The value of PR qualifications

This started as a brief comment to respond to Todd Defren’s thoughts on accreditation for PR practitioners, but it became rather lengthy for a comment so here it is as a longer post.

I understand Todd’s points, but I’m not sure I agree with him that PR people don’t need to be accredited.

There are two elements to studying and accreditation. The first is basic principles and fundamentals. That is the history and ethics of public relations and how it works as a management function. Studying and accreditation are essential for that.

I’ve worked with and known far too many talented PR people who simply don’t know what they are doing. They might be excellent at spotting a story or writing a killer news release, but they don’t understand how it all fits into the big picture. I’ve also know PR graduates who have a good grasp of the big picture but have trouble drafting even a simple news release. It is that big picture where the discipline of accreditation is invaluable.

The second element is practice and there I am inclined to agree with Todd. Organisations such as PRSA (or CIPR in the UK) are by their nature too slow to keep up with what is happening on the ground and are always going to be some steps behind anything new.

But that doesn’t matter in terms of accreditation as the principles of new PR/social media/PR 2.0 or whatever you want to call it are exactly the same as before. It is only the tools and tactics that differ. One big reason for PR’s poor reputation is that too many PR people think this whole listening, conversation, two-way communication, not controlling the message is new. If they had been accredited and understood the big picture they shouldn’t make this mistake.

Todd’s second point is that mandatory accreditation “would raise unnecessary barriers to young people interested in ‘trying out’ the PR profession. On this I definitely disagree. It doesn’t put high calibre people off entering law or accountancy – many do ‘try out’ these professions and then quit because they don’t enjoy it or can’t hack it. Why shouldn’t the same be true of PR?

If we are to be true corporate counsellers with a place in the boardroom alongside lawyers and accountants then we need to be as highly trained and regulated as they are. The fact that some people in these professions are charlatans doesn’t matter as much as the fact there is a system for dealing with them. There is no system to root out bad apples in the PR barrel.

PR companies have a corporate social responsibility to put something back into the business. That means supporting new people to get their accreditation by offering study leave or support with course fees.

Todd says his own agency employs 75-odd PR “stars” and I have no doubt he is right as from what little I know of Shift it is an excellent agency. It is therefore alarming and puzzling to discover that “none have APR affixed to their business cards.”

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