What is the Difference Between the APR & ABC?

A colleague once asked me via LinkedIn, “Which accreditation – the APR or the ABC – was proving more valuable?” It was a great question and I was glad she asked. The result of my thinking this answer through is the following blog. This is entirely my personal experience and opinion. I love and value both of my PRSA and IABC memberships for the sixth year running now.

[**My aim is  to summarize my path through both accreditation processes and how I see their merits for those considering pursuing either].

The first response I would give is that with all due respect to both parties – the ABC was harder to complete. The  process was longer and required significant patience and second-effort at different stages of the journey. I completed the APR process in four months (from August – December 2010), while the ABC path took just over two years (I applied in January 2010 and received my passing notification in March 2012).

I am glad I worked hard toward attaining both credentials as they provided me with a great “academic experience” outside of my job.  The benefit of completing these certifications is the prospect of demonstrating significant transferability into other industries or markets. They are designed to exhibit versatile, broad-minded communications expertise that applies to a variety of disciplines and industries.

I venture to say that the APR accolade may yield a more concrete return for its usefulness and prominence for practitioners elevating themselves in a highly regimented public relations agency, government public information officer or public affairs environment. I think that the APR has a more tactical testing approach with its historical, practical and theoretical applications of traditional industry standards and current-day widely accepted best practices.

I feel the ABC has the potential for broader applications to attain higher roles in corporate, nonprofit and independent consulting sectors, especially for people in multinational firms or looking to work abroad. The ABC testing mechanisms require serious graduate-level writing (my three-part written exam was 14 pages after nearly four hours of writing). The oral exam requires quick thinking, simulating and planning when you are handed a few emails and documents and given 10 minutes to plot out a course of action for a crisis communications response

Some people may see the ABC or APR as a cosmetic addendum on business card. Others may think having either really doesn’t impact a career; rather it is all about your experiences and responsibility progression. Sure, it is nice to display the accomplishments as part of your calling card or signature. They should in theory command respect from colleagues versed in the accompanying efforts and merits. A variety of senior-level positions across the board are frequently calling for either certification as a required or desired qualification for candidates. For practitioners pursuing either or both, the end-game result should bring nothing but personal satisfaction while help propel said recipients to the top of the candidate pool for those coveted leadership roles across the spectrum of industries seeking the big-picture communication planners and thought leaders.

Overall, both certifications are somewhat interchangeable for experienced professionals. It may primarily depend on which association one opts to remain with because you have to renew your annual membership constantly to retain the designation.

September is PRSA Ethics Month

Every September the Public Relations Society of America commemorates the importance of ethics and advocates upholding its principles to members. Here is the Code of Ethics that outlines the core values and decision-making steps for members to abide by and adhere to the highest industry standards for one’s organization or clients.

Here is my “ETHICS” acronym since they are such a popular part of our business culture and everyday parlance.

   Everything That Helps Individuals Communicate Straight (or Comply with Stakeholders!)

Ethics is such a broad, complicated and much-debated topic in many sectors. Its mere mention can elicit a variety of perspectives and definitions, yielding to further discussion or debate that can be equally vast, divisive and troublesome. With so many controversial examples of ethical behavior looming large in the business and political arenas, ensuring that ethics has a prominent place as a core principle of normal operations is no easy feat. Rather, the elements and tenets of ethics, its considerations and consequences have such a far-reaching impact in which people can delve into philosophy, morality and legality when broaching the topic.

At some point in your career, you may have experienced, observed or read about ethical breaches or questionable situations such as:

  • Disparaging someone to further a cause or undermining a competitor, colleague or client.
  • Having a conflict of interest that wasn’t disclosed at the outset of a relationship or project.
  • Taking a shortcut that might otherwise go unnoticed by other stakeholders.
  • Manipulating information to fit one’s objectives or needs or those of a client.
  • Withholding material information from a member of the media.
  • A person or agency “stealing a client” or “poaching staff” from a rival, directly or indirectly.
  • Allowing others to believe someone else’s work or accolades were yours.

People like to say you can validate or test your response to an ethical scenario by asking yourself one of these questions:

  1. Would you feel good about yourself if your words or actions pertaining to the situation were printed on the front page of the newspaper?
  2. Would your mother be proud of you if she read about it?
  3. What if your actions were read to a ballroom full of your colleagues and friends?

When a potential ethical quandary emerges, one is left to ponder whether it could be a minor bump to navigate through or around (if said individual is the only one consciously aware of it) or does it have the potential to mushroom into a minefield of public awareness (when action is eventually discovered by organization, client, customer or independent third party).

