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License and Registration, Please

by David Reich  |  
August 27, 2007

There's been some heated discussion lately about licensing of public relations people.
I first heard of it a week ago, in a story about the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) making a push to have PR pros be licensed. (Will we have to be leashed and get rabies shots, too?)

The story also quoted a Prof. Toni Muzi Falconi, former head of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communications Management, who said that the work we do influences people's thinking and behavior and, thus, should be controlled by having us PR folks licensed or certified.
The chairman of PRSA in the U.S. says if the profession doesn't police itself, the government will, which I took as a scare tactic to support PRSA's push for certification.
I wrote a post on my blog last week, opposing the idea and explaining that the quality and ethics of public relations people won't be impacted much by certification. Instead, I said, the work of PR people could be improved by focusing on three things:
1) Education. Public relations should be a serious part of marketing courses in college. Many courses and textbooks gloss over PR with a chapter at best. Teaching future marketers a proper understanding of public relations and what it can -- and can't -- do would be good for everyone in marketing. Actually, PR should be included in every general business curriculum, since CEOs come up from a variety of discliplines.
2) Training. Writing is a basic skill for public relations. A decent PR person should be able to write a news release, a pitch letter, client reports, etc. Much of what passes for news release copy today -- especially in product PR -- reads more like ad or brochure copy. It makes the job of the journalists we target more difficult and frustrating, and it causes many of them to ignore us or look at us with disdain. Good writing is essential for employee newsletters, presentations and executive speeches.
Training should also include how to pitch a story -- who to target, how and when to approach a reporter (or blogger), how not to exaggerate or lie, how to understand the word "no." Also, learning how media work and what they are looking for.
At too many agencies, especially many of the mid-size and larger ones, the extent of training seems to be... pressure. Sell that story at any cost. Badger reporters until they use your material (or hang up on you.) And hype, hype. Your new gadget is the best, the biggest, the fanciest... Unfortunately, that is the training too many young people get at agencies today
3 Courtesy and Ethics. You need licensing for that? Don't people learn those things growing up?
The post sat there quietly for a few days, with little reaction. Then the floodgates opened and comments started coming in from p.r. practicioners and academics from around the globe, but little from the U.S.
Prof. Falconi, whose recommendation I had questioned, was first to weigh in and further explain why he feels regulation is needed. The good Professor, who spent many years doing PR in Italy, currently teaches in the graduate B-school at NYU, about 2 miles down Fifth Avenue from me.
I then heard from a current staffer at the Global Alliance, writing from Portugal. Frankly, I had never heard of the group, nor had several of my colleagues that I asked here in New York. But we can be insular, I'll admit. Joao Duarte included background on the group and tried to make a case for credentials and why his group could be the one to handle it.
Then I heard from a honcho at the International Association of Business Communicators, a group I recall from having been a member many years back. Ned Lundquist, vice chair of the Accreditation Council at IABC, talked about his organization's certification process, and also got into the semantics of whether we should call ourselves public relations practitioners or communicators.
We also had several good comments from Heather Yaxley, a PR pro in England who blogs as greenbanana, with some good thoughts on ethics and responsibility. And Benita Steyn, who teaches p.r. in South Africa, and Judy Gombita, a p.r. pro in Canada who contributes to PR Conversations online, have added a lot to the discussion.
But I haven't heard from many U.S. p.r. and marketing people on the subject, and I'm wondering how you feel about licensing.
I'm not sure I see any benefit from it, and it could be more of a burden than it's worth. And who's to say once they start licensing p.r. people, that they won't go after ad execs, marketing folks and journalists. Might we all have Big Brother watching over our shoulders?
So, if you have the time, click over to the original post and scroll through the discussion. Then come back here and have your say.

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After 30+ years in this business, I still look forward to going to work. Rarely are two days the same, and the challenges are varied and stimulating.

My firm, Reich Communications, Inc., handles an interesting range of clients that take me from b2b to consumer publicity, from the world of high-priced art to advocacy for issues including traffic safety and securing mental health resources for survivors of mass violence globally.

Over the years at mid-size and large New York agencies, I’ve served a client roster that reads like a “who’s who” of business – General Electric, Emery, Ryder, Travelers Insurance, Phillips Petroleum, Georgia-Pacific and Jaguar Cars. I’ve also worked with groups like the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association (for their giant New York Auto Show), Syndicated Network Television Association, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Highlights include leading the publicity team that launched L’eggs hosiery, which later became a Harvard B-School case history. I also managed P.R. and community relations for the Metro New York McDonald's Co-op, with more than 250 stores. We won a Marketing Excellence Award for a McDonald's public service program I developed on fire safety. It also won an Emmy for on-air host Dr. Frank Field, health & science editor at media partner WCBS-TV in New York, and it was directly credited by the NYFD for saving several lives. During those years, I also had more than my share of Big Macs.

