My APR Journey: Sniffles, Studies and Scheduling

Originally posted on SCPRSA’s blog, Palmetto PRactitioner.

My journey toward the APR started with nasty bout of bronchitis and walking pneumonia in October 2009. There’s nothing like a high fever and some forced downtime to make you evaluate where you want to go in life! Besides, researching the APR process online offered a respite from daytime television and my endless parade of paperbacks.

The main thing to understand about the APR process is that it is, well, a process. After bouncing back from being sick, I assumed that getting my APR would be similar to submitting a big proposal or writing a PR plan — a big job, but one that I could power through with enough determination. It isn’t designed like that. Instead, there are forced breaks between applying, submitting your questionnaire, scheduling your readiness review, presenting your campaign and ultimately taking the exam. I found that I learned the most when planning for next steps because the new challenges caused me to rethink the language I was using to describe my work, the format for my presentation or the way I was approaching a situational question. There is no real right or wrong, no perfect answer, no SAT-style score for gloating – there is only a greater capacity for strategic understanding as you pass from one phase to the next.

Here are some tips for others professionals considering or working their way through the APR process:

1. Use the Free APR Study Guide. I printed it, highlighted it, wrote on it and carried my dog-eared copy to the allergist to sneak in some extra study time. I found it helpful to study the guide simultaneously while preparing my questionnaire and readiness review presentation because it offers a useful overview of the profession; provides standard definitions for key terms like goals, objectives, strategies and tactics; and shares best practices for PR campaign research, planning, implementation and evaluation. It also provides the best available preview of information that will be presented on the exam (though I found the exam to be much more indicative of my everyday working knowledge of PR).

2. Chat up APRs. The APR process is largely a subjective, personal journey, so it helps to find a few guides! Kim Banks and Dusty Demming were especially helpful, offering encouragement and guidance on parameters. (Kim’s tip: Even though you can’t project a Powerpoint presentation during the readiness review, using Powerpoint to develop printed handouts for panelists is a great way of sharing information). I also talked to the chapter’s newest APR at the time, Adrienne Fairwell, who shared some great tips about incorporating communication theories into my readiness review presentation. Finally, the shared experience of studying and working through open-ended problems (i.e., what type of campaign makes the best readiness review presentation? How much time should I devote to studying? Did you buy the insanely expensive books?) was helpful within the supportive culture of our chapter.

3. Know how you learn and what motivates you. For instance, I had been planning a big trip to England and knew that my brain would probably be the consistency of mash and bangers when I got back. So I scheduled my readiness review for a week before the trip — when I felt that I would be on top of my game — and enrolled in the online study course when I returned to refresh my knowledge before taking the exam. I made flashcards because I always remember things better that way and focused my study time on the conquering the dreaded research section. I wore my lucky suit for the presentation and ate the proverbial good breakfast. I even decided that after the exam I’d reward myself with a new dress — pass or fail — and set up a dinner with friends that evening. Knowing that I would probably be my own worst enemy in terms of action and preparation, I used advance scheduling, smart study time and a series of small rewards to help stay on track.

Though my APR journey started while I was under the weather, I have to admit having those three little letters after my name feels great!

Jacque Riley is the CEO of Riley Communications, a public relations firm serving lifestyle, non-profit and business clients in South Carolina and Washington, D.C.

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Phineas The Puppy May Have Figured Out Facebook Better Than Zuckerberg

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about Facebook’s long-term success (shaky at best), almost as much talk as there’s been about founder Mark Zuckerberg’s cold and questionable leadership — even a movie about it. In addition to affecting the oversharing of Facebook-addicted individuals, these social storm clouds also threaten the well-meaning businesses and community organizations attempting to connect to their audiences through these outlets. But never fear — for every crime against online decency, there are social media campaigns to counteract it. Pet treat maker A Dog’s Life customer package design contest and Jones Soda’s labels with customer photography, for instance, revitalize the reasoning behind businesses entering the social sphere.

Perhaps even just as inspiring are the customers who participate in these hybrid social media-customer service efforts (in which companies often pass up immediate revenue for long-term customer retention). In fact, corporate Facebookers and Tweeters could learn a thing or two from recent A Dog’s Life contest winners Sal and Noelle Petruzelli-Marino (and their star pup Phineas)’s approach to social media:

“Phineas has his own Facebook page and Twitter account, mostly because we didn’t want to inundate our friends with updates on a puppy if they didn’t want them,” says Sal.

But it turns out, because they were either interesting, funny or endearing enough, people did want to see Phineas’s pages. And they voted just as Phineas asked, catapulting his cute little face into pet food fame. Even though the constant changes in packaging create some extra costs for A Dog’s Life, they find that the winning pooches’ hometown pet stores and owners more than make up for it by buying extra bags for their famous pet, and more importantly, buying into the brand.

So, take the social media naysayers with a grain of salt—even if the target audience shifts or the social network moguls show signs of humanity, these changes create new opportunities to reach your stakeholders in a way that makes sense for your communications. Yes, stay on top of the trends, but stick to your message above all.