Does the element of discovery only make an ethical breach more unacceptable? It is perhaps similar to the old saying about a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it. If no other parties to the situation realize the significance of an ethical implication or ensuing consequences, is it a forgivable error, whether by acts of commission or omission, or a major professional transgression and violation of trust that could bring shame to the practitioner and his or her organization or firm?

Does your organization have a concrete code of ethics manual or resource guide to consult when faced with situations that require good judgment and proper decision making? Its scope and relevance probably should be formally addressed and posted or published in some fashion. Such a guide should also be issued as a requirement for managers and employees to sign as an acknowledgement and intent to comply, agreement to accept as part of the company’s culture and knowledge of location for quick access and reference for employees.

Earmarking the position ethics and decision-making principles holds within organizations and the emphasis in which they are maintained may vary among industries and individuals in terms of their priority or commitment. The ideals that come from developing and embracing an ethical standard guide outlining honesty and fairness when dealing with an organization’s many stakeholders and the public surely would seem to be strong candidates for universal adoption in the business world.

One person’s ceiling is another man’s floor, and the subjective, philosophical interpretations of ethical conduct pose so many sides to so many scenarios to opposing participants, creating the proverbial “grey area” or “he said/she said” defenses. Who is to judge when two sides are pitted against each other in their pursuit of their competitive objectives or management-mandated incentives, deemed righteous and earned in their eyes?

Even when the need arises for an attorney, mediator, ombudsmen or a human resources referee, both sides of a given ethical dispute may never budge even if the facts and actions are clearly documented for all parties to dissect in the aftermath.

If only the deployment of ethical behavior and the importance of honesty and disclosure were as simple as The Golden Rule. It is often a little more complicated than that oft-cited virtue depending on situations, perspectives and priorities. Perhaps The Silver Rule could at least be embraced in which one always aims to do the right thing by their organization and stakeholders.

PRSA Buffalo Chapter ~ Crisis Communications Panel

The PRSA Buffalo Niagara Chapter hosted its third Sunrise Seminar on Tuesday at the Hospice Buffalo Education Center. Twenty-five members of varying industry experience levels attended to hear a one-hour discussion and Q&A concerning crisis communications planning and response. The panel consisted of three public relations managers, Marissa Wilson from Perry’s, Katie McKenna from Tops and Kandis Fuller from Univera Healthcare.

The focus of the seminar was to hear the panelists’ perspectives on planning for, managing and effectively communicating during a crisis. Panelists touched on several recent public relations dilemmas, corporate-community issues and celebrity snafus, such as cruise lines, “pink slime” and Paula Deen. logo

The discussion reminded me of a great presentation on crisis response planning at a PIO symposium in Phoenix last spring.

Beyond the generally accepted best practices of updating your crisis response plan, preparing key messages, media training spokespersons, responding accurately and in a timely fashion, controlling your information channels and limiting your community/content managers to a select few, the key collective takeaways from the panelists for practitioners who may take on a significant role in an issues management or crisis communications situation were as follows:

  1. Don’t react too fast; be ready before you present the situation from your company’s perspective.
  2. Offer behind-the-scenes access to reporters to provide context and additional background for balanced coverage.
  3. Speak first, speak clearly and speak often.
  4. Stand firm in your role as the expert in the court of public opinion for your organization, management and stakeholders.
  5. Uphold your values as you prepare your key personnel and navigate the organization through the situation.
  6. Take a breath, pause and do research instead of fretting or rushing to a response.
  7. Gather the pertinent information and uncover all of the scenarios before you create your plan of response.
  8. Have an efficient approval process in place for your communications response approach and materials to avoid becoming mired in minutiae of edits with too many “wordsmiths in the situation room.”
  9. When monitoring employee social media behavior, use traditional face-to-face communication to address grievances or issues so they don’t always feel compelled to seek out media outlets to vent complaints or frustrations in the workplace. Sometimes people just want to be heard but yet often feel bad when they realize the scope of their “broadcast” of internal matters.
  10. Keep in mind that your ultimate goal in any issues management or crisis communications situation is to protect your company’s integrity, values and image while maintaining public trust in your organization.

Check out these 10 tips for preparing for a crisis from a 2012 PRSA blog.

Are You Meeting Your Meeting Efficiencies?

“What time is our 9 a.m. meeting?” “Do you know which room we are in today?”

Are these questions you hear too often in your organization? Do you get bogged down in a meeting meltdown when they are stacked on top of each other? Are you meeting after the meeting to clarify what transpired and schedule yet another meeting?

