By Don Klein (@donklein99), director at large, PRSA Southeastern Wisconsin
Saige Smith (@Saige_Smith), PR leader at GE Healthcare, is definitely making her mark as a young PR pro. Agency experience? Check. Corporate? Got it. Strategy chops? All day.
But with only five professional years under her belt, she thought of a way to take her career to the next level: Become APR.
If you’re not familiar with those three letters, APR stands for Accredited in Public Relations. It recognizes professionals who have mastered the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to develop and deliver strategic communications. The APR process involves an initial screen to test for qualifications; a readiness review presentation before a panel of seasoned PR leaders; and a comprehensive knowledge test. From there, it’s an ongoing commitment to professional development and bringing the best skills and thinking to work every day.
Saige was familiar with APR because a client at a former agency called it out as one of the reasons they invited that agency team to the new business table. A former supervisor – who is also APR – encouraged Saige to take a serious look at accreditation.
As she got started, Saige and a few other applicants connected with Kelly Savage, APR, (@SF_KellySavage) the accreditation chairperson for the Southeast Wisconsin PRSA chapter.
“Kelly was great. She sat down with us and explained APR in a way that wasn’t intimidating. She helped me believe I could go for it and succeed in it.”
Because Saige didn’t quite have the industry experience that’s typical of an APR applicant, she needed to make her case to PRSA national in New York.
“It was a really casual phone call,” she recalled. “After a few questions they passed me on to the readiness review,” Saige said.
To prepare for the review, Saige dug into a huge campaign she conducted, clearly breaking out the goals, objectives, strategies and tactics she implemented. When it was time for the review, she faced a panel of three prominent Milwaukee area PR leaders.
“It was intimidating, but I welcomed it – it motivated me to really prepare to defend the work I was doing,” Saige said. It also gave her the opportunity to make new connections with these three inspirational PR pros.
Time to study
After passing her readiness review, it was time to prep for the test. She signed up for the online cohort program and highly recommends it but actually ended up doing a lot of studying solo. She was challenged to consider real life situations and apply principles to them. Since she’s worked in health care during her career to date, she found it interesting to consider hypotheticals such as being a PR director for a manufacturer or a governmental PR officer.
“It definitely forced me out of my comfort zone,” Saige said.
She passed and was thrilled. From start to finish, the process took about a year and a half. She was recognized at the February PRSA luncheon with her APR pin, a lasting sign of her accomplishment. She’s also begun to spread the word about the value of APR to her colleagues at GE Healthcare and with college students she encounters.
Saige said the process made her think about her career goals and where she wants to go.
“It forces you to do some serious career introspection.” It also demonstrated she was already doing a lot of the right things.
Overall, Saige feels the APR is a great confidence boost. She urges other PR pros – even those with only a few years of solid experience – to consider accreditation.
“I think people are afraid of it,” she said candidly. “We have busy lives, we’re working, we don’t get paid to go off and get these letters behind our names,” Saige said. “But it isn’t the time commitment you might think it is.”
It is, however, an investment you make in yourself today that pays off tomorrow.
To learn more about APR, contact Kelly Savage at firstname.lastname@example.org.