I have a degree in Industrial Management and an MBA in Public Relations. I live in southern Westchester, 15 miles north of midtown Manhattan, in the same town where I grew up. “Money-earnin’ Mount Vernon” is how the town is now known as a center of hip-hop culture, but it also claims as native sons Denzel Washington, Dick Clark, author e.b. White, Art Carney, Art Buchwald and Sean “P-Diddy” Combs.

I write about marketing, media and public relations at my blog, "my 2 cents" If I ever retire from this crazy business, I'd love to be an all-night jazz deejay.

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  • by Cam Beck Mon Aug 27, 2007 via blog

    I don't think licensing will lend more credibility to the profession. Rather, it will establish a color of credibility, which we've seen in other areas just turns out to be a license for exclusion and snarkiness. When I think of credible PR people, David, you are among the top on my list. How could that be if you don't have a license?

  • by Lewis Green Mon Aug 27, 2007 via blog

    David, I agree with Cam. If anything, licensing will put a false aura around PR practitioners just because they passed a test or paid for a license, both of which will require no more than an average IQ. J Schools, where PR is often hosted during undergraduate years, and Marketing departments should place more focus on the things you mention. At the end of the day, however, some folks will be good at what they do and some terrible. Education and licensing won't change that.

  • by Gavin Heaton Mon Aug 27, 2007 via blog

    I am with Cam ... I don't see the value that a license may bring. And beyond that, it is clear that there are PR and marketing folks that understand and "get" social media and many others who do not. The results and kudos will flow to those that do a good job, work to understand the constantly evolving landscape and actively work to help shape it. Reputation is far better than a license.

  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Mon Aug 27, 2007 via blog

    My firm is now looking for a PR help and finding it difficult to find the right person/firm. We were sort of burned by an agency that was supposed to do work for us (it seems like for money), so we are going to be *very* careful on our next decision. Whether they are "certified" would be *completely* irrelevant to us in making a decision. We are rolling out a new version of our flagship product in October so good PR representation would be great but we need the right representation not smoke and mirrors presentations and a willingness to chuck the relationship if something better (more money) comes along tomorrow. We need someone: 1. Contacts with tech/business publications. 2. Outstanding writer who can help us come up with and write compelling press releases that actually get used! Not press releases for the sake of press releases, if it is not news and of no real interest to reporters. 3. Ethical (see above about being burned). 4. Hard working and persistant for for us. We were thinking since we sort of had had a bad experience with an an "agency" that perhaps an individual consultant (called an agent?) would be a better choice this time around. Since the topic of PR has come up, any advice on how to find such a consultant would be fantastic! As for certification, the result would likely be plenty of PR agencies (some good and some bad) would end up being certified and excluding some very talented independent consultants (that's my guess). What value could that possibly add to the industry?

  • by David Reich "my 2 cents" Mon Aug 27, 2007 via blog

    Cam, thanks for the compliment. I DO have a license, though -- a driver's license. That's about it. Hasn't stopped me from dfoing good work for clients over the years.

  • by David Reich "my 2 cents" Mon Aug 27, 2007 via blog

    Neil, one way to find a p.r. agency or a consultant to help you would be to contact the editor at a trade pub that serves your industry. He or shye might have an idea of p.r. people who are working in your field, as well as who is professional and who's not. You can also get the O'Dwyer's directory of p.r. agencies. It lists agencies large and very small, and includes clients lists, so you can see who might have relevant experience. Good luck with your search.

  • by Elaine Fogel Mon Aug 27, 2007 via blog

    This is a topic that could have far-reaching effects if licensing came to pass. I scanned many of the comments on your post, David, so maybe I missed something. Is it possible that this PRSA recommendation is a way for the organization to elevate its status in the profession? If it becomes the licensing or testing agency, then it could mean a nice bit of revenue.

  • by David Reich "my 2 cents" Mon Aug 27, 2007 via blog

    Elaine, you could be right about added income. PRSA has been around for a long time but has not had a lot of clout or credibility for some time. (I know there are some who would disagree with me on this.) The organization has been busy with political infighting, and there have been charges of financial mismanagement as well. PRSA has had an accredidation program for a long time, but it never seems to have taken hold within the industry here in the U.S.

  • by Sherry Goldman Mon Aug 27, 2007 via blog

    I'm not sure what licensing will accomplish. What will we license - inidividuals or firms, what disciplines, based on what criteria, how will it be monitored, etc.? And for someone getting licenses, what value added will it bring to me or my agency? I suppose it could be a valued tool or it could be another meaningless credential. One thing I do believe, though, is that licensing can not be from any one organization - it will mean nothing unless there is one body - industrywide - that would be the "authoritative" voice of the industry. And, I don't believe this is possible, since our industry is so diverse, covers many related disciplines and has many established organizations, such as PRSA, IABC, the Council of PR Firms, etc. that would all vie for this position.

  • by David Reich "my 2 cents" Mon Aug 27, 2007 via blog

    I agree, Sherry. I don't think you can license ethical or professional behavior.

