the APR designation is going to hold any significance for the profession in the future, PRSA and its members must re-examine, and potentially reinvent, the accreditation process to make it relevant, valuable and recognizable.

 

- Barry Grossman
  Assembly Delegate