From Detroit Publicist to DC Professional: A Young Pro’s Journey to the APR

DISCLAIMER: This blog first appeared as a Pulse article on my LinkedIn page at the request of the APR Committee of PRSA’s national headquarters. You can read it here for your reference.

In September 2014, I found myself out of full-time work again for the fourth time since earning my bachelor’s degree in marketing and management. In my short career, I was one of the fortunate graduates to have held jobs related to my degree.

There was just one problem: even I didn’t want a job related to my degree. I wanted to do public relations.

And I didn’t just want to do public relations. I wanted to master it.

With that, I started my APR journey in July 2015 by enrolling on campus as a master’s degree student in public relations at the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. There, I would meet my first APR: my program chair, Dr. Rochelle Ford. She would offer a few of us in my cohort the unique opportunity to earn our degrees by dually working towards completing our APR.

The coursework I would complete as part of my master’s program would serve me well in taking the first steps towards earning my APR.  They delved deeper into the introductory knowledge of PR I already had from my undergraduate and freelance experience, and the material from my APR study guide would help me advance even further.

I started seriously preparing for the APR in late 2016, and worked closely with a professional assigned by Suzanne Lundin Ross, the APR chair of the PRSA National Capital Chapter. For the Readiness Review, I presented a campaign from my brief time with McKinney & Associates, my first job in DC. Even though I didn’t develop this program, I did the best I could to tie my portfolio and candidate questionnaire answers back to the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that I would be evaluated on. All in all, my presentation lasted close to an hour, with 20 minutes of discussing the program and 40 minutes of questions and answers from my panelists. The moment after I left the room to let the panelists deliberate on their decision came the longest four weeks of my life: waiting on my results.

They would arrive in the mail in late July 2017. I didn’t advance.

Admittedly, I took the news pretty hard, but still I knew I needed to request feedback addressing where I went wrong. I only missed passing by two points, mostly because I didn’t have enough management experience.

More determined than ever, I worked with an additional coach to make revisions to my questionnaire and presentation. Going into my second attempt, I demonstrated my management skills by approaching it as if I were presenting two programs: the first based on what actually happened; and the second based on how I would do things as the creator of the program. My aim was to control the narrative by bringing my program full circle. Whereas the Q&A portion of my first presentation felt excruciatingly long, the second time it felt like a breezy 10 minutes. I had a much better feeling leaving the room this time.

I received my advancement letter in December 2017. The final hurdle would be the computer-based exam. To prepare for it, I re-read chapters from Cutlip & Center’s Effective Public Relations, 11th Edition – a book I was required to get for one of my first courses at Newhouse – during my work commutes. The entire process took me three months to complete, with a few days of vacation in LA in between!

And on a Friday in early April, I did it.

Earning my accreditation gave me the deeper knowledge of public relations that I was looking for almost four years ago. Back then, I thought my endgame was to land media placements and increase social media followers. Now, I know that true public relations professionals are consistently monitoring the environment for opportunities and threats, and encouraging their organizations to proactively adapt to these changes. I’m looking forward to the ways I can influence behavior change for meaningful missions.

What a different four years makes!

Find out more about #TheAPRDifference at http://www.praccreditation.org/

How PR Pros Can Do Their Research Without Breaking the Bank

Whether you’ve read up on reviews to help make your next car purchase, or simply asked around about gift ideas for your loved ones, on a personal level you are a constantly subconscious researcher.  At the professional level, you likely conduct research to determine your stakeholders’ attitudes towards your organizations’ potential moves.  The same holds true for public relations professionals, who need to have an understanding of their audiences’ attitudes and beliefs before developing messages tailored to their tastes.  Gaining this understanding usually involves more research, which admittedly sounds like a tedious and expensive process at times.  However, there are many tools out there that professionals can use to create a measuring stick of how their target audience feels about something.

