by Jack O'Dwyer

Jack O'DwyerPR Society candidates including chair-elect candidate Joe Cohen are in violation of the Guidelines of the Universal Accreditation Board that forbid the use of “APR” in a competitive situation.

Say the Guidelines (which are buried under “Current APRs” on the UAB website): “Members who are Accredited cannot imply the lack of Accreditation in any way affects a competing professional’s competence.”

PRS, which dominates the UAB because its members have 13 of the 20 seats on the board, has barred non-APRs from national board and officer posts since about 1975, depriving them of the right to highlight such posts on their resumes and in their account pitches if they are with agencies.

Current and former national directors and officers of PRS boast of their national titles on their resumes and in their releases.

An example is the MWW Group announcement Oct. 27, 2011 that Cohen had been promoted to senior VP.

The seventh line of the 21-line release notes that he “currently serves on the national board of directors of the Public Relations Society.” That is a statement that 82% of the members of PRS could not make.

Educators in particular prize having PRS elective and appointive posts in their resumes and the top of this list is holding a position on the national board. Five educators are on the 2012 board.

The resume of national director Stephen Iseman of Ohio Northern University, for example, lists six different titles in PRS national and the PRS student organization including being a national director of PRS.

The “contacts” for UAB are on the staff of PRS and include director of professional development Judy Voss and APR manager Kathy Mulvihill ( Neither one has ever talked to us or helped us in any way with UAB statistics. PRS rules forbid any press contact by members or staff except that which is authorized by the CEO, COO or PR dept.

UAB chair Janet Kacskos, director of communications, Millersville University, Pa., one of the 14 colleges in the state system, obtained APR statistics from PRS staff this a.m.

In the nine years to June 30, 2012, a total of 2,178 took the test and 1,472 passed it (68%). The PRS totals were 1,786 taking the test and 1,223 passing it (68%). PRS candidates comprised 83% of those taking the test. Created was an average of 136 new PRS APRs yearly which is smaller than any number created yearly via the previous exam. In the ten year period from 1993 to 2002, an average of 274 new PRS APRs were created yearly. Biggest year was 2002 when 411 PRS members passed the test. Passing in 2001 were 234; 2000, 246; 1999, 233, and 1998, 268. In 1982, when there were only 10,737 members of PRS, 136 became APR.

APR Can Be Revoked

The UAB Guidelines say that “An individual can have Accreditation revoked for improper use of Accreditation per these usage guidelines.”

Besides barring non-APRs from national board and officer posts, current PRS bylaws ban non-APRs from the Ethics Board, an accusation that non-APRs are less ethical than APRs.

Concern over ethics is the supreme value of PRS according to its “Member Code of Ethics.”

The first page of the Code, which mentions “ethics” and “ethical” 12 times, says: “Ethical practice is the most important obligation of a PRS member. We view the Member Code of Ethics as a model for other professions, organizations and professionals.”

The UAB was created in 1997 when Debra Miller was president of PRS. It is an attempt to sell the APR process to other organizations, charging their members an extra $100. APR fee is $410 including a $25 application fee or $385 if the entire fee is paid at once. PRS members get $110 back upon completion of the process while Florida PR Assn. members get back $100 and members of the Religion Communicators Council get back $100 if they paid their own way.

Past attempts to have the UAB enforce its Guidelines by ordering PRS to drop the APR rule have been rejected by the UAB on the ground that competition for elective posts in associations is not “real competition.”

It is not competition in the business sense but the national titles are then used in competition for jobs and accounts and in some cases may be decisive.

“Accredited in PR” Doesn’t Make Sense

Accredited in PR makes about as much sense as Accredited Professional Athlete (APA).

The natural question would be “What sport—baseball, football, golf, tennis, track…?”

PR people, and especially firms, are often hired these days for their expertise in various specialties such as healthcare, tech, financial, food/beverages, beauty/fashion, etc. The O’Dwyer Co. has kept statistics on such PR practices at PR firms since 1990.

PR has developed special practices like law and healthcare did but the PR Society has not kept up with this. Bob Frause of Seattle headed a 15-member “Blue Ribbon Task Force” for PRS in 2007 that investigated “certifying” special practices.

Only one was ever created—APR+M, standing for “military.” In 2012, 212 PR people became APR and only three of these earned the APR+M designation, indicating little interest in it. If the task force is still working on this, it might consider APR+H for health, APR+T for tech, and APR-F for financial PR expertise. Those are the three biggest specialties as tracked by the O’Dwyer Co. At least 25,000 non-APR PR people are eligible to take the test.

Writing, Creativity Ignored; Few Take It

Neither writing nor creativity are tested at any point in the new APR process dating from July 1, 2003 that includes a “Readiness Review” and a 3.5-hour computer administered multiple choice test.

The RR includes examination of materials that APR candidates say they worked on. The judges of the applicant are fellow members of the local chapter. APR is self-certification at the local level followed by a computer exam that slights press relations. Only 5% of the questions are on that subject.

The “APR Guide” that candidates study touts the “Diffusion Theory” advanced by Everett Rogers, Ph.D.

A major point is that change “cannot be accomplished through news media alone.”

