Earning the APR

Written by Deanna Johnson, APR, CEBS, MSHRM
Director, Membership
American Benefits Council

Thanks to earning my APR back in 2002, I can actually see the forest for the trees on most days. In fact getting my accreditation opened up a whole new world of public relations theories and ideas with which I’d not been familiar, even though I’d been “in the business” for more than a decade. Like many, I came to PR from somewhere else: newspaper reporting in my case. In both professions you do a lot of writing, editing, interviewing and fact checking. But I found there’s an entire science to PR that I’d missed from “the other side of the notebook.”

Public relations is so much more than counting clips, tweets or ad imprints. You can tell the boss WHY something works when you apply PR theories and the “RPIE” (Research, Planning, Implementation, Evaluation) process in your every day job. It helps all the time that I can quickly sketch out in my head what a goal to resolve a problem might be, obtain the information I need to frame that issue and determine who my prime audience to address is. Next is deciding what behavior I plan to make them change, how I’m going to measure that, what strategies and tactics will best communicate that message and allow me to gauge the result, and to learn from what I’ve done and apply it to the next challenge. Earning the APR designation gives you the tools to control the chaos of an everyday work issue or your organization’s sudden need for/to avoid publicity.

Earning the APR

10888776353_9c71574e19_z-620x248To be clear, earning the APR will take time and effort. The usual recommendation is to have at least five years of PR experience and that you plan to spend about six months to a year undertaking this course of study. Candidates usually begin by taking a mini Jump Start course —the next course for PRSA-NCC is scheduled for May 29. You may opt as well to take the PRSA on-line course offered in addition to studying the recommended texts and forming a local study group. You’ll then submit a written statement of why you are earning your APR and a PR campaign that you plan to highlight in your Readiness Review. An application to proceed also goes to National at this time. At your Readiness Review, you present to a panel of APRs a public relations campaign that you’ve completed and explain how you have applied your studies to that work. If the panel feels that you’re then “ready to advance”, you’ll receive authorization from PRSA’s national headquarters to finish your studies and sit for the computer-based exam. For those in the military or with Department of Defense responsibilities, the process of earning your APM+M designation is similar.

Not every candidate will advance from that initial readiness review or pass the computer based exam on the first sitting, though NCC candidates do have some of the highest passing rates in the country. Our chapter provides great mentors who will support you through each hurdle and cheer you on to the finish. And IT IS worth the study, the knowledge gained, the self-confidence acquired, and the wonderful relationships you make with the peers you meet along the way. Earning your APR means you put out fewer daily fires and instead build a solid platform for your career and your organization.


Networking Elevated My Career

By: Kate Jones

Katharine JonesNetworking, in our industry and especially in this city is standard. It is just as important as knowing how to write a great press release or pitch the media.

How did I grow my network? At first I didn’t really have one. I wasn’t working in D.C., making it that much more difficult to really commit to building my network. However, I knew that to grow professionally and personally I needed to put myself out there. I attended PRSA events monthly and joined the membership committee to elevate my involvement.

While attending a PRSA Young Professional and New Membership networking social, I met and became great friends with a fellow PRSA member. This connection not only developed into a great friendship but also led me to my current employment position.

By networking with industry professionals you inevitably meet peers or mentors that influence your career journey. PRSA networking events are more than chatting and a good cocktail. They are the spark to creating long-term friendships and professional relationships that elevate your experiences and career.

So when you’re super busy or tired or just not in the mood to socialize, just remember that all PR professionals need a strong network to grow.


Learn more about PRSA Membership

Prepare Thy Self: 5 Ways to Make Yourself a Better Media Trainer

Peter Piazza of Live Wire Media Relations, photo credit: Jay Morris

Peter Piazza of Live Wire Media Relations, photo credit: Jay Morris

By Nicole Duarte

To help your clients prepare for anything, you must first prepare yourself. In an April 9 reprise of a popular Independent Public Relations Alliance media training seminar, Peter Piazza and Angela Olson of Live Wire Media Relations, LLC outlined five ways PR practitioners can improve their training sessions.

  1. See what the reporter will see

It’s an often-skipped step, but research can make or break your training session. Before you meet with your clients, do a public record search to uncover any potential landmines. An ugly court case, embarrassing social media post, or past professional controversy may be just the ace a reporter will play to shake up the conversation or get the upper hand over your trainees.

