When I decided to make the transition from broadcast journalist to public relations practitioner, I thought I had it in the bag. After all, my main job was to answer to the media, right?
Nope! Not even close.
I learned quickly that public relations entailed much more than just writing press releases. My job was to build relationships. But journalism was all I had ever known.
I knew I needed to step out of my reporter shoes that I’d been wearing for eight years. I had to think like a practitioner. So when my employer offered to pay for the Accreditation in Public Relations online course, I knew this was something I had to do.
I knew I needed a bit of guidance on this journey, so I found the website for the Public Relations Council of Alabama and emailed the contact. The Accreditation chairperson of the Mobile Chapter reached out and we met right away. Just like that, I had a mentor.
My mentor put me on a schedule and supplied me with the necessary textbooks needed to succeed. “Effective Public Relations” became my bible. I learned that the APR Study Guide was just that … a guide. It was a map with different pathways to the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to learn my trade.
I committed to one online module per week, and one day a week for studying the necessary textbooks. My mentor gave me the fantastic advice to get fully prepared before even applying for my APR. Once you apply, you have a year to achieve Accreditation. She warned me that many candidates need more than a year, and it was better for me to have the extra time.
To prepare me for my Panel Presentation, my mentor set up a “faux” Panel Presentation, with local APR’s serving as my faux panel. My practice session gave me the confidence I needed for the real thing.
I was extremely nervous on the morning of my Panel Presentation, but once I began speaking with the panel, my nerves were calmed. Their words were encouraging and helpful. They wanted me to succeed! A few weeks later, I was thrilled to receive notification that I had been advanced to the computer-based Examination for Accreditation in Public Relations.
When it came to the Examination, it was a lesson in humility. I failed the Examination twice, and here’s why. To become an APR, memorizing terms, laws, principles, models and other definitions only gets you halfway there. You have to apply what you’ve learned to real-life situations.
To prepare for my third and final Examination, I started applying my studies to real-life scenarios. For example, I’d listen to a story on the news and write my own public relations plan stemming from that story. Other times, I would use situations at work to demonstrate research, planning, implementation and evaluation. When I looked at the ethics of a situation, I studied why it was unethical and which principles were demonstrated.
I learned that each and every question in the Examination related back to something in my studies. Although many of the multiple-choice answers looked as if they could be right, each question was fishing for a specific answer stemming from my studies. Learning this is the key to becoming an APR.
The sense of achievement I felt after passing the Examination was tremendous. If you fail the Examination, do not give up. Success will be that much sweeter when you finally get your pin!
*** This article originally published in the blog PRsay on February 10, 2016.