One thing has been true in the public relations industry for a long time. To paraphrase the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, “We don’t get no respect.” Thankfully, this is changing. But PR people are often dismissed scathingly by many journalists as “flacks,” are paid far less than advertising professionals, and there is still a wide lack of understanding of what PR really is or how it works.
One of the problems is the PR industry’s own lack of success in doing PR for PR. The two largest industry membership organizations, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), have done little or nothing to work together on this and neither has made much progress alone. Both have their own proprietary credentialing systems intended to create more prestige for, and confidence in, individual practitioners, but neither system has developed much traction, either within the profession or in the general business community. Have any of you non-PR industry readers ever heard of the APR or the ABC accreditation? Only a small fraction of PR professionals have cared enough about the right to use these professional abbreviations to take the required exams on which they are based.
In a recent blog post about these accreditation systems by Ed Lallo, Newsroom Ink, Lallo pointed out that PRSA requires members to have APR credentials in order to serve in national leadership positions, yet 80 percent of PRSA members don’t have an APR. This is especially true in New York, where the greatest number of senior PR executives holding top industry positions are located – and where the business community could care less about APR.
In essence, the majority of the most senior and respected industry leaders aren’t eligible to serve as national leaders in the industry’s largest professional association. The New York City community of PRSA members has tried for many years to eliminate the APR requirement for national leadership, with no success. As a result, PRSA’s national leaders have come almost entirely from outside New York (which has long been the media and PR capital of the U.S.) and have not been nationally-known PR industry executives (such as CEOs or very senior executives of big PR agencies). In my opinion, this has lessened PRSA’s prestige and clout nationally, not only in the PR industry, but in the general business community.
It’s a vicious cycle – less prestige for PRSA means less respect for the APR and limited ability for PRSA to advocate for the public relations profession. No wonder we don’t get no respect.
Like many colleagues who have held senior PR industry positions or have run their own PR agencies for many years, I don’t have an APR and don’t need one. Why should senior professionals in the industry take the time to earn credentials to practice PR, especially if their bosses and/or clients don’t even know what the credentials stand for? No wonder, as Lallo wrote, “Accreditation faces a rocky road at both PRSA and IABC.”