Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Why get accredited in PR?

This year, I've taken on the role of Accreditation Director for the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Public Relations Society ("CPRS"), after having been grading APR work samples and exams for the better part of a decade.

Here's how CPRS describes its accreditation on its website:

CPRS Accreditation (APR) is a respected measure of professional experience in the field of public relations. This program recognizes the dedication, energy, perseverance and competence of successful public relations professionals. To pursue the accreditation process you must satisfy the following eligibility requirements:
  • You are a member in good standing of the Canadian Public Relations Society.
  • You have been employed full-time in a public relations position for at least five years; and
  • You spend at least half of your professional time involved in specific public relations activities.
Candidates must complete an Accreditation application (due December 1st) which is available through the National Office. The examinations, offered in French and English, consist of three parts: a review of a work sample (due April 1st), a written examination and an oral examination (October). 
The exams are designed to test the breadth and depth of a candidate's public relations experience and ability. The goals of CPRS National Council on Accreditation are to assure professional competence; establish standards for professional practice; increase recognition for the profession within business organizations and the community, and influence the future direction of the profession.
The APR is designed to tell employers and colleagues that you have an in-depth understanding of how public relations works; that you are able to provide sound, ethical advice and create effective communications plans and materials; and that you have proven success in public relations work. But you don't need an APR to practice PR -- or even to practice PR at a senior level.
If you don't need it, why do it?
While accreditation isn't a requirement for public relations practice the way it is for other professionals like accountants and engineers, it is a valuable professional development activity which -- if you take advantage of the opportunities it offers -- can help you improve your skills and keep you current for decades after you've achieved the APR.
I can't honestly say that my APR has ever gotten me a job or a consulting contract, directly. If it was ever a factor in my getting hired, no-one ever mentioned it to me. But I have used it on my website, my business card, in my email signature, on LinkedIn, on this blog... I am proud of it. My APR certificate hangs on the wall of my office beside my university degrees.
But while it may not have directly led to a job, my APR has been valuable from a professional development perspective -- and that has without a doubt made me a more attractive job candidate.
First of all, the knowledge required to pass the written and oral exams forced me to study the foundations (history and theory) of PR, which I'd never had the need/motivation to study before. Until my accreditation process, I had learned about PR by watching, listening and doing, and working with bosses/mentors who literally paid me to be educated by them (thanks again for my entire career, if you're reading!). 
Studying the material required to pass the APR helped me understand why we do things the way we do, and gave me a far greater appreciation for how public opinion and persuasion work.
But the professional development I gained in earning my APR in 2002 was just the beginning of the benefit my accreditation has given me. 
In the years since, I have volunteered as an APR grader, helping evaluate candidates' work samples and exams. While this might just sound like "work" (and, especially for a teacher, "marking"), it's actually an excellent opportunity to see what other communicators are doing in their roles, to deal with issues their organizations face and the opportunities they leverage, across the country.
APR work samples and exams are evaluated outside the province in which they're created -- which both helps remove the potential for favouritism among friends and colleagues, and gives graders the opportunity to be exposed to great work they wouldn't normally hear about at their local chapter networking events.
And not only do I get the chance to read in-depth case studies presented by the communicators who led them, I also get to discuss their relative merits with other seasoned practitioners (i.e. APRs) on the grading panel.  Each member of the panel grades the submissions individually, and then we have a conference call to come to agreement on the scores each candidate will receive. The discussions involved in this consensus-building are fantastic PD opportunities, twice a year.
Interested? Application deadline is December 1.
For me, the APR has been a great way to keep current, to learn from my peers, and to have the opportunity to debate PR issues with colleagues I wouldn't normally have the occasion to meet with. It's not just a sign of where I was, professionally, in 2002 -- it's been a big part of how I've developed my skills since then.
If you're in Manitoba and would like to discuss undertaking your APR in 2012, please email me at lockstep [at]; if you're elsewhere in Canada, contact CPRS. In the U.S., you can contact the Public Relations Society of America.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Alton Brown's "Fanifesto"

Photo from
This week, ahead of a planned publicity tour promoting a new book, Food Network star Alton Brown issued "My Fanifesto" on his website: a list of rules of comportment when meeting him in person.

Before you decide whether this is a bad idea from a PR perspective, give it a read.

Reaction I've seen online so far has been mixed; notably, the Huffington Post considers it evidence that he is "struggling with his celebrity status;" the blog "Comfort me with Offal," written by James Beard Foundation Award for Humor winner, Ruth Bourdain, calls it "a bit douchey."

Is it bad for Brown's PR?

The answer to that depends on Brown's audiences, and how much they expect a cooking show host to give up reasonable courtesies the rest of us are entitled to.

It could also depend on how they react to the Fanifesto's smart-alecky tone, as my Mum would call it, but that's consistent with his television persona. A bit smart-alecky, but in a friendly way. If they like him on TV, I'm thinking its tone shouldn't be a problem.