What is your solution when you feel like you have reached meeting threshold? Do you try to skip out on some or send a proxy to gather information?

If ideas are the soul of business and entrepreneurship, perhaps meetings are the veins to transfer and cultivate the concepts and visions of collaboration all while occasionally challenging, frustrating and confusing their participants.

We all have our share of meetings, and we need them to manage normal operations, improve communication and procedures and foster innovative thinking. Perhaps more intrinsically, we are social, curious beings that like to discuss ideas and have our chance to perform on stage with an audience regardless of its size.

But what happens when a meeting’s quest for efficiency begets new inefficiencies or additional meetings in troubling meta fashion?

I like to think about miscellaneous projects throughout any meetings I attend and lead. I listen and take notes, but I also scribble down ideas or activities for other projects simultaneously. It’s my own way of feeling efficient, staying focused and planning ahead if a meeting is running long or a discussion has gone off the track. I’m still engaged and still processing all that is going on in the meeting, but I feel the need to be glancing around the corner, asking myself:

  • “What are the concrete action steps that should be completed by the group for the next session?”
  • “Will this same issue or topic come up the next time we meet?”

I keep a dated page of notes for every meeting and I organize them into the appropriate folder. Sometimes I will refer to the last gathering to review what really transpired. I want to know where there was progress for the group or my own action items. That’s the old reporter in me trying to address the core news-gathering questions.

I aim to maximize productivity before, during and after meetings in the following ways:

  1. A day or two in advance, I like to email the group a 3/4-page agenda with three or four categories or sections comprised of bulleted updates or upcoming activities.
  2. I strive real hard to keep it to one hour; 40 minutes is ideal.
  3. To break up the routine of a standing meeting, I like to invite a guest presenter (where appropriate or relevant) to speak to the group for the last 30 minutes once the agenda has been covered. I used to bring in a different media or advertising representative every month. That worked great until we exhausted the supply of contacts. It was very productive for story idea discussions and networking.
  4. If I’m not leading the meeting and the discussion strays from the agenda timeline, I’ll try a subtle maneuver to steer the dialogue back to the next matter. A segue comment or “softball/leading” question can often do the trick.
  5. I like to take my action step notes on the agenda and provide a quick recap of what I am promising to deliver for the next session as the meeting concludes.
  6. For professional and nonprofit association board meetings, I always skim the PDF packet of minutes before the next meeting to see where ideas are reaching fruition or projects were actually completed [It also helps to do a search for your name to make sure you haven’t dropped the ball on something!].

In closing, if you hold a meeting, prepare an agenda; if you don’t have an agenda, share a story; if you don’t have a story, make a point; and if you don’t have a point, give up the floor and please pass the mic…!”

Second Annual BEMA Award Winners

The second annual Buffalo Excellence in Media (BEMA) awards dinner was held at Salvatore’s on Friday, April 26. There were nearly 250 people from various local media outlets and communications organizations in attendance as winners were announced in 11 categories. Melissa Holmes from WGRZ-TV and Jickster from 97 Rock served as the event emcees.


The winners were as follows:

Radio Personality of the Year Radio Station of the Year
Jud Heussler/WKSE-FM WGRF-FM/97 Rock
Best Use of Social Media Behind the Scenes Maverick
Rob Lucas/STAR 102.5
Mike Mombrea, Jr. /WIVB-TV
TV Personality of the Year TV Station of the Year:
Diana Fairbanks/WIVB-TV
Sales Executive of the Year Backpack Journalist of the Year
Lenny Kostelny/WIVB/WNLO-TV
Ed Drantch/WIVB-TV
Rising Star Award Trailblazer Award
Brittni Smallwood/WIVB-TV
Phil Arno/WBBZ-TV
Pinnacle Award
Eileen Buckley/WBFO-FM

Cheers to the Irish, Near and Far!

Cities, villages, economic development agencies and businesses large and small in Ireland are in the midst of a year-long initiative called “The Gathering” that is sure to help augment the country’s economic recovery and omahony-coat-of-arms-family-crest2.giftourism revenue for this year and beyond.

Essentially, the public relations campaign is an invitation for descendants, family and friends to visit the “home turf” throughout 2013 and participate in special events.

I saw the Saint Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin in 2011, though June through August is generally the best time of year to spend a vacation on the Emerald Isle, as the weather is generally ideal and you can bask in long summer nights of daylight with the high latitude.

Slainte and Erin Go Bragh!

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