  • by Judy Gombita Mon Aug 27, 2007 via blog

    David, I suspect that if the PRSA decides to pursue the licensing of its practitioners, it will apply mainly to individuals/firms that offer public relations services directly to the public. Drawing on my own understanding, that's how it works for professional* accountants; there is less need for corporate (a.k.a. in-house) accountants to be licensed, because the organization they work for serves as the "watchdog" (if you will), in terms of accountability and adherence to business and tax laws, etc. *"Accountant" is an unregulated term...that is why I use "professional accountant." In the USA, a professional accountant is a CPA. Anyone can call him/herself an accountant, but only those who have fulfilled the state CPA requirements can use the designation "CPA." (In Canada we have three professional accounting designations, recognized by government statute. The one that gets my PR attention is the certified general accountant, or CGA designation.) Which basically leads into my other point: a designation/degree/certification is granted/obtained after a prescribed body of knowledge (from that authorizing body) is learned/tested/deemed sufficient. Accreditation, such as the APR, "tests" one's (existing) body of knowledge in an area, but generally the accrediting organization does not *teach* the body of knowledge, in a formal classroom/online setting (the way a medical or law degree or professional accounting designation would be done). Licensing is different. It is a licence to practise a discipline...such as medicine or law. In the case of accounting, it is a licence to (specifically) perform the attest function (i.e., public accounting/audits), which is used by a third party. Almost without fail, licensing is in place to protect the public (a "certification" of abilities). Whatever body issues the licenses--whether it be the government or its designate (in Ontario we have the Public Accountants Council) or industry associations--would rest accountability for its judgment in granting the licences, in how careful is the scrutiny as to the abilities and ethics of each licensed practitioner, etc. I find it highly unlikely that PRSA would get into the "licensing business" for material gains. (Particularly as its "accountability" liability would become significantly higher.) Rather, I think PRSA is exploring this route because it would be a step towards moving what is essentially a trade or industry association more closely into the professional realm. my 2 (Canadian) cents. Cheers, Judy P.S. The Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management comprises *organizational* association members, of which PRSA is one. Perhaps that's why your peers and you hadn't heard of the wouldn't join it as an individual.

  • by David Reich "my 2 cents" Mon Aug 27, 2007 via blog

    Thanks for visiting, Judy. I'm not sure if the CPA example is a good one to relate to p.r. CPA's do things like taxes and corporate (and individuals') books, for filing and other purposes. We in p.r. offer services mainly to businesses and other organizations, with the possible exception of p.r. for book autors and show biz celebs., althgouth the latter really qualifies as a business. But I think PRSA is talking about certifying anyone in p.r. -- whether at an agency or in-house.

  • by Kamaya Tue Aug 28, 2007 via blog

    One thing I do believe, though, is that licensing can not be from any one organization.

  • by Martin Calle Tue Aug 28, 2007 via blog

    When PR people transition from "what's in it for me?" to "when you help other people get what they want, you'll get what you want" the PR industry will gain the integrity, accountability and responsibility its image probably deserves. More often than not, the spokesholes and paid lobbyists of PR firms can not walk a straight line. It's hard to touch the tip of your nose when it's so long. And the most popular talk show hosts such as John and Ken on AM 640 KFI regularly crucify the PR industry. However, I am more mundane. In my experience for example, a Boston Consulting Group survey showed 97% of CEOs disappointed in their innovation return on investment. After kicking their PR departments in the backside, that number magically fell to 47% the following year though new patents issued remined flat and the power of patents remained pegged at the previous year's level. If PR were a valid activity, why does it always seem the motto is the hurrieder I go the behinder I get? PR is a needed activity. I just find that product-based marketing solutions better solve than band-aid marketing problems. The actual invention of Tylenol Gelcaps did more to resolve consumer's real concerns regarding capsule tampering than did the previous $185 million spent by J&J and McNeil in their attempt to convince people they had no reason to be alarmed.

  • by Margie Zable Fisher Tue Aug 28, 2007 via blog

    Hi David, Nice post. Here are my thoughts: 1. PRSA's biggest challenge, in my opinion, is getting the public to understand what P.R. is, and, more importantly, what to expect when hiring a P.R. person. Since everyone in the profession has a different opinion, that would be hard to do. 2. PRSA is dominated by professors and folks from huge agencies, who may not have a pulse on the needs of average businesses. 3. The certification process has been around for a long time. The last time I considered it, I found that the material I would be tested on was pretty meaningless, so I didn't do it. There are lots of things that need to be "fixed" in the P.R. profession before we worry about certification. I'd like to see PRSA involve a panel of "real-world" practitioners to make things better.

  • by Majd Awary Tue Aug 28, 2007 via blog

    I totally agree with you that licensing would not add that much value to the industry, but I hope you guys are not missing the point that PR business DOES influence people's thinking and behavior. What you said is a wonderful contribution to what should be done to control and guide PR people. Education, training and ethics are very important to form this "code of conduct" for PR practitioners.

