I've been reading quite a bit lately about people preparing for their APR exam, as if that's going to magically transform them to become better PR professionals. Newsflash: It won't. It's the equivalent of Scarecrow receiving his diploma at the end of the Wizard of Oz. (Scarecrow's transformation had nothing to do with the piece of paper.)
That said, while I don't dismiss APR preparation as being a valuable professional development tool, the credential is meaningless. We've all met great APRs and incompetent ones. We've also worked with professionals without the initials who are brilliant at their craft. Great PR professionals, with APR training or not, are those who view their profession as larger than themselves. They are educated well beyond the limits of public relations.
As much as most PR pros don't want to admit this, PR in and of itself, is not complicated. I could teach the fundamentals of PR to anyone in a day. Knowing what to do is the easy part. Knowing what to do depending on your client, industry, and audiences is where the rubber meets the road. It's what separates the PR greats from the wannabees. So before you embark on APR preparation, or if you're already an APR, here's a few thoughts for you if you want to be excellent at your profession and offer real value to your clients in good times and in bad:
- Take time to truly understand your client's values and priorities. If you don't really crawl inside where your clients are coming from, then you'll never be able to help them connect with their audiences. Moreover, you'll be useless during a crisis. The great responses to crises have not been situational in nature. Great responses to crises come from core values - from who they (your clients) are, not simply how they contrive a response in the moment. Unlock this key, and you'll have a better relationship with your client and be a far more effective advocate on their behalf.
- Become an expert in your client's business beyond the topline. Those who are not experts in their clients' business typically resort to measuring PR on PR terms, not on business terms. This is the fundamental reason PR pros cry about being underappreciated. If you want a seat at the table; if you want to be respected as a business person, then take time to understand your client's business. Your client's trade pubs should be your Bibles. This will not only help you connect the dots regarding the value you bring, but also open up a new world of PR opportunities for you to explore.
- Be fanatical about staying attuned to your audiences' hot buttons. Consider tracking polls in political campaigns. Public opinion can shift like the wind. Client centric messaging that doesn't connect with the changing attitudes of customers, shareholders, employees, civic leaders, etc. can cause much more harm than good. Become THE authority about your client's target audiences.
- Become an expert in the legal matters that pertain to your client. How many of you have been in the room when an attorney takes command of the conversation because (s)he understands the relevant legal issues of the day. If you want to take the attitude that you're not an attorney, then you'll have to live with being run over in front of the CEO. Don't allow it. Understand the law. You don't have to go to law school to acquire this valuable knowledge.
- Take time to study the fundamental challenges of leadership. I don't believe you can offer real counsel to leaders without understanding the fundamentals of leadership. I'd recommend reading The Leadership Challenge by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner to get you started.