  1. Shock and awe

Manufacture the anxiety clients will face in a tough interview to give them a chance to work through it. Managing anxiety and scrutiny is a skill like any other, and proficiency comes with practice. Trainers should use the first moments of their media training sessions to try to rattle interviewees, make them defensive or angry, and try to provoke them into saying something provocative or contentious. Hot lights, a live video camera, and some record of a prior embarrassing moment are all tools to unsettle your interviewees. Once you see them at their worst, you will be better able to help them get back – and stay – on message.

  1. Speak the truth

Your clients are relying on your expertise. Insist they hear it. Many staff media trainers pull their punches, hoping to keep the peace or avoid ruffling feathers, but it’s better if your client is embarrassed for a moment in your presence than humiliated on the Internet indefinitely. Be diplomatic, but don’t avoid telling your trainees if they have any distracting nervous habits, speak too fast, overuse jargon, come across as arrogant or defensive, or display any other behaviors that would make them look foolish or unprofessional.

  1. Play if Forward

Most media trainers do some form of practice or role-playing that simulates real interview conditions. However, media trainers need to apply their own news judgement to these conversations. Help your trainees refine their message points by asking tough questions and then pushing for clarity until you hear the quote the reporter should use. Questions like, “Why should anyone care,” “So what,” and “Prove it,” should elicit quote-worthy answers that move the story forward, and if they don’t, keep pushing.

  1. Add Value

Editors insert themselves to play up drama and tension. Reporters have a point of view and may be biased based on their sources. Both are outside your control. The best way to avoid surprises in how your clients’ quotes appear — or don’t appear — is to anticipate the reporter’s story and craft your message points to add value. Statistics and anecdotes can add context and color. Think about how your issue affects the heads, hearts, and wallets of the audience members, and illustrate your message points with examples and metaphors to which the audience can relate.

Just as organizations rely on their directors to lead with their expertise in their industries, your trainees will rely on your expertise to guide them through the news media landscape. You need to help your clients strategize how they might help reporters write better stories. Keep in mind how journalists do their job to think through how you can you help them do it faster and better. Your clients may be expert sources, but it is your chops and preparation that will ensure their expertise gets recognized.

For more information, see this refresher from Live Wire:  http://livewiredc.com/2013/08/a-quick-refresher-on-the-art-of-media-relations/ or check out the PRSA recap of the last Live Wire event: http://theprsanccblog.com/2013/10/30/teaching-old-dogs-new-tricks/

Nicole Duarte is Senior Communications Manager at the Center for Community Change.
Connect with her on LinkedIn at: http://www.linkedin.com/in/nicoleaduarte

American University PRSSA Chapter Combats Networking Nervousness with “Night with PRSA”

by Bridget Bradley

“Networking” is one of our favorite buzzwords. It used to just be one of the ways that a college grad could get a job, but statistics show that in recent years up to 80 percent of jobs have been found through networking.

American University PRSSA's Night with PRSAThat’s a statistic way too big to ignore, especially if you’re on the job hunt. At American University, students are constantly encouraged to get as many internships as they can before they graduate, and students take that encouragement very seriously. With 90 percent of AU undergrads having internship experience by the time they graduate, there’s a lot of pressure to keep up.

This kind of pressure can make networking with professionals intimidating. Students often become awkward, timid and afraid to say the wrong thing. Or worse, students are afraid to say anything at all.

The AU PRSSA chapter wanted its members to be able to practice talking to professionals, so they called in some experts: AU Prof. Gemma Puglisi, and PRSA-NCC members Tony Ruffin and Adara Ney.

American University PRSSA's Night with PRSAThe chapter brought in some sandwiches and salad, and invited its members to sit down for a meal with its guests. Chapter president Jenna Mosely encouraged everyone to use this low-pressure opportunity to build confidence talking to professionals and to do a little networking.

As a member, even a member with past internship experience, I can say these kinds of experiences are invaluable. I got the chance to talk to professionals who really wanted to talk to me, hear about my experiences and get to know me as a student and a future professional, without feeling all the pressures of an interview.

No internship fair tables, no pressure to out-do, out-smart, or out-perform my power-suit-wearing classmates: just a sandwich and a friendly group conversation.

It’s always a thrill to meet professionals in my area, but very rarely do I get time to just talk with them. Especially here in DC, life moves incredibly fast. Minutes are precious, and that’s why this opportunity felt so special. It’s rare that anyone has a few minutes to just “chat.”

Bridget Bradley is a junior at American University, a member of PRSSA, and a board member of the Kogod Marketing Association.