  • by David Reich Tue Aug 28, 2007 via blog

    Thanks for the great comments. Martin, I agree that ethics is a big problem, made more difficult for many by the fact that the people paying us often want a story told a certain way, without total honesty getting in the way. That's the point where a strong p.r. person needs to explain to his/her superiors the risk of not being honest. It's not always easy, but some of us don't even try.

  • by David Reich Tue Aug 28, 2007 via blog

    Margie, re your point #1: This is where better education comes in. If p.r. is given proper attention in business curriculae, especially within marketing courses, more future businesspeople will have an awareness and understanding -- and respect -- of public relations. When that happens, execs may start to listen more carefully to their p.r. advisors and those long noses Martin spoke about above will get shorter. #2: Agree with your take on PRSA. And Majd, thanks for your support on this issue.

  • by Judy Gombita Tue Aug 28, 2007 via blog

    To clarify, a degree, designation and (even) certification (a taught and tested prescribed/defined body of knowledge) are different things from accreditation (testing of knowledge, generally learned elsewhere, such as academia or self study) and licensing (the official/credible/authoritative stamp of approval to "practise"). I simply used the accounting professional bodies for illustrative purposes. And public relations is a targeted and unique discipline (and skill set) in its own right. Although it's great to include it in business and marketing curriculum, it deserves its own programs of study, case studies and industry-devoted publications. Which marketers are welcome to use and benefit from, of course.

  • by David Reich "my 2 cents" Tue Aug 28, 2007 via blog

    Yes of course, Judy, public relations should have its own programs of study in colleges and universities, and it does at some schools. But I feel it needs to be included with more than a passing reference or one chapter in marketing and general business programs. That will help elevate understanding and respect for p.r.

  • by Judy Gombita Tue Aug 28, 2007 via blog

    Perhaps the PR-dedicated chapters/lectures for marketing and general business programs should be renamed "stakeholder relations, corporate social responsibility and reputation management." That might get their attention.

  • by David Reich "my 2 cents" Tue Aug 28, 2007 via blog

    Perhaps, but it's all part of the p.r. umbrella so why not call it what it is. Otherwise, p.r. will remain this amorphous idea in many people's minds of press relations and throwing parties.

  • by Judy Gombita Tue Aug 28, 2007 via blog

    Or "publicity" and "marketing".... ;-) (Speaking of which, that Princeton Review article sounded more like it was describing the role of a publicist, rather than a PR practitioner.)

  • by David Reich "my 2 cents" Tue Aug 28, 2007 via blog

    Yes, that's another issue that we'll need to address. I don't have it handy, so feel free to post the link in a comment here. Also, I'm going to a meeting, so I'll be offline for a bit. Back later.

  • by Judy Gombita Tue Aug 28, 2007 via blog

    Here's a couple of links. I'm showing some personal bias here, citing my co-blogger (or PRC "ringleader," according to Strumpette), plus a Canadian academic colleague/friend): Bad news friends! Public Relations courses in Universities are unnecessary, writes the Princeton Review– by Toni Muzi Falconi Alternatively, PR knowledge? Princeton Review suggests it's unnecessary by Gary Schlee

  • by Ron M. Tue Aug 28, 2007 via blog

    I've been an APR for 12 years, and have never had anyone tell me the APR on my resume made any difference in whether they interviewed or hired me. I just went throught PRSA to recertify the APR (you need to do this every 3 years) and I was really torn about plunking down the $50 to keep this. I'm in a general marketing job now, not strictly PR, so the $50 came out of my pocket. As for the comparison of APR to other professional credentials, I just don't see that it carries the same weight. In a mock interview with a career counselor and longtime HR pro, I compared APR to a CPA in accounting and he chastised me because they are like apples and oranges. The CPA certification process is so much more stringent. (Judy, not trying to pile on, just relating my experience.) All in all, I don't see how licensing really does that much good to improve the profession.

  • by Judy Gombita Tue Aug 28, 2007 via blog

    Ron, in *no way* do I think the current accreditation options available from the related trade/industry associations compare to an accounting designation (CPA, CGA or other). I thought I made that clear in my comments. For example, if an individual undertook the CGA program of professional studies from level one onwards, he or she must pass 19, very rigorous courses, covering a wide, yet deep, curriculum that includes accounting, finance, business law, strategic management, taxation, etc. (If they come into the program already holding a commerce degree or other relevant qualifications, prior learning is recognized/credited, and significant exemptions given.) Plus there is a business communication requirement, practical experience requirement (whereby the student can demonstrate that the theoretical teachings are being applied in his or her related position, as verified by the supervisor), a capstone exam, etc. (An ethical component is included in every course.) Ultimately, our designation is a competency-based program, so that if an individual successfully completes the program, all of the core competencies have been met for her or him to perform successfully as a professional accountant. I said an accounting designation. Not certification. Not accreditation. Definitely apples and oranges. And probably at the root of why accounting is recognized as a "profession," and why "public relations," "communications" and "marketing" are not. (I'm now sorry I used an accounting designation for illustrative purposes. Sheesh.) I am curious about *your* recertification, though. Did you have to do anything to demonstrate "currency" of knowledge for your APR (e.g., related, continuing professional development)...or just plunk down the $50 for the "privilege" of continuing to use it for another three years? (Our CGAs have annual, mandatory continuing professional development requirements, to demonstrate continued currency of their designation in the workplace. We were the first accounting association in Canada--maybe even in the world--to implement such a program.)

