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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About Stuart Bruce

International communications consultant and PR trainer specialising in online public affairs, digital corporate communications, online PR and social media; frequent national media commentator and conference speaker.
  • http://passionatemedia.typepad.com Linda

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post.

    The following is the most relevant to my business – as it was established based largely on journalistic strengths as opposed to knowing anything about the 'bigger PR picture.'

    "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."

    Our company is still in its early days but we are committed to continued development and learning.

    Journalist colleagues may roll their eyes and accuse us of spouting 'jargon' when we discuss any of this but if we want to compete at tender stage for the sorts of clients we want to build relationships with, then boy do we need to know our stuff.

    We have learned a great deal through websites, blogs, industry text books and magazines and signed up to the appropriate membership level of the CIPR as soon as we could.

    Next step will be for one of my colleagues to underpin all of this by signing up to a CIPR course at Birmingham University. The day you stop learning is the day you may as well pack it all in, I reckon!

    All best.

  • http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/blogs Leo Bottary

    Todd's right on this one. The accreditation process can be a helpful professional development tool, but it's nothing more than that. And any argument aimed to make it more than that doesn't hold water. In 20 years in this business, I've worked with the accredited and unaccredited alike, and believe me, there are great ones and bad ones in both camps. PR professionals have a reputation problem because we get mired in issues like this. We as a group appear to care more about "ourselves" and our "profession" than we do about our clients and achieving real results. If we want to improve our reputation, then let's step it up across the board on our client's behalf and help deliver real value to their enterprises. I applaud the training and think the lessons learned from the accreditation process are valuable, but having more "self-accredited," PR professionals in the world isn't going to improve our reputation. If we want people to think we're smart, then let's act smart and allow them to draw the conclusion. Walking into a meeting with a diploma, APR certificate or whatever, isn't going to cut it. The sooner we wake up to that fact, the better off we'll be. Only then, will we have a shot at improving our reputation and credibility.

  • http://www.mutually-inclusive.typepad.com/weblog/ Eric Eggertson

    This is a bit of a chicken and the egg debate.

    You see the same issue in academia, where the qualifications for achieving a doctorate don't necessarily involve learning how to be a good teacher. Then universities set their academics loose on students, explaining that their research skills and quality of dissertation writing qualify them to pass on their learning to others.

    Teaching takes a whole new range of skills that some academics have, and others are lacking. A PhD. does not magically transform them into an excellent teacher.

    Accreditation is a good measure of whether someone: 1) Understands the fundamentals of business communications; 2) Has shown they can apply strategic thinking; 3) Decide to devote the time and energy to the process; 4) Values the accrediting organization enough to want to affiliate themselves with the accreditation being offered.

    There are a lot of people who have 1-2, but don't have either 3 or 4.

  • http://mutually-inclusive.typepad.com/weblog/2006/09/the_relative_va.html Mutually Inclusive PR

    The Relative Value of Professional Accreditation

    Do some capital letters on your business card make you an expert?  Does their absence make you incompetent? The obvious answer is no.  So what possible reason is there to pursue a law degree, earn an accounting designation, earn your professional assoc…

  • http://mutually-inclusive.typepad.com/weblog/2006/09/the_relative_va.html Mutually Inclusive PR

    The Relative Value of Professional Accreditation

    Do some capital letters on your business card make you an expert?  Does their absence make you incompetent? The obvious answer is no.  So what possible reason is there to pursue a law degree, earn an accounting designation, earn your professional assoc…

  • http://overtonecomm.blogspot.com/ Kami Huyse

    I really respect Leo's take on this issue, insofar as we should be client-focued. However, I diagree that this will happen without mechanisms in place to get people to a certain level of skill. How do I know this? Just read a headline or two about PR.

    I don't believe in being self-focused at the expense of everything else, but I do believe that this discussion is valuable. I disagree that we shouldn't be interested in professional development. I think that it is what gives us new levels of knowledge and understanding to bring into our client (and employer) relationships. Everything I do, I do with my clients firmly in mind. I just don't believe that one needs to come at the expense of the other.

  • http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/blogs Leo Bottary

    To Kami's point about professional development, she's absolutely correct. We should be passionate about professional development. And I've said so many times. APR is a source, and arguably a good one, but there are many others as well – some that come with initials and many that do not. Having a string of letters after your name is kind of like walking around with a certificate of completion. Those letters have proven to tell me nothing about someone's ability to help a client. Sadly for many who are inherently insecure about being in the PR business, they place more importance on the credential than on the training, and that's what hurts our business. To that point, I certainly don't paint the APRs of the world with a broad brush either. I'm not talking about the Kami's of the world here.

  • http://constantcommunicator.wordpress.com Serena

    Does it depend if accreditation is a seal of approval of doing things a certain way? Is that the right way? Hmm

    On qualifications versus doing – surely some things are learned on the job and some in the classroom?

  • http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/blogs Leo Bottary

    To Kami's point about professional development, she's absolutely correct. We should be passionate about professional development. And I've said so many times. APR is a source, and arguably a good one, but there are many others as well – some that come with initials and many that do not. Having a string of letters after your name is kind of like walking around with a certificate of completion. Those letters have proven to tell me nothing about someone's ability to help a client. Sadly for many who are inherently insecure about being in the PR business, they place more importance on the credential than on the training, and that's what hurts our business. To that point, I certainly don't paint the APRs of the world with a broad brush either. I'm not talking about the Kami's of the world here.