Hello readers! As graduation draws near, many of our chapter members are preparing for their grand entrance into the professional world. They are checking the boxes of the public relations profession: first education, then graduation and then employment. Pursuing the APR is one more box that every young professional should consider checking. An Accreditation in Public Relations demonstrates the holder’s mastery of strategic communication. It is offered by PRSA and the Universal Accreditation Board and requires five years of professional public relations experience. Five years may seem far away, yet it is crucial for a young professional to start preparing as early as possible if he or she wishes to become an APR in the future. Meg Burton, University of Alabama alumna and corporate communications coordinator at Brasfield & Gorrie, has shared her preparation and journey to earning her APR after just five years of being a young professional.
APR from a Young Professional’s Perspective Meg Burton
As a 2010 graduate of the award-winning PR program at The University of Alabama, the value of the APR had been instilled in me from the start. I earned my APR in 2015, and I’m often asked why I chose to pursue the credential at this point in my career. The Universal Accreditation Board, which administers the APR, recommends that anyone choosing to pursue the credential have at least five years of professional experience in public relations—a recommendation I agree with. The accreditation process is built on a foundation of experience, and no amount of studying can prepare you for the readiness review or exam if you don’t have the necessary experience. When I earned my APR, I had reached the five-year baseline, but I didn’t wait until then to start working toward the goal of earning my pin.
Knowing this was something I wanted to pursue, I joined a group formed by my local PRSA chapter to help young professionals on the path to accreditation. At the time, I wasn’t ready to start the process, but the support and insight from this group encouraged me to learn more about the steps involved and set goals for achieving accreditation.
I deliberately took the slow and steady approach, making a plan to start studying about a year before I hoped to complete the process. This approach paid off in many ways. For instance, when my boss suggested we submit a campaign for an award, I was able to use that opportunity to craft the submission in such a way that it could serve as the case study for my readiness review. By studying over the course of a year, I was able to use a variety of study methods that helped me truly learn and internalize the information; I participated in a 10-week study course, studied independently and worked with several mentors.
During my year of study, I spent many nights and weekends curled up with the APR study guide and a copy of Cutlip and Center’s Effective Public Relations—part of the reason I’m so glad I pursued the APR when I did. I imagine that investing that amount of time in studying and preparing for the readiness review and exam would have been significantly harder had I chosen to do so during a season of life when I had more family responsibilities.
When I took the test and passed, it was a great feeling, but the payoff I’ve enjoyed since then has been even better. As a young professional, I find the confidence boost from having my APR to be priceless; equipped with the depth of knowledge behind an APR, I feel confident to speak up about best practices and to argue my case when needed. Before my APR, I often feared being seen as “the kid in the room.” In fact, I once traveled to represent my company in a client meeting and was outright asked my age. Since earning my APR, I’ve noticed a positive change in perception.
I also gained incredible relationships through my APR journey. As a result of the APR process, I developed much stronger relationships with local PR professionals, including peers in my study course, mentors who helped me prepare for my readiness review, colleagues who offered me insight and encouragement and even the APRs who served on my readiness review panel.
Even above the credibility and relationships I gained through the process, what benefited me most as a young professional was the material related to leadership. Studying for the APR helped me see my role through a new lens and helped me better understand how to navigate the complex corporate environment and grow as a leader—something I hope will translate into success down the road. In short, I’m glad I made the investment to pursue the APR at this point in my career. Even if you feel that five years is a lifetime away, make it a goal and mark your calendar to start learning more about the process a few years down the road. Depending on your unique career path, you may not feel ready to pursue your APR in five years, and that’s ok—make it a long-term goal and pursue it when you are ready. It will pay off!
Meg W. Burton, APR, serves as Corporate Communications Coordinator at Brasfield & Gorrie, one of the nation’s largest privately held construction firms. She is a graduate of The University of Alabama’s public relations program and her prior experience includes a role as Product Marketing Lead at SuccessEHS, a division of Greenway Health. She serves as programs chair for the Alabama chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and volunteers as a communications consultant for Christian Service Mission, a non-profit organization serving the Birmingham area. Meg lives in Hoover, Alabama, with her husband, Daniel, and their miniature schnauzer, Gandalf.