  • by Martin Calle Tue Aug 28, 2007 via blog

    PR Licensing Debate Ends Here David, Went to your blog my 2 cents and really enjoyed my time there! I learned long ago not to inject myself into the solution of a marketing problem. The successful results found themselves in more annual reports. Unfortunately, I am unique. I was mentored in an answer finding technique that took the professionals out of the loop and inserted consumer minds instead. I say unfortunately because PR, advertising and marketing professionals are not schooled in the same technique, so have no recourse but to inject themselves, their opinions, their judgment and experience into the equation. And this historically represents a form of bias that has led many [solutions] astray. Contrary to popular practice, I am not schooled to ask questions. Market research asks questions, and as a result, question-based marketing leaves a lot to be desired. As Atticus Finch says in To Kill A Mockingbird, "You can't ask a question you don't already know the answer to." It took me years to learn that "in asking a question, you don't get the voice of the consumer, you get the voice of the inquirer through the question being asked .... a form of bias that will lead you astray." I rejected this learning like a bucking bronco until I had hit my head against the wall often enough with inferior solutions that I began to want the hurting to stop. I wondered why those adhering to the technique always experienced better fortunes. But PR, marketing and advertising professionals, without benefit of exposure to this learning process [homework] inject themselves and their experience into the equation. Less than optimum solutions ensue - Hence the call for licensing. Take the professionals out of the loop. Whenever there's a problem - Mattel's current China woes - Go to the consumer. Stimulate their minds so that a real product-based marketing solution to their concerns can be found. That way PR's spin won't be questioned. When someone tampered with Tylenol capsules, cyanide poisoning destroyed the brand. To be certain J&J and McNeil employed an army of PR professionals - all of whom failed to address consumer's real concerns. We stimulated consumer minds and consumers created the concept for an inherently tamper-proof capsule. Tylenol Gelcaps rescued the 92% of capsule segment sales lost to cyanide tampering. I learned early on that no one cared what I thought. And no one cares what a CMO thinks if you are a consumer. The sooner advertising, PR and marketing professionals turn themselves into blank slates willing to learn rather than share their experience the faster the cries for licensing will subside. Fortunately, it did not take me a lifetime to get this one career's worth of experience.

  • by David Reich "my 2 cents" Tue Aug 28, 2007 via blog

    OK, I'm back for a few minutes before running into another meeting. (Have to make a living.) Interesting comment from Ron M. about the PRSA's APR accreditation. It's a nice thing to have, but I haven't seen it make much difference in the business world. The only situation whgere it might matter is if a prospective employee is an APR. He or she might see it as a little something extra that you offer over other candidates. Other than that, I can't see much coming from it. Again, that might be different if PRSA and the PR profession had done a better job promoting it and what it means. Check out the Princeton Review links that Judy posted in her comment above. That shows what many know of or think of public relations. I wonder who the "industry sources" are that they quote in their write-up. Really bad pr.r for p.r.

  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Tue Aug 28, 2007 via blog

    David, Thanks for the advice on the best process for finding a PR agency or consultant. We will take that advice. Neil

  • by David Reich Tue Aug 28, 2007 via blog

    Looks like you're in Sacramento. You might also try calling the business editor at the Sacramento Bee, to ask if there are any firms in the area that he's dealt with and that he might recommend. Try calling them at 916 321-1000.

  • by Ron M. Wed Aug 29, 2007 via blog

    Judy, Yes, you have to complete an APR renewal form and have at least 10 "points" of continuing professional development or equivalent experience. Taking grad courses, holding leadership positions or having articles published gain more points than other activities, such as reading PR books or doing volunteer PR work for community groups. David, I agree that PRSA (and perhaps other groups that take part in the APR testing) have not done a good job promoting the importance of the APR designation and why employers or potential clients should look for it.

  • by David Reich "my 2 cents" Wed Aug 29, 2007 via blog

    Ron, I would support the idea of the APR as a certification only IF PRSA did a good job promoting it and IF they cleaned up their internal act. I would not suppoort it if you had to be a dues-paying member in order to apply, although I don't mind a modest fee for applying for the APR. I would not accept it as a requirement in order to practice, much like a license. But PRSA has a long way to go before I'd see them as the body to over see it.