Should it be bad for Brown's PR? 

I really don't think so... but of course, I'm not necessarily the target audience. We'll have to watch what happens.

There's a temptation to assume every move a client makes that will disappoint some corner of the audience base means "bad PR." But realistically, everything you do is likely to annoy somebody. It's impossible to only do things that are universally accepted and appreciated.

Any move you make could cause someone to grouch, and might even get some unflattering media attention. But that only really matters in the long run if it's going to harm your reputation/relationship with a significant portion of the target audience.

Your turn 

What do you think of Alton Brown's Fanifesto? Reasonable, or "a bit douchey?" And do you think it will negatively affect his image? Comments are open!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Using Twitter... professionally

There's a fair bit of conversation online around how to grow one's Twitter "followers" number. One answer: become a college instructor, and assign your students to join Twitter and follow you!

By the end of this week, Red River College's first-year Creative Communications students will all be on Twitter. Interestingly, for the first time this year (in my classes at least), more first-year students were already using Twitter on entering the college than not.

But while most students are already on Twitter, many haven't been using it as a professional tool. Twitter isn't about what you did last night or what you're having for lunch, if you're using it to help establish and nurture your professional career in communications: it's about sharing useful information with communities of interest.

We're covering the topic of tweeting appropriately in class; but generally, my advice is "if you wouldn't want to have to explain it during a job interview, don't say it on Twitter." The fact is, if you say anything on Twitter you wouldn't want to have to explain in a job interview, chances are very high you won't get the job interview in the first place.

Employers will look for you on Twitter, and will judge your professionalism based on what they see.

Below, I've provided a roundup of useful online resources that give Twitter newbies some advice on how best to use it to reach their professional objectives.

Why are you on Twitter? A 'Twitter 101' lesson - First in a series of three really helpful Twitter lessons for beginners by Mike Johansson (@mikefixs) on Social Media Today.

Twitter 101 Day 2: How will you use Twitter? - Johansson's part 2

Twitter 101 Day 3: Who will you be on Twitter? - Johansson's part 3

Twitter 101: What to Tweet? Twitter and Your Personal Brand - good advice from Neal Schaffer (@NealSchaffer) on what to tweet to help position yourself professionally. Not sure I agree with "Tweet, and they will come" as an absolute, but that's OK.

PR Conversations - The angle of this article by Heather Yaxley (@greenbanana) is how to use Twitter for PR events, but the advice is valuable for many other organizational uses of Twitter, too.

Finally, if you're looking for background and specific how-tos about Twitter, check out Mashable's Twitter Guide Book - a good starting-point for the basics from @Mashable.

Happy tweeting!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Of mountains and molehills in election campaigns

In my first-year PR classes this week, we've been introducing the whole concept of PR, and specifically, the fundamental importance of understanding your audiences.

As is normal in my classes, we began on Tuesday with a few minutes of "PR in the news," in which we look at a story that's getting attention in the mainstream media and discuss what it might mean for the parties involved.  The topic of the day in my Section 2 class was last week's CBC news story about Manitoba Tory leader Hugh McFadyen's campaign launch event -- and more specifically, the campaign's choice of LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem" as the song playing for McFadyen's grand entrance.

The CBC story, as you would expect, had clips from Manitobans surprised the Tories would choose a song with such racy lyrics by a band with such a naughty name.

But is this the kind of news that changes the way people vote?

The incident reminded me of another local campaign-time embarrassment, last fall when incumbent Mayor Sam Katz accidentally kicked a young player in a soccer game. People laughed at the Mayor's expense, the video went viral, and then he won the election handily.

Don't lose sight of your audiences

While schadenfreude wins the contest of do-we-or-don't-we-want-to-hear-about-political-embarrassments just about every time, that doesn't mean it's crisis mode for the PR folks. While the candidate and the campaign will be embarrassed, either by some oversight or fluke of bad luck, the communicators have to remember to keep their eyes on the prize.

Are people less likely to vote for a candidate whose policies and integrity they believe in, because of a poorly-chosen campaign song? I haven't done the research, but I'm thinking likely not.

But... the campaign could undermine the candidate's integrity if it doesn't respond appropriately. While most voters are able to recognize that everyone makes mistakes and forgive the occasional innocent blunder, a response that betrays disrespect for those offended, or arrogance, or any other personal or organizational characteristic that's out of line with what the voters would want to see in their leaders, could cost votes.

Don't make mountains out of molehills

The moral of stories like these: when your client goofs up (or when you goof up on your client's behalf), handle it respectfully but without giving it more prominence or weight than it properly deserves. While the media will likely have fun with it, because their audiences love this stuff, that doesn't mean your support will be driven away by it.

If the offence isn't likely to have a significant impact on your audiences' opinions, don't treat it as though it would. Address your error respectfully, and then take the opportunity to talk about the issues that should matter to your audiences.  And a little self-deprecating humour never hurts.