Beyond a Public Relations Degree: Accreditation (PRofessional Development Week)

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Mar 5, 2009 in APR, Career, Guest Post, Public Relations

This post is a part of PRofessional Development Week. The posts from March 2 to March 6 will focus on the development of professional skills of public relations students. If you would like to contribute to this special week on A Step Ahead, e-mail Rachel.M.Esterline {at} Gmail.com.

This is a guest post by Nick Lucido, the president of the Michigan State University chapter of PRSSA.

As students, it’s easy to think in the short run of things during our collegiate career. We get jobs and internships, join student organizations and make time for class – all for the sake of finding a job after graduation.

Here’s something that will make you think even further – what will you be doing to advance your career after graduation? Sure, it might be a couple years down the line, and the recession probably isn’t encouraging this kind of thinking. As public relations professionals, it’s never too early to start thinking about becoming accredited in public relations.

During the weekend, I attended a Regional Activity at Central Michigan University hosted by the CMU and FSU PRSSA Chapters. My favorite session was a discussion with Renee Walker, APR, vice president of public relations and marketing at CMU. She talked not only about career strategy, but professional development opportunities within PRSA. Part of this discussion included some tips and tricks relating to the APR accreditation.

Here’s how PRSA defines the APR:

“APR is a mark of distinction for public relations professionals who demonstrate their commitment to the profession and to its ethical practice, and who are selected based on broad knowledge, strategic perspective, and sound professional judgment.”

The Universal Accreditation Board, a consortium of nine public relations organizations (PRSA is one of these), supervises the accreditation process. Not only do you get to add letters after your name, but this “mark of distinction” signals you are a public relations strategist. Remember, it’s one thing to be able to write a press release or organize a press conference, but it’s another thing to conduct a public relations campaign and have full understanding of the project.

Even though you might be a student or young professional, there are some things you can do to start preparing for the exam:

  • Work in a variety of internship settings and build your portfolio. If you can work in an internship for more than a year, you will probably be able to see more projects start to finish.
  • Check out Preparation Sources for some tips and practice guides for earning this accreditation.
  • Build your “board of directors.” In other words, build relationships and keep in touch with your mentor(s) and senior-level PRSA members to help guide you through the process.
  • Get active in the profession outside your career. Working with nonprofits, taking a board position with your local PRSA Chapter and mentoring students can enrich your career with the skill and knowledge you will need for the exam.
  • Read, read, and read. Even though you just might be sick of reading about public relations, keep up with new books and magazines, subscribe to PR Week, keep an eye on Amazon’s list of top marketing books and even join the PR Book Club. Just because you have completed college or will soon does not mean that your education is over.

Once you have at least between two and five years of public relations experience, you will be eligible to start the process of becoming accredited. Keep in mind that the test is meant for a seasoned practitioner. There are some steps you must take in order to prepare for the exam.

  • Apply for eligibility and prepare
  • Use coaching, mentoring and support services
  • Complete readiness review questionnaire
  • Participate in readiness review
  • Schedule computer-based examination
  • Take the test and rock it

If you’re still wondering if you should take your career to the next level, consider this fact:

APR’s make 20 percent more than other public relations professionals. Have you started studying for the exam yet?

Read some Q&A about APRs here.

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My Journey to Getting A Step Ahead: The Blogoversary

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Feb 26, 2009 in Blogging, Public Relations

My blogoversary is this Saturday. I started blogging about public relations a year ago.

Below is my first post at my previous address for A Step Ahead:

In the world of public relations, being a step ahead is important. You need to know what could happen…and what you will do if things go wrong. You need to know about the up-and-coming ways to getting things done so your competition doesn’t leave you in the dust. I really don’t think any professional strives to be “a step behind.”

Being a step ahead isn’t just about keeping up. You also need ambition – a motivation to move forward. To stay ahead.

That’s what this blog will be about: The steps I take to get ahead to reach my aspirations and true potential as a public relations professional.

I’m currently an undergraduate student, majoring in integrative public relations and double minoring in communication and journalism at Central Michigan University. I am a very active member of the Public Relations Student Society of America and a consultant for PR Central, our student-run PR firm.

This is my journey. This is what I’m doing to get A Step Ahead.

I feel like I’ve leaped ahead since writing this post on Feb. 28, 2008. I never saw my blog coming as far as it has come today. It really amazes me.  Since my first posts, I have developed my own style and niche. I’ve met many great people online, and even a few of them in person.

What are you doing to get a step ahead?

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The Importance of an Offline Network

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Feb 2, 2009 in Career, Conferences, Guest Post, Networking, PRSSA, Public Relations

This is a guest post by Nick Lucido. Nick is a public relations student at Michigan State University. He is the chapter president at MSU PRSSA. Check out his blog, PR Start.

The Importance of an Offline Network

As the world continues to transition online, one thing that many of us forget is the importance of the human connection. I don’t think we’re at the point where a direct message on Twitter is worth more than a lunch meeting, nor do I think that will ever happen (hopefully). The key is to maximize both tools in order to meet new people while maintaining the connection with those already in your network.

It probably seems difficult to cold call a professional and ask for some of their time, so I put together a list of three places to build your offline network:


Attending national, regional and local conferences is essential to meeting new people. While building your network locally is important, knowing people around the country can be helpful in job searches and, down the line, finding business relationships. Have you ever heard of someone knowing too many people? Probably not. Having a far-reaching network, especially as a student, shows commitment and skill.

When you attend these conferences, bring business cards that have not only your cell phone number and e-mail address, but your different online contact information. This way, you can build the relationship with your new contacts and hopefully open the door for more in-person meetings down the line.