  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Wed Aug 29, 2007 via blog

    David, Yes, the company headquarters is in Sacramento, though I personally live and work in Portland, OR. We have been advised that it is a good idea to work with someone local. We had assumed that it did not especially matter if they are local or not. Is there a big advantage to the p.r. firm/consultant being local versus them being in, say, Boston, NY, Chicago, etc.? We are also near the Silicon Valley and someone said to us that, as a tech firm, we should seek out someone there. I think that is sound advice on the face of it but we would rather get into publications read by marketers as our highest priority. However, presumably a Silicon Valley based consultant would have marketing and business publication contacts, too. We would look for that as an important element.

  • by David Reich "my 2 cents" Wed Aug 29, 2007 via blog

    The only advantage I can see for using someone local is proximity for ease of face-to-face meetings. But beyond initial and then periodic face-to-face meetings between client and agency, most onging work can certainly be done by phone, email, etc. I think the most important things to consider are: experience in the media arena you want to crack, some famiarity with your type of business (although not essential; smart people can learn quickly), and chemistry between you and the agency. Chemistry is key -- you want someone who will take direction, yet be comfortable and confident enough to give you honest feedback.

  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Wed Aug 29, 2007 via blog

    David, Thanks for your insightful advice. Neil

  • by Kate Thu Aug 30, 2007 via blog

    I think it might help actually. I am surprised (after working in a few Chicago area agencies) at the amount of employees in so called PR positions/agencies that didn't even go to school for PR or journalism. Having the certification might cut back on the amount of pretty faced bullies who take over the industry with their spin.

  • by Ron M. Thu Aug 30, 2007 via blog

    From PRSA's website regarding the APR, David, this answers some of your comments above. When I took it, the Readiness Review was referred to as the oral portion of the exam, which I believe was held after the written exam. The cost probably is in line with or less than most professional certification/testing programs. Who administers the Accreditation program? The Accreditation program is administered by the Universal Accreditation Board (UAB), a consortium of 9 leading industry organizations, including PRSA. Who can pursue the APR? Any PRSA member in good standing can take on the challenge of earning Accreditation. However, it is recommended that candidates have at least five years' experience in the full-time practice or teaching of public relations and who have earned either a bachelor's degree in a communication-specific field (e.g., public relations, journalism, mass communication) or have equivalent work experience, which includes public relations principles, public relations writing, public relations campaigns, research, ethics and law and internship (practical experience under supervision). What steps are involved? 1. You must complete an application -- that lets the UAB gauge your full-time public relations experience. 2. Once your application is approved, you must schedule a Readiness Review, which is a face-to-face review by three APRs to determine whether you have a grasp of the knowledge, skills and abilities required to pass the comprehensive examination. 3. Prior to the Readiness Review, you must complete a Readiness Review Questionnaire -- that addresses: your organization and position in public relations; overall experience; and assessment of readiness to pass the computer-based written examination. 4. Successfully pass a Comprehensive Examination that is administered at numerous testing centers around the nation. What is the cost? The cost is $385. PRSA members receive a rebate of $110 upon completion of the computer-based Examination.

  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Thu Aug 30, 2007 via blog

    Kate, As a firm that was once taken in by a smoke-and-mirrors p.r. presentation, I know what you mean. Good point you make.

  • by David Reich "my 2 cents" Thu Aug 30, 2007 via blog

    Thanks for the info, Ron. A better job needs to be done, though, promoting APR and the industry overall. APR is ignored by most in our industry. There must a reason for it, beyond the cost. Any thoughts?

  • by Dave Williams Thu Aug 30, 2007 via blog

    Licensing will only help the licenser. Anyone had a GREAT mechanic with an A.S.E. license lately. They are basically qualified to change oil and an air filter. That is just one example of what licensing can do for public relations. With such a strong need to change public perception why don't we in the "biz" focus on cleaning up OUR acts instead. Cut the lying and whitewash BS to a minimum and sell the client to their publics as what they really are. Learn to write, SPELL and find the positives which might be real news to some publications. This is necessary for us to get published and get our job done correctly. We need do it squarely and effectively, stop playing egotistic games and start serving the client honestly. No license required!!!!

  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Fri Aug 31, 2007 via blog

    David, I am not a p.r. professional but could it be that the APR is an organization looking for a purpose? I have no idea. But if that is the case, then something that does not seem to add value will be ignored. Perhaps this licensing thing is part of a search for relevance and importance? Neil Neil

  • by David Reich Fri Aug 31, 2007 via blog

    Hey Dave in Vegas: Well said. Bravo.

