by Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink
Accreditation by the two principle organizations representing communicators and public relation professionals has, during the past ten year period, lost prestige, membership as well as money.
Any organization, be it Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), American Marketing Association (AMA) or even the Sugar Association, is in the business of serving members. Part of that business includes offering services to advance member’s careers, providing information and techniques that allow for increased work skills.
For both PRSA and IABC, accreditation has been the crowning achievement offering members an elite status above peers.
Both programs are currently facing obstacles that have forced leadership to review and revise the future of accreditation.
According to a recent column by Jack O’Dwyer, publisher of O’Dwyer’s, PRSA released results indicating professional accreditations has fallen sharply during recent years.
For the first nine years of the Society’s new accreditation program started in 2003, an average 136 new communicators per year have received Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) status – half the average 274 per year achieved in the previous ten years.
After 46 years of offering the program, only 18% of PRSA members have obtained an APR despite ceaseless promotion.
“To me, it shows the value -or lack of value – people in our business place on the APR,” O’Dwyer told David Reich at My 2 Cents, “No wonder! The new test is multiple choice questions on a computer, done after a “readiness review” involving no writing.”
Neither writing nor creativity is tested at any point in the new APR process. The “Readiness Review” includes examination of materials submitted by APR candidates. Judges are fellow local chapter PRSA members.
IABC’s Accreditation At Crossroads
Accreditation at rival IABC’s Accredited Business Communicator (ABC) program is also under internal scrutiny, according to Paige Wesley, vice-president of communications. The organization officially suspended new accreditations on the first day of September.
Gloria Walker, chair of the ABC program based in Southall, U.K. and former University of Texas Longhorn, said “the IABC executive committee has been reviewing the program for the past nine months and said that applications will not be taken until changes have been made.”
To date this year only 45 members have passed the exam costing $500, down from 106 the previous year. IABC currently has 1010 accredited members – off a high of 1443 – from an international membership of more than 14,000. The organization accredited 583 members in the past five years.
“IABC’s International Executive Board is firmly committed to the accreditation program, but its model wasn’t sustainable,” said current board chair Kerby Meyers, a non-accredited IABC member. “We asked the accreditation committee and IABC staff to work together to develop a program that is operationally efficient, truly measures professional competency and builds upon the program’s tradition. While that’s being developed, the application process was suspended on September 1, which means we are no longer accepting new applications, but accreditation candidates currently in the pipeline will continue to move through the program.”
“The question on the table is ‘can the communicators path be defined through the profession, and what does IABC need to do at each level to give support?’” said former IABC chair Adrian Cropley, ABC of Melbourne Australia. “ We started to implement that strategic direction. A committee worked to establish the new “career roadmap” that crossed boundaries of numerous IABC committees – looking at integrating accreditation and the award process. We now have a strong direction on which to build going forward.”
“Do we need credentialing at different stages of a communicators career? Does it need it to be an ongoing process? Do we need a process that members gain, and then recertify, as an Accredited Business Communicator? How do we support them?” these are all questions the committee addressed said Cropley.
IABC is currently seeking a path to implement a new “career roadmap.” It would include the realignment of the current awards process from the current Bronze, Silver and Gold Quills into a more unified program that would say “We Train, We Accredit, We Reward” communicators at every step of their career.
In the meantime, while searching for the new road forward, accreditation has been left abandoned like a bride on the side of the road.
PRSA’s Accreditation Quandary
While IABC’s accreditation is currently searching for a new road forward, PRSA accreditation also faces ongoing problems.
Only five percent of questions on the current computerized exam deal with the subject of press relations. The “APR Guide” given candidates touts the “Diffusion Theory” advanced by Everett Rogers, Ph.D. “Word of mouth” is very important in diffusion because change “cannot be accomplished through news media alone”.
According to the APR study guide, “getting people to behave in a certain way” is the goal of PR rather than disseminating information.
Prior to 2003, APR’s were required to endure five and a half hours of testing that included writing samples and grading by an outside service.
PRSA bylaws state non-APRs are forbidden to run for national office, leaving more than 80 percent of its members ineligible to be involved at the national level.
Recently, millions of dollars were thrown at the program by PRSA. It lost $2,926,080 from 1986 to 2002, resulting in a shift to computer-administered testing. In the year 2000 it cost the Society $411,467 to accredit 234 members – $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.
According to O’Dwyer a large part of the problem lies in the lack of the interest in New York City, the epicenter of the PR world, where only approximately seven percent of members are accredited – 50 of the 694.
Currently, APRs pay $50 every three years to keep their status current. They are required to submit a list of courses and seminars taken, books read and other educational activities.
The requirements are considerably less strict than before the changes according to O’Dwyer, “There is no indication anyone has ever been denied continuance of his or her APR because of lack continuing education.”
Accreditation’s Uncertain Future
While both organizations face accreditation challenges, it all boils down to “lack” – lack of respect for accreditation by the business community, lack of money by applicants and lack of relevancy in todays social media society – especially to young communicators.
The final nail in the coffin for both accreditation programs might come from of all places a former ally. According to numerous jobseekers, professional headhunters are telling job applicants businesses do not see accreditation as a plus, so “leave off the “ABC” and “APR” from the resume.” Something neither organization wants to hear.