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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