  • by Rocco Sacci Sun Sep 2, 2007 via blog

    This is, as that great philosopher Yogi Berra said, deja vu all over again. It seems incredulous that someone at PRSA would be advocating "certification" when, in fact, the Society's accreditation program was set up to counteract any movement toward licensing, which is what "certification" actually is. Several points: First amendment constitutional question. Who would administer it? Who would set up the tests and requirements to take the test? (PRSA accreditation doesn't fill the need because it only has impact with PRSA members, no one outside PRSA (and probably most within PRSA) don't know anything about it or what it means, the same as it's so-called Code of Ethics). Who really cares? Are large or small numbers of PR practitioners/professionals going to jail because of unscrupulous behavior violating (what?) laws? The only government restraint on the flow of information comes from the SEC regarding stock information. Would licensing extend to all personnel involved in communications -- journalists, marketing, sales promotion, and advertising? I could go on but this is a dead horse beaten to death by both sides of the issue over the last four decades, at least. PR personnel should accept the fact that their role is to present one side of the story -- their client's, their company's, their organization's, their government's, etc., -- and move on. No one ever said the PR presentation had to be balanced. Let the other "side" implement their own PR program. Your presentation should be truthful, but if you feel your company, client, whatever, is not honest with you, accept the fact and live with a guilty conscience or go get another job or find another client. As for PR for PR and what should PRSA's role be in advancing it, that is another story that PRSA has failed miserably over the years. PRSA has never had a clue what PR is all about, to begin with.

  • by toni muzi falconi Mon Sep 3, 2007 via blog

    Rocco's comments are to the point. I have no doubt that the recent interest in certification for specific practices amongst this country's public relations association members is also sparked by the fear of a possible drive to general licensing. Not being an american citizen I will not enter into the first amendment debate although I insist in saying that this is an alibi and that licensing professionals (inhouse and consultants)who spend more than 50% of their job time in advocating and representing their client/employer interests by developing relationships with the latters key stakeholders groups are not in contrast with the spirit of the Constitution. It is however definitely not true that the only regulations in this country related to the free flow of information are in financial information... Health, consumer, safety, security, political, lobbying related public relations, only to say the first to come to mind, all regulate (whether we know it or not, whether we give it for granted or not) how we are to practice. Finally, what has significantly changed over the last forty years, for all the reasons one can think of, is that -yes, absolutely!- we do always present one side of the story and if we do not like the story we should either convince our client/employer to change it or look elswhere for our paycheck, however the pervasiveness and power of our profession has never been so intrusive in the opinions, consumptions, decisions of others. Most of our activites, contrary to advertising, are (hopefully...?) evident and explicit to our direct interlocutors (those whom we engage in order they engage others) but not to the end users of our advocacy efforts. And this is one hell of a good reason to introduce regulation not only on specific practices but on actual professional access schemes. Only in the public interest of course, not of professionals.

  • by David Reich Mon Sep 3, 2007 via blog

    Regulate the p.r. people and what comes next? Advertising? Journalists? Professor, this sort of regulation can lead to very dangerous consequences. What if the government in power doesn't like something that's being publicized, or advertised or covered in the media. Through regulation, they can regulate it away. "In the public interest," you say. But who determines what is really in the public interest? Very dangerous. Also, very unnecessary. The last sentence in your comment above scares the hell out of me.

  • by CK Mon Sep 3, 2007 via blog

    At the risk of sounding ignorant (I've done so many times before)...don't we regulate advertising to an extent? I understand that we do (truth in advertising for claims, "fair-balanced" copy in pharma ads). And we sure do gripe a lot about our media (and understandably so) in how it's not objective...especially when we're concerned they're not covering a story due to advertiser bias. Is there not a way to regulate some aspects that are in the public's best interests? I do not blame P.R. and marketing for all the ills of the world...but I see some much-needed improvement by many companies and practitioners. So I guess my question is, what's a solution that works to increase cred in the practice (PR/marketing) and works for the public's best interest without making it a police-state profession? Sorry if I sounded ignorant.

  • by David Reich Mon Sep 3, 2007 via blog

    Again I say, ck, who determines what is in the public interest? Dangerous ground we tread on here.

  • by toni muzi falconi Mon Sep 3, 2007 via blog

    In a democracy, the public interest is usually determined by the law and regulated by both soft and hard access and practice constraints. If, for example, you do not like an existing law and wish to change it, you normally organize yourself politically and, in many different ways, you lobby to get it changed. As the public interest continues to change according to a country's social dynamics, this in itself motivates the value of democracy. The ground, as you say, becomes dangerous when, as sometimes happens, laws are changed without considering public interest, or when organizations invest significanr resources to subtly and not explicitly influence opinions, attitudes, behaviours of the public. Most pr activities (in this sense contrary to advertising and journalism) today are performed transparently -in the software sense of the word (nobody sees them), and not in the traditional sense: i.e. visible and explicit. This is the reason why I advocate some sort of soft/hard licensing of public relations.

