In 2011, I got my Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) from the Public Relations Society of America. It was a rigorous process, and a big commitment of time and energy, but it was also one of the most rewarding professional experiences I’ve had in my life.
Since then, I’ve chatted with many friends and colleagues who are interested in getting their accreditation. They’ve told me that the process is very intimidating, that the time commitment seems too high, that they are simply too busy at work. They ask me, “How did you do it?” Here is the honest answer I give everyone who asks: I signed up for it, then procrastinated horribly until I only had four months to complete it. I went through a work crisis, and got pregnant with my third child. At no time during that process did I consider giving up. And by the end of those four months, I had my accreditation.
In other words, if I could do it under those circumstances, so can you. And to offer my assistance, I’ll boil it down to five lessons I learned.
- Put some skin in the game. When you officially apply for accreditation, you pay a fee (roughly $400), and that starts a one-year clock. Many people start preparing for APR before they pay the fee, so they have as much time as they need to prepare. I didn’t do that. I paid the fee (or rather my employer did) just as I was ready to start, because I knew that would motivate me to finish within the year. Then my organization went through a massive budget crisis, including hundreds and layoffs, service reductions and location closures. I resurfaced several months later to realize that I only had four months left in the year to complete my readiness review and study for the test. I could have asked for an extension, or asked my employer to forgive me the $400. But I didn’t. I wanted to finish and I had no excuses. If you don’t have skin in the game, you won’t be motivated to finish. Make a commitment and stick to it.
- Find a community. It is certainly possible to get your APR on your own, but then you miss out on arguably the biggest benefit of the accreditation process: the cohort group. My cohort group, and the APRs who facilitated our study sessions, became like a support network. Not only did they help me prepare for the readiness review and test, they provided a sympathetic ear for what I was going through at work. Our chapter is known for having a high percentage of APRs, and I think much of that can be attributed to the support network. I formed friendships and relationships during that process that endure to this day. So find your group. They will feel invested in your success because they helped create it. And you will forever share a language with that group of people because you shared an experience.
- Find additional resources. I knew that there were areas of my skills that needed extra work, so in addition to the cohort group study sessions and the recommended reading, I sought out other resources. I signed up for an online learning course available through PRSA National. This was a great way to review and re-test the information I was learning during the local study sessions. I also found colleagues with areas of expertise that I was weak in, and took them to lunch for the privilege of picking their brains. Seek out the resources you need. This shows that you’re committed to growing and learning.
- Use the work you’re already doing. As I mentioned before, I was going through a crisis at work before and during my APR preparation. I knew that the only way I would get through both was to use the crisis as my case study for the readiness review. Then I could work on both at the same time. The biggest challenge with this approach was that my project was ongoing, so I didn’t have a neat and tidy conclusion or results to present. But that was ok. I worked with my APR mentors to include examples of how I would evaluate the project when it concluded, and what I would do with the information. It was a weakness, but I was able to confidently talk through this to the satisfaction of the committee. Don’t give up on your project idea. Ask for help, talk through the challenges and find a way to make it work.
- Learn your RPIE (Research, Planning, Implementation and Evaluation). After I passed my readiness review, I had to take the computer-based test. This is a multiple choice test, but it is largely scenario-based, so it is not like the SATs or GREs I have taken in the past. One good piece of advice I got was to trust my gut and not go back and change my answers. The other lesson I learned was to pay attention to the RPIE clues in the question. In many of the scenario-based questions, there would be one or two answers that sounded equally valid. The way I chose between them was to figure out which part of the RPIE process they were asking for. If the question presented me with a scenario and then asked, “What is the first thing you do?” the answer must be some sort of research. If the scenario explained that there was already a plan in place, and then asked, “What do you do next?” the correct answer was probably some form of implementation. Learn your RPIE. Start applying it in the work you do. Get used to the terminology so you’ll recognize it when you see it.
I hope you found these tips to be useful. Ultimately, at some point you just have to start and hold yourself accountable for finishing. If you are worried about having a project that will pass your readiness review, not to worry – if you purchase and follow one of my “Simple & Strategic Planning Guides,” you will have all the components you need.
And don’t worry. If I could do this while I was managing a crisis at work, pregnant with morning sickness, caring for two other kids at home, and only four months left to finish – you can do it too. You got this.