Reporters: Hashtags Are Overrated, Not Used In Newsroom

By Robert Krueger, Director of Public Relations and Social Media, Urban Land Institute

media_relationsHashtags, a tool frequently used by public relations and marketing professionals to boost online visibility, are deemed useless in the news gathering process. That was the consensus of a panel made up of mainstream media professionals at an event hosted by the Loudoun/Fairfax committee of the Public Relations Society of America’s National Capital Chapter (PRSA-NCC).

Chuck Carroll, reporter for CBS Radio, emphasized that hashtags “do nothing” for him when searching for potential stories in social media. While he and the other panelists agreed that Twitter is the most used social media platform for working journalists, to his knowledge, hashtag research it is not a standard practice in his company’s newsroom. Panelists Janet Terry, producer for WUSA-TV, and Vandana Sinha, assistant managing editor/print at the Washington Business Journal, agreed that they do not consciously look at hashtags. Sinha added she does not see any of her professional colleagues using hashtags in their own social media posts, so it should not be surprising that they are not used in professional newsrooms.

In addition to setting the record straight on the misconception of hashtag value, the panelists also offered insights on how to cut through the clutter and get them to see your pitch. In the digital era, email pitching is still the go-to method, but panelists said that their favorite method for pitching is social media.

However, just as public relations professionals can make the mistake of blast emailing an entire database list of reporters, the same can be done in the social media world. Panelists noted that they can see when someone @ pitches multiple reporters with the same message. What “blast tweeting” like this does is make it more likely one of their competitors can pick up on a story before them.

Panelists also addressed the question of whether the news release is dead in the new digital era. All three media professionals stated that the news release is still alive and the most preferred and detailed way of communicating news to working reporters.

Terry said that news releases are extremely important for her company’s assignment desk. Her assignment editors prefer to receive news releases since they provide an adequate level of detail, are easy to categorize and usually list a media contact. Sinha told the audience that she will keep news releases and other pitches in an email folder, which she will often reference up to a year from receiving it. Carroll even said that PR Newswire is his go-to source for slow news days. He stated that he will scour PR Newswire news releases when he does not find a compelling story idea via email or social media.

How To Develop Your Own Social Media Engagement Index

By Katie Delahaye Paine

Forget engagement, affection, influence, and whatever other social media or mainstream media scores you’re debating. What we really need for a public relations measurement metric is a Kick Butt Index (KBI). My KBI idea grew out of a recent conversation I had. A former client of mine described his measurement needs as follows:

“I want something so that when the business development guy or the product manager storms into my office and says ‘Lockheed just kicked our butt on this one!’  I’ll have an answer.”

What does “Kicked Our Butt” really mean?

The crux of his problem—and similar problems for most of the rest of the PR world—is that no one agrees up front what “kicked our butt” means. How do you really define success? Does it mean more front page headlines or better message communication? More fans on Facebook or more retweets?

Just about every organization I deal with has different PR / social media programs, with different goals and audiences, which means that every organization I deal with has a slightly different definition of what Kicking Butt really means. And then within every organization there are probably seven different definitions, depending on whether you are in sales, marketing, finance, competitive intelligence, or PR.

If your definition of Kicking Butt means more coverage than the other guy, then you need to define what that coverage should look like. Are key messages most important? Getting your CEO or thought leader quoted? Getting your brand in a headline? Are there myths that you need to dispel?

I’ve been helping organizations develop customized KBI’s for nearly a decade, and here’s the process.

Call a meeting with your boss. In that meeting, agree on what success means for the program. If someone says “lots of coverage” remind them that not all coverage is desirable. Get everyone to describe what a perfect 10 story looks like for your program. Then determine what your worst nightmare mention looks like. And maybe clips don’t matter at all. Maybe “kicking butt” really means “more unique visits,” or some other metric. That’s up to you.

In the process of figuring this out, most organizations do one or more of the following:

  1. List desired outcomes of a program, department, launch or whatever it is that you are promoting.
  2. List key messages and rank them by importance.
  3. List strategic initiatives and rank them by importance.
  4. List most influential media sources
  5. List key target stakeholders.
  6. List key competitors.

Not only does this process get you a clear, agreed upon definition of “kicking butt,” but it also sets you well on the way toward a perfect measurement system. By getting everyone to agree on a standard definition of success, you can far more easily judge your performance in the marketplace, relative to your competition.