Professional Associations

I’ve mentioned this before on my blog, but it’s important to get involved with your professional community. Associations such as PRSA and PRSSA are a great way to meet and network with people in your profession. Being active within those organizations is even more important because it demonstrates your thought leadership within the organization. People look up to thought leaders and allow for easier networking.


While building your number of followers on Twitter, friends on Facebook and subscribers on FriendFeed, don’t be afraid to meet them in person. I’ve experienced the awkward “Oh, I follow you on Twitter!” many times. I stumbled into Scott Monty (@scottmonty) at the North American International Auto Show, Tim Wieland (@timwieland) at the EMU Student Development Conference and Shonali Burke (@shonali) by phone through the Mentorship Connection.

One principle to keep in mind with networking is really important for students. The objective of networking should not be to give your resume to that person – it should be to build a relationship. Helping out the professional either by interning with them or giving them a suggestion is important to do in a business relationship. Once you help them out, they will be more inclined to help you out.

As students, it’s pretty easy to be intimidated to ask a professional for a meeting. Once you get over your fear, the results will pay off. After all, it’s know what you know, but who you know.

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A Public Relations Book Group For Students and Professionals

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Jan 14, 2009 in Blogging, PRSSA, Public Relations

Over my winter break, I started working on a new project:

A public relations book group.

The idea stemmed from a discussion I had with the PRSSA president at CMU, Christine Kunde. Since then, I’ve been brainstorming ideas with Nick Lucido, the PRSSA president at Michigan State University.

The book group would be open to PR students and professionals and they would discuss the book online, through chat, forum or blog.

Book selections might not specifically focus on PR, because professional development, writing, business and career-related books also would be helpful to read.

Through Twitter, I found several people who were interested in joining, including Meg Roberts, @jrdbryan and @LJZuber.

A group like this would not only offer professional development, but also an opportunity to network among our peers. I’m thinking that PR instructors, like Teaching PR and Public Relations Matters, might also be interested in joining or encouraging their students to join.

So I have several questions:

1. Are you interested? If so, please comment.

2. Do you have any suggestions or comments?

3. Can you think of a good name for this group? (“Public Relations Book Group” just doesn’t have a ring to it!)

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Brazen Careerist Tips

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Nov 11, 2008 in Blogging, Branding, Career, National Conference, PRSSA, Public Relations

2008 PRSSA National Conference

PRSA General Session
Penelope Trunk, author of “Brazen Careerist: The New Rules For Success”

Trunk, a business advice columnist for the Boston Globe, gave some really interesting advice to PRSA and PRSSA members at the conference. Here’s the short list:

  • Money does not equal happiness
  • Focus on optimism
  • Mentoring is the new currency, so ask to be hooked up with a good mentor and be a mentor to others
  • Job-hopping is a good thing
  • Breaks are good too because they allow you to have time to think
  • Blogs are a tool for career stability

Right before going to the conference, I was accepted as a blogger for Penelope’s site. See my profile of Brazen Careerist!

What type of career success advice do you offer to others? Do you agree with Trunk’s advice?

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Six messages from PRSA’s Mike Cherenson

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Nov 4, 2008 in National Conference, PRSSA

2008 PRSSA National Conference

Guest post by: David Baker from St. John Fisher College, PRSSA Vice President, Vice President of Client Communications at PRIMA Connections (SJFC’s student-run firm).

Six messages from PRSA’s Mike Cherenson

Mike Cherenson, Chair-elect for PRSA, has spoken to our organization in San Diego at the National Assembly, Buffalo at the Northeast Regional Conference and in Detroit introducing the keynote speaker.

Cherenson often delivers the same messages to students, but they are very important messages:

1)    Love what you do
2)    Make your own luck
3)    Network–The more people you know, the more powerful you are
4)    You need the picture to put the puzzle together. Know where you want to be, imagine it and then you’ll be able to put the pieces together.
5)    You don’t build relationships sitting in an office
6)    If you don’t go and you don’t use it, then you will get nothing out of it

Mike says that the keys to his success are a passion for what he does and work balance.  As a second-generation PR practitioner, Mike’s stories about his dad and his family show how important they are in his success and his work visiting students across the country and the dedication to his industry he shows through his blog display his passion for making the world of PR a better place.

Read Mike’s blog.

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Communication Tips From Bob Lutz of General Motors

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Oct 31, 2008 in Blogging, National Conference, PRSSA, Social Media

2008 PRSSA National Conference

PRSA General Session
Bob Lutz, Vice Chairman of Global Products, General Motors

The PRSSA National Conference attendees were fortunate enough to be able to attend a PRSA session with Bob Lutz. During his presentation, Lutz gave several tips about communication:

  • Communication is about making a connection
  • Communications should say something
  • Communication has a value that paid advertising does not
  • Communications should view the media as an opportunity, not an obstacle
  • Communicators must evolve with communications

Lutz said communications should be done skillfully, directly, accurately, precisely and honestly. It should be effective and interesting. He also said writing should be balanced because self-praise can do a lot of damage.

I think one of the most important points he made was that communicators must evolve with communications. Lutz has demonstrated this himself with his own blog.

Lutz said blogs give the opportunity to have a real dialogue, to put out an unfiltered message and to have the message out immediately. Executives should write their own blogs, Lutz said, because blogs written by PR people come off as very corporate. People will feel like they are actually being talked to if it is written by the executive. But, Lutz said, an executive should submit their post to PR to make sure facts are confirmed and it is not off message.

Find out more, read his entire speech or read a recent article in PR Tactics and The Strategist Online about his speech.

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