The following editorial first appeared in the Montgomery (Ala.) Advisor. It is reprinted here with permission of the authors.
“It’s just PR.”
We’ve all heard it — the implication that public relations is synonymous with clouding the issues, glossing over the truth, putting lipstick on a pig.
And when public relations professionals hear that phrase, we know that PR has a “PR problem” of its own.
Not enough business professionals understand the best practices and ethical standards that drive truly effective public relations — sometimes not even those who claim to practice it.
And it isn’t a new problem.
In 1964, in part to address these misperceptions, the public relations profession created an accreditation program combining rigorous training with a strong focus on ethics. To obtain the APR (Accreditation in Public Relations) designation, PR professionals must demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and abilities before a panel of their peers, prior to taking an exhaustive computer-based examination. The process is not for the faint of heart.
But preparing for and passing the examination is just the beginning. To maintain this accreditation, public relations professionals must adhere to strict ethical standards in how they conduct themselves and represent their employers or clients. Among other responsibilities, they must continue their education, show leadership in the field and in their communities and stay involved in mentoring others about the principles that guide public relations, done right. Those principles include:
- Protecting and advancing the free flow of accurate and truthful information
- Fostering informed decision-making through open communication
- Protecting confidential and private information
- Avoiding conflicts of interest
Today, eight national and regional public relations organizations comprise the Universal Accreditation Board that governs the accreditation process. Accreditation has helped support the maturation of the field, moving it toward other professions that require certification or other credentialing. As a result, APR has grown in stature and is recognized as the gold standard for the PR professional.
We are proud that, 50 years after creation of the APR process, Alabama’s public relations community has one of the most active accreditation efforts in the nation. Accredited PR professionals are working across the state in the public and corporate sectors, in the nonprofit world, and in academia. APRs also can be found at many public relations agencies and communications firms and are working as sole practitioners and consultants.
APRs, as required to maintain their accreditations, also are very active in Alabama’s communities — serving on public, civic and nonprofit boards, providing expertise to support a variety of initiatives that help make Alabama a better place to live, work and raise families.
APR as a process continues to evolve, reflecting ongoing changes in the world of media and communication, as well as developments in quantitative and qualitative public relations research and in the social sciences. What will not change is APR’s foundation — to ensure high standards of performance, ethics and integrity.
Employers have begun to recognize APR as a desirable attribute. Earlier this year, for example, the University of Alabama revised its compensation policy to provide an extra $1,000 in annual salary for staff members who earn the APR designation.
So, the next time you need a public relations professional, forget about “spin,” because spin doctors can’t be Accredited in Public Relations.
Teri Henley is an instructor in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Alabama. Julie Ross Senter is director of communications at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Collat School of Business. Elaine Witt is communications and public relations manager at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.