If you want to develop your own custom “social media engagement index” start by referring to your goals. What are the priorities and objectives of your specific program? What sort of engagement do you want to encourage? If you are a new organization and trying to build a following, a like might be an acceptable level of engagement. If you are an established brand with a message to get across, then a like or even a short comment may not be sufficient.

The most important thing is to start with a discussion of your goals and objectives, the perceived path to purchase, and the role that senior leadership believes that your social media engagement program plays in that path to purchase. That will determine the weightings and the specific elements of your index.

Be clear about whether you are measuring “owned” social media or “earned” social media. For “owned” a KBI might look something like the suggested scoring below, and would be applied to all your content.

Earned Media - Kick Butt Index

Social Media Engagement Index for “Owned” Media – how are people interacting with your content








Earned Media - Kick Butt Index

Social Media Engagement Index for “Earned” Media – what people are saying about you












Each item of content receives a score, then both the total score and the average score per month or week is calculated. Ideally you would collect three to six months of data and correlate it with sales leads, conversions, or some other business metric to most accurately determine which actions correlate most closely with the business outcomes.

There are any number of tools, like Simply Measured or Sprout Social, that will provide most of this information. You will need a web analytics tool like Google Analytics or Simply Measured to find the number of clicks to specific URLs and to determine correlation rates with web traffic.

Register to attend a workshop on traditional and social media measurement with expert Katie Delahaye Paine on Thursday, March 19, from 8-11:30 a.m. at the U.S. Navy Memorial located at 701 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. Register and learn more at PRSA-NCC.org

5 Tips That Will Take Your PR Career to the Next Level

By Jeff Ghannam

This March 25 will be the fifth year I will have the pleasure of leading PRSA-NCC’s “From PR Manager to PR Leader” workshop.

Attendees are primarily people who are early in their career arcs and want to learn the management and leadership skills they need to take their careers to the next level. These are people who perhaps for the first time are being asked to think strategically or maybe to lead people. They come to the workshop to share their challenges (it’s a very interactive format) and how they might be able to address them.

One thing participants learn early on the workshop is that we all have extremely similar challenges, and often with similar solutions. I’d like to share just a few of the things participants have learned over the years.

"From PR Manager to PR Leader" workshop

More than 200 people have attended the workshop “From PR Manager to PR Leader” over the last four years.

To be taken seriously, we need to think of ourselves as more than “just a PR person.” Before we can become leaders, we must become valued business partners. And before we can become valued business partners, we must behave like valued business partners. So we must stop limiting ourselves to just our PR functions and we should learn our industry and what makes our company or organization really tick. We must let our boss know we care about what keeps them up at night and that we too have an interest in the company, its future, and its bottom line. Hint: We should never say, “I’m not good with finances, that’s why I went into PR.”

Listen before we speak. I don’t want to be blunt but we PR people often talk too much and listen too little. We are so focused on delivering our elevator pitch and messages that we sometimes forget to really listen to what our teams, clients, or target audiences really want or need. Always do your research, I say, and let it start by simply listening. Once our targets know we’ve truly heard and understand them, they will see us as an ally that cares about their needs. Which leads me to the next point…

Care about people. We human beings like people who like us first. OK, that sounds a bit like third grade but if you let people know you care about them they will support you. That means going beyond asking how their weekend was on Monday morning. For example, one of the easiest ways to motivate people is to let them know you have their professional growth and career development in mind. Ask them where they want to go with their careers and how you can help them get there. If you care about them, they will care about you.

Be genuine and straight forward. The one thing I’ve developed over the years in the PR business is a finely tuned BS radar. If I so much as suspect someone is not being straight with me, I will do everything I can to distance myself from that person and whatever that person is trying to get me to support. Life is too short to be dealing with phony people. If we want people to follow us, we need to be straight with them, even when we have something difficult to say. They’ll respect us for it.

There is no such thing as “born leaders.” Throw this tired cliché out the window. Leadership skills can be learned. Yes, some people seem to have a knack for big picture thinking and motivating people but most people need to learn the tricks of the job. There are proven methods you can learn for strategizing, motivating people, resolving conflict, solving problems and so on. If you work hard at it, it won’t be so hard.

The half-day workshop offers just a glimpse into what participants need to know to become valued managers and leaders. No keys to the C-suite will be given out that day but the workshop does give participants insights into how they can develop their leadership skills so they can realize their career aspirations.

Jeff Ghannam is president of Crystal Communications & Marketing, LLC, and past president of the PRSA-National Capital Chapter.