By Tim Penning, PhD, APR
The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) established the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) program more than 50 years ago, in 1964. Since then, thousands of PR professionals have worked to earn the designation as a mark of superior PR skills, knowledge and ethical practice.
However, not all practitioners seek the APR credential. In fact, PRSA noticed the percentage of practitioners who are accredited has gone down in recent years. So the Universal Accreditation Board (UAB) has encouraged academics to look into the reasons why professionals do and do not make the effort to earn the APR mark of distinction.
Hence, my latest research research with my co-author Dr. Kaye Sweetser of San Diego State University. “Role Enactment, Employer Type, and Pursuit of APR” was just published in the journal Public Relations Review. The journal article is available here. Or, since the journal article is an abbreviated version, you can email me for a full copy.
Or you can just read on here for a summary!
First, a quick explanation of the key terms and variables in the study. “Role enactment” is an academic term that describes the specific role that PR practitioners enact in their jobs. Prior research has boiled these roles down to two: a “technician” is more of an entry-level role focused on tactics; a “manager” may still work on tactics but is more focused on strategy and advising organizational management and making communication decisions vs merely implementing them.
“Employer type” has to do with the fact that PR professionals may work for a corporation, but they could also work in many other contexts. Vast numbers of PR professionals work in non-profits, government agencies, educational institutions, the military, or public relations firms.
We were curious to see if the context in which a practitioner works, or their years of experience or level of authority/status in the organization, were factors in whether or not and why they sought the APR credential.
Results showed that employer type and practitioner role did make a difference. The practical take-aways:
- Respondents pursued APR mostly for personal satisfaction or to be a better practitioner.
- Seeking the APR to get a promotion was correlated with younger practitioners.
- Those in PR for many years were more likely to pursue APR for higher salary than those who transfer in from other fields (who may seek APR for knowledge and legitimacy in their new field).
- Pursuing APR to gain respect from clients/employer was more common for those in agency, nonprofit, or government/military.
- Those in a manager role were more likely to pursue APR for higher salary, while those in a technician role were more likely to pursue APR for a job promotion or when seeking a new job.
- A somewhat counter-intuitive result was that men are significantly more likely than women to be motivated by respect from an employer or client.
This research extended previous studies about the differences between those PR practitioners with and without APR. The UAB may use the results to tailor their promotion of the APR program differently to practitioners, based on their gender, specific role, years of experience, and the type of organization in which they work.
Tim Penning, PhD, APR, is an associate professor and associate director of the School of Communications at Grand Valley State University, where he teaches in the Advertising and Public Relations major. He is a past president of the West Michigan Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (WMPRSA). He also blogs about public relations on his own blog,GRPR. Follow him on Twitter @penningink