Accreditation in Public Relations
The Accreditation in Public Relations (APR), Accreditation in Public Relations and Military Communications (APR+M), and Certificate in Principles of Public Relations are voluntary certifications for persons working in the field of public relations (PR) and, in the case of the APR+M, military public affairs. They are administered by the Universal Accreditation Board.
The APR credential was established in 1964 as a certification program sponsored by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). The PRSA continued to manage the program until 1998 when the Universal Accreditation Board - consisting of representatives from eight major, U.S.-based PR professional societies - was formed as part of an effort to make the credential an industry-wide, instead of organization-specific, certification.
Beginning in the 1970s, the PRSA restricted the right to sit in their national assembly or to seek election to the PRSA national board to those possessing an APR certification. The requirement for the assembly was dropped in 2004, but has persisted for those seeking board membership. In 2010 a revolt led by Richard Edelman and a group calling itself "the Committee for a Democratic PRSA" called for the restriction to be scrapped. The attempt to overturn the rule was soundly defeated in a vote during that year's session of the assembly. 
The status of the APR credential within the public relations industry has recently been in flux. The number of PR practitioners receiving a APR has declined from an average of 256 a year from 1993 to 2002, to an average of 157 a year between 2003 and 2012. Nonetheless, when - in 2008 - Puerto Rico became the first political subdivision in the United States to begin regulating the public relations profession, the APR certification was established as a licensing requirement for those seeking to practice PR on the island. In 2010, the UAB established a relationship with the Defense Media Activity to create the APR+M credential.
Support and criticism
One survey of unaccredited PRSA members found that 80-percent felt a sense of disenfranchisement from the organization as a result of preferences within the group given to those holding the APR. The certification has also been criticized over the low number of APR candidates who are able to successfully complete the requirements to earn the credential.
Still, the APR certification has been endorsed by some in the PR industry who feel it establishes a clear indicator of competence for those who possess it, separating "the contenders from the pretenders." A 2005 survey found that accredited PR practitioners earn, on average, 20-percent more than those who lack accreditation.
In 2013 the UAB and PRSA began an internal review on how to enhance the relevance of the APR certification. An outside consulting firm retained to study the credential recommended an overhaul that would include third-party certification of the APR by an independent certifying body such as the American National Standards Institute, increased marketing of the credential to employers and the public, strengthening of continuing education requirements, opening the certification to persons other than members of UAB affiliated organizations, and the creation of an entry-level credential.
The Accredited in Public Relations (APR) certification is designed for public relations professionals with five or more years of industry experience, and who possess an undergraduate university degree or higher. To earn the APR, candidates first must be members in good standing of a UAB member organization and complete a written series of questions detailing their professional background and experience. If the written submission is approved, the candidate is then interviewed by a panel of three current PR practitioners who hold the APR certification, during which time a portfolio of the candidate's past work is presented and reviewed. This oral examination is referred to as the "readiness review." The final element is a computer-based test covering key concepts in communications theory, legal issues, and professional ethics. Testing is administered by Prometric. Once granted, the certification is retained for life, contingent on completion of regular continuing education activities, and current membership in a UAB member organization.
The Accredited in Public Relations and Military Communications (APR+M) certification is designed for members of the United States armed forces and civilian employees of the United States Department of Defense, who have five or more years of experience in public affairs, and who possess an undergraduate university degree or higher. Written submission, oral examination, and testing requirements are essentially similar to those required for the APR, however, examiners are drawn from APR+M's and the written test uses a unique set of questions specific to military communications. In addition, the oral examination ("readiness review") is offered via telephone or video conference to military personnel who are deployed overseas. Unlike the APR, membership in a UAB member organization is not a prerequisite to earn or maintain the APR+M, however, ongoing continuing education is required to maintain the currency of the certification.
Certificate in Principles of Public Relations
Beginning in 2013, a certification called the "Certificate in Principles of Public Relations" has been offered by the UAB as an entry-level credential for those entering the PR field. The certificate is designed for university students in their final year of study in a degree-granting program in public relations. Candidates must have student-class membership in a UAB member organization, take a university-sponsored preparatory course, and pass a computer-based examination on principles and theory of public relations. The credential expires five years after issue and cannot be renewed. Ten U.S. universities currently offer the preparatory course: the University of Georgia, Virginia Tech, Southern Methodist University, Howard University, Flagler College, Florida State University, Elon University, Sacramento State University, Lee University, and Mississippi State University.
Universal Accreditation Board
The Universal Accreditation Board, which administers the APR, APR+M, and Certificate in Principles of Public Relations, is composed of public relations educators and practitioners appointed by the eight major public relations professional associations operating in the United States. As of 2014, its membership was as follows:
- Bey-Ling Sha, Ph.D. (San Diego State University) - Chair
- Elizabeth McMillan (Fiserv) - Vice-Chair
- John Ford, Ph.D. (Mississippi State University)
- Douglas Farber Cannon, Ph.D. (Virginia Tech)
- Kaye D. Sweetser, Ph.D. (Grady College)
- Jay D. Rayburn, Ph.D. (Florida State University)
- Susan G. Barnes (Belmont University)
- Mitchell E. Marovitz (George Mason University)
- Susan Walton (University of North Dakota)
- Philip Poole (Samford University)
- Melissa LaBorde (Louisiana State University)
- Cmdr. Brooke DeWalt (U.S. Navy)
- Lt. Col. Ann Knabe (U.S. Air Force)
- Mark Newman (Hunter Public Relations)
- Bob Giblin (Genus/ABS Global)
- Carlos M. Rivera-Cuesta (Sajo, Garcia, and Partners)
- Janet Swiecichowski (Minnetonka Public Schools)
- Sherry Harlow (Eglin Federal Credit Union)
- Kim Marie Sporrer (Women's Foundation of Colorado)
- Kathleen M. Giery (LifeQuest Organ Recovery Services)
- Judy Katzel (Burgess Advertising and Marketing)
- "With Accreditation Falling From Grace, PRSA Embarks on Effort to Enhance Profile and Prestige of APR Credential". Bulldog Reporter. 28 May 2013. Retrieved 26 February 2014.
- Heath, Robert (2010). The SAGE Handbook of Public Relations. 2010: SAGE Publications. ISBN 9781412977807.
- O'Dwyer, Jack (11 May 2010). "PRSA Leaders Revolt Vs. APRs". O'Dwyer's. Retrieved 26 February 2014.
- "PRSA Leaders Tackle APR Controversy in Pre-Conference Leadership Assembly Vote". Bulldog Reporter. 19 October 2010. Retrieved 26 February 2014.
- Sriramesh, Krishnamurthy (2003). The Global Public Relations Handbook. Taylor and Francis. ISBN 9780805839227.
- Wilson, Matt (30 May 2013). "Should PR pros get accredited?". Ragan's PR Daily. Retrieved 26 February 2014.
- Broom, Glen (2009). Effective Public Relations. Prentice Hall.
- Cegielski, Stephanie (26 September 2013). "The Road Ahead For The APR". PRSay. Public Relations Society of America. Retrieved 26 February 2014.
- "Certificate in Principles of Public Relations". praccreditation.org. Universal Accreditation Board. Retrieved 27 February 2014.