By Mitchell Marovitz, Ph.D., APR, Fellow PRSA, 2018 Chair, Universal Accreditation Board
Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion about the APR certification with a group of government communicators.
What a thrilling opportunity! I joined two of my colleagues, one from the Universal Accreditation Board and a second representing the National Capital Chapter, to discuss the benefits of seeking a professional certification.
It was easy for me to explain how certification made me a better, more confident communicator, giving me a proven process and access to thousands of fellow practitioners who share my passion for high quality ethical practice.
One of the attendees asked a question that really intrigued me. She wanted to know if I would recommend seeking certification instead of a master’s degree. Intriguing, because not only am I this year’s chair of the Universal Accreditation Board, I am also a college professor! Now, how to answer…
My answer? Go for both. They do different things. The master’s degree tells prospective employers (and yourself) that you have developed important critical thinking skills and that you understand the theories, principles and concepts that guide our field of endeavor; that you can face a problem, pick the most appropriate of several approaches, solve the problem, implement the solution and measure the results. In my experience, master’s degrees, while they focus on a particular career field, provide highly generalizable critical thinking skills. These skills are highly marketable and sought after by employers.
The professional certification tells prospective employers you are a master of practice; that you have made the leap from communications tactician to strategist and are able to perform as a strategic communicator to a very high professional standard. The certification process, while less well known to many employers, inculcates a proven process, grounded in science, current best practices and infused with ethical decision-making principles. It involves demonstrating both interpersonal skills and the application of knowledge, skills and abilities vital to the success of strategic communications practitioners and leaders. The certified professional is naturally more confident when pitching or briefing the board room, which influences success there.
Notice the word “current” in “current best practices.” It’s an important adjective. APR certification requires that you stay up-to-date amidst rapidly changing technology and concepts in communication. Every three years, certified practitioners must demonstrate they have either conducted communications research, taught, written about or attended professional development sessions to prove they are current in the field. This maintenance requirement—or recertification—is not designed, as some may think, to make you pay additional fees. Rather, it is one of the things that separates a master’s degree from professional certification. So much changes so quickly in our field and these changes affect the conduct of research, communications strategy development, the production and dissemination of tactics and measurement and analysis processes. The APR certified public relations practitioner is current in the tools and methods of the profession.
So, as we celebrate APR month, think about the great value of certification. I’d definitely go for it—even if you’re also going for that master’s degree. It says a lot about you in so many ways.