“Word of mouth is very important in diffusion,” says the theory. “Goal is to get “targeted audiences talking about what they have read in the paper or seen on TV.” According to the APR Guide, getting people to behave in a certain way is the goal of PR rather than disseminating information.

The previous exam involved 5.5 hours of writing answers to questions. There were no multiple choice questions. Applicants had 2.5 hours in the morning to answer six out of eight questions by writing essays. Three hours of writing were scheduled for the afternoon session. Applicants had to describe full-fledged programs to tackle various problems.

Costs of an outside service to correct the tests was expensive--$207,147 in 2000 and $113,321 in 2001. A main reason for revamping the APR process was to eliminate such costs.

After 46 Years, 18% of PRS Members Are APR

Despite ceaseless promotion of APR to members since 1964, including limiting national office to APRs since about 1975, only 18% of members are APR.

The program is of little interest in New York where only 50 of the 694 members are APR (7.2%). A 1999 study of 15 recruiters by the Fellows found almost no interest in PR. Rather, it was seen by some recruiters as a mark of naivete. Sixty-five leaders and past leaders of PRS were among the 450 signing a petition in 2010 to end the monopoly of APRs on national offices.

Millions of dollars were thrown at the program by APRs. It lost $2,926,080 from 1986 to 2002 when the budget was cut and the shift was made to a computer-administered test.

Net cost in 2000 was $411,467 to accredit 234 members or $1,794 for each new APR. This was cut to $352 by 2002 when 411 APRs were inducted at a net cost of $144,679.

500 Failed APR Maintenance

A watershed moment in APR was reached in 1997 when PRS was faced with removing APR from 500 members who had missed the deadline for maintenance. Complying were 2,300 APRs.

The board then removed the maintenance requirement for 2,800 of the 4,000 APRs, all those who had won their APRs before 1991.
This “APR Holiday” caused anguish among APR believers who felt PRS had backed away from a program of mandatory continuing education modeled after those of the AICPA and other groups.

APRs currently pay $50 every three years and submit a list of courses and seminars they have taken, books they have read and other educational activities. The requirements are less strict than previously and there is no indication now that anyone is ever denied continuance of the APRs because of lack of enough seminars, books read, etc. News of the APR maintenance holiday, taken in August 1996, was kept from that year’s Assembly. It was not revealed until January 1997.

John Margaritis, then CEO of Ogilvy, Adams & Rinehart, said: “It further proves the meaninglessness of APR, a concept flawed from the beginning by the grandfathering of 896 into APR status.”

Granted APRs without any tests were members who had 15 or more years in PR posts. A proposal to qualify “uncles” as APRs (ten years or more of experience) was defeated.

Southerners Dominate UAB, PRS

Janet Kacskos, director of communications, Millersville University, Millersville, Pa., one of the 14 colleges in the state system, is chair of the 2012 UAB. She is a PRS Fellow.

Thirteen of the UAB directors are from PRS and there is one director for each of the seven other member groups.

Eight of the 13PRS directors are from Southern states (Tennessee, Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia). Other states represented are Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and California. There is no one from the Tri-State district or the Northeast district.

Southern influence is evident in the executive committee of PRS where four of the five members are from the South—chair-elect Mickey Nall of Georgia; secretary David Rickey of Alabama, and treasurer Kathy Barbour and immediate past chair Rosanna Fiske, both of Florida.

Other PRS directors of UAB include vice chair Susan Barnes, Belmont University, Nashville; John Forde, Mississippi University; Jay Rayburn, Florida State University; Adam Bashaw, deputy director, PA, U.S. Military, New Orleans; Douglas Cannon, Virginia Polytechnic University, Blacksburg; Jeffrey Caponigro, counselor, Southfield, Mich.; Brook DeWalt, U.S. Dept. of Defense, Alexandria; Frances Johnson, Elon University, Elon, N.C.; Ann Kanabe, University of Wisconsin, Whitewater; Rose McKinney, Pineapple RM, Minneapolis; Elizabeth McMillan, William Mills Agency, Atlanta, and Bey-Ling Sha San Diego State University.

Directors from the seven other organizations in UAB are Robert Giblin, Agricultural Relations Council; Carlos Rivera-Cuesta, PR Assn. of Puerto Rico; Kathleen Giery and Rayburn, Florida PR Assn.; Tina Clark, Maine PR Council; Janet Swiecichowski, National School PR Assn., Brian Gray, Religion Communicators Council, and Forde and Melissa LaBorde, Southern PR Federation.

The Texas PR Assn. was a UAB member until last year when it folded.

Wikipedia Has Scant UAB Entry

The 319-word Wikipedia entry on “Accreditation in PR” says those who earn APR “demonstrate a broad knowledge, strategic perspective, and sound professional judgment of modern PR.” The entry gives no hint of the domination of accreditation by PRS.

APR “is considered the mark of distinction for those who demonstrate commitment to the profession and to its ethical practice,” says the entry.

Missing is any comparison between the pre-2002 testing process and the testing process after that.

WP’s editing rules eliminate any chance that this essay on UAB can be posted although a more detailed and balanced description of APR is needed.

The WP posting on PRS itself is 244 words and there is a request for more input. However, five attempts by this website to add materials were quickly removed by the WP editors on the ground that the submissions violated the copyright of the O’Dwyer Co.

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