  • by David Reich Mon Sep 3, 2007 via blog

    With all due respect, I can't begin to tell you how strongly I disagree with the very concept. Start with p.r. people and it spreads to journalists. And if the government happens to be pro one way or another and they don't like what someone is saying via p.r. channels, does the p.r. person get his license revoked? Or get put in jail? I hat to sound alarmist, my friend, but many fine folks a generation ago in Germany -- and in your native land too -- suffered mightily because the government put a stop to dissenting opinions. It may sound like a real stretch, but we should learn from history. I wouldn't even want to walk in that direction one inch. Today, we have means for watchdogs to blow the whistle on companies or organizations doing something against the public interest. The internet -- and blogging -- is a great leveler. There should be some standards put in place and if a company or its p.r. people or p.r. representatives cross the line, there could be fines. But having the government issue a license and then determining if what we do is or is not in the public interest is a very VERY bad step. It is one I will fight as long as I have fight in me, and I know most people in my profession feel the same way.

  • by Rocco Sacci Mon Sep 3, 2007 via blog

    Has the good professor Falconi ever operated in the real world of conducting communications program or has he always lived in the Ivory Tower. I believe in one of his earlier messages he said he was not familiar with the American system of government, and his latest posting proves that to be true. Professor, stop preaching and get real. Public relations has the worst public relations image among all the communication arts, inclusing lower than advertising. (Note that almost all of the major PR agencies have been bought by ad agencies for a very specific reason. Anyone who thinks that the public interest is defined by the law just hasn't looked at the real world in about seven years. What in the world is The Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management? Someone above says we would not have heard of it as an individual, which means it has as much influence in day-to-day operations as PRSA does, which is nill. C'mon, professor, think for a change -- I repeat, who develops the test (you and other acedamics?), bureaucrats, when is it administered -- when I graduate, when I take a job at a company in the PR department, but what if I'm employed in the Corporate Communications Department, Advertising, Sales Probmotion or Marketing Department or just the Publicity Department? Do I have to passs the PR Bar exam before I can get a job? Do I have to be "certified" to start a blog, any kind of a blog?Think professor, think, think, think. Finally Public Relations outside of the United States is a totally different game, more sales promotion than anything else, where it is commonly accepted to purchase space in trade publications that looks like news reports. Professsor, think, think, think.

  • by Judy Gombita Tue Sep 4, 2007 via blog

    I believe Toni has a *little* experience outside of the Ivory Tower, Rocco: In fact, you may want to read his most recent post on PR Conversations about his past work with the multinational company, Philip Morris: Finally, I'd be interested to know your sources/data (at least two, to make it credible) when you make this sweeping statement: "Finally Public Relations outside of the United States is a totally different game, more sales promotion than anything else, where it is commonly accepted to purchase space in trade publications that looks like news reports." Thanks.

  • by toni muzi falconi Tue Sep 4, 2007 via blog

    Thank you Rocco and David. Although I have 45 years of on hand international public relations experience for many large and complex private, public and social sector organizations which I continue to serve operatively today and hopefully tomorrow ( only in the last ten years do I also teach the subject in various universities..) I will certainly think, think and think again. I have often changed my mind even on this issue in the past, so there is no telling I won't change it again. However it would be useful to receive arguments which are truly solid. In any case I really wish we could physically sit around the table and discuss face to face without each of us always (me included of course) returning to points made before. I am grateful however for your attention and I admire and respect the intensity with which you argue your points.

  • by David Reich "my 2 cents" Tue Sep 4, 2007 via blog

    I'm not sure if Rocco will see your responses, Judy and Prof. Falconi. I understand he's traveling. Lucky guy is retired and has time for such things. I know who Rocco is and I know he has many years with agencies large and small, and he was also the Communications Director at a large international logistics/freight company. He worked with media in virtually every continent and also directed the work of local p.r. agencies in at least 20 nations around the world. He also was p.r. director for an international relief organization that did a lot of work in Africa and Asia. He was an adjunct professor of public relations for several years at a university in New York -- I think it was St. Johns. And early in his career he was on staff at the PRSA. Just wanted you to know his credentials. I agree, Prof. Falconi, it would be nice to sit down and talk this issue through. I'm also in Manhattan, so I'm available to meet if you;'d like.

  • by David Reich Thu Sep 6, 2007 via blog

    Just fyi for those who have been following this discussion -- I'm having breakfast with prof. Toni Falconi next Wednesday. Don't expect any breakthroughs from either of us, but I'm sure we can agree to disagree and perhaps find some way toward a solution. I'm looking forward to it and I'll keep you posted.

  • by David Reich "my 2 cents" Wed Sep 12, 2007 via blog

    Just came from a delightful breakfast meeting with Prof. Toni Falconi, whose post at PR Conversations brought me into the whole licdensing debate. We really aren't that far apart on the issue, it turns out. I'll be writing more about our meeting at my 2 cents soon, and I'll post a note here to let you know.

  • by Hal Leddy Wed Sep 12, 2007 via blog

    I am looking for Rocco A. Sacci. I have a client who knows him and is interested in discussing working with him again.

  • by David Reich Thu Sep 13, 2007 via blog

    Hal, email me at and I'll gladly give you Rocco's contact info by reply email.

  • by David Reich Sun Sep 23, 2007 via blog

    FYI, I posted at my 2 cents about my breakfast with Toni Muzi Falconi. It's at

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