Here are three ways to conduct research even when you’re trying to pinch pennies:

  1. Free online survey tools – When done properly, surveys are a great way to identify characteristics about your audience, and there are many great websites which allow you to create them for free.  Some of these sites even include features like skip logic, which allows survey takers to skip certain questions based on their answers, while others let you customize your site with your organization’s colors.  Although the two most popular tools are SurveyMonkey and Google Forms, there are many others out there that could better suit your organization’s needs.
  1. Focus groups – If you work in a professional team environment, chances are that you’ve had a brainstorming session where you bounce around various ideas.  If you have, then you’d also understand the benefits of a focus group and how great they are for gathering a few people to get a general consensus of your target audience’s attitudes.  However, conducting focus groups usually come with a minimal financial cost as you may have to give potential participants some sort of incentive to convince them to participate, such as free food or gift cards.
  1. Social media-based analytics dashboards – Social networks have come to recognize the importance of proving their worth to businesses and their bottom line.  Digital analytics helps professionals by providing data to demonstrate how their efforts contribute to the organization’s goals.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Facebook and Twitter have built-in analytics tools for users who are interested in their posts performance.  LinkedIn also comes with an analytics dashboard for managing company pages.  Even websites can be tracked for effectiveness with the use of free analytics tools from Google.

What’s one of the best ways to find out how your audience feels about something? Ask them!  On the surface, utilizing these tools may seem to be overwhelming and complicated.  Luckily, Dr. Ford and I will demonstrate how easy these tools really are to use at the 2015 PRSA International Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, on Monday, November 9.  We’ll also provide real-world examples of organizations and businesses who’ve used successfully used these tools even while having little-to-no budget to work with.  Simply put: it’ll be a way to get in touch with your inner-grassroots communications self.

The Road More Traveled: Why Black PR Professionals are Creating Their Own Agencies

inspirational-quote-by-giantsqurlIt’s no secret that diversity is lacking in public relations, particularly at the executive level of agencies and corporations. Not only have Caucasian women struggled to break into executive positions, but black men and women have also found their challenges in the profession as well. I’ve talked about this issue in a previous blog post and have given my thoughts on what it’ll take to get more men of color interested in PR. In the weeks since this post, however, I was intrigued to find that the Public Relations Society of America has efforts to increase the presence of minorities in the profession through its foundation. It just so happens that my department chair, Dr. Rochelle Ford, APR, happens to be a trustee for this foundation.

Speaking of Dr. Ford, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to work with her as a research assistant. The project we’re currently working on involves creating high-level messages for the National Black Public Relations Society’s upcoming annual conference. While I can’t disclose the exact findings based on their recent survey, there’s one common trend that I’ve found interesting:

More experienced black professionals are opting to start their own agencies rather than climb the corporate ladder into an executive level position.

It’s apparent to me that blacks, as well as other minorities and Caucasian women, are tired of waiting for the doors of the executive level to be opened to them. Instead of waiting for their chance, underrepresented PR professionals are taking their career destiny into their own hands by becoming employers instead of remaining employees.

This trend is in line with my thinking at times as it pertains to pursuing my career goals in PR. Even at the entry-level, I experienced the same frustrations breaking into the PR profession. In the summer of 2009, I was one of thousands of Detroit teenagers and young adults who went through the excruciating process of applying for a job through the city’s summer youth employment program. To make a long story short, I spent what nearly felt like eight hours waiting in lines to go through the bureaucratic process of potential employment only to have never been contacted regarding where to report for my job site. It was this experience that motivated me to create my own opportunities upon graduating from Northwood as I established myself as a freelance consultant two years later.

Just as I didn’t want to wait for a job opportunity in PR to present itself to me, black mid-career professionals aren’t waiting around to move into executive level positions. Life is too short to wait on the things we truly want out of it. There is nothing wrong with creating the life you want, even if it means taking risks and being uncomfortable. Perhaps by more professionals starting their own firms, corporations in need of high-level PR will take notice of the vast array of capable talent out there and begin to diversify their executive offices.