The Path to Accreditation: Going Beyond Your Expectations

Anyone who has chosen to pursue their APR accreditation has their own unique path to reach that decision and many experience similar questions along the way:

  • Do I have the time and energy to pursue this?
  • Am I skilled enough to pull this off?
  • Is it really going to help me grow as a professional?

When 2020 began, I had pushed the thought of pursuing my APR to the back of my brain, but as the events of the year began to unfold, it came back to the forefront. Now that the process is behind me, I can say that it was definitely a journey worth taking.


My route to the APR is somewhat atypical, which is why it could serve as an encouraging tale for others. It started almost four years ago, when I made the shift into my current position at SmithGroup. While I had acquired a wide range of experiences as a communications professional over the course of a 25+ year career, I found myself in a role that had a far greater emphasis on public relations than most of my previous jobs. This drove me to reexamine the professional associations I was part of and I decided to join PRSA to gain access to additional resources in this different world I was now living in. 

It wasn’t long after I joined PRSA that I became aware of the APR accreditation. I work in an industry that values professional expertise – architects, engineers, interior designers and landscape architects all have an alphabet soup of credentials after their names that demonstrate the level of knowledge and experience that they can provide to our clients. I thought that by pursuing my own accreditation, I could elevate the standing of the work that my team and I do for the firm.

As I continued to ponder whether this was something I wanted to pursue, I had a nagging voice in my head saying “you don’t need to do this – you are darn good at what you do and don’t need to prove yourself to anyone”. When I started to dive into the details of what it took to achieve accreditation, I quickly realized how arrogant that thought was, and my cockiness disappeared.

Then the pandemic struck and everything changed. I do a lot of volunteer work and also have a side gig as a PA announcer for athletic events at several local universities. In the blink of an eye, that all disappeared, so my schedule constraints had been wiped away.

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle fell into my lap. Like most communicators, the pandemic instantly launched the need to create a crisis communications plan for my firm. One of the biggest pieces of the APR process is demonstrating your expertise through a panel questionnaire and presentation. I quickly recognized that I was living through the perfect case study.

No more excuses – it was time to get going on this!


There’s no need to go into detail about the actual APR process because you can learn about that elsewhere, but there were definitely a couple of twists that were unique to experiencing this process in a pandemic.

I truly enjoy giving presentations, so that was one aspect of the process I was looking forward to. I was a little disappointed when it was inevitably switched to a Zoom presentation, but it was clearly the right thing to do. Unfortunately, we burned 10 minutes at the start of the presentation (which seemed like an eternity to me) trying to get the technology to work on my end!

Then there was the exam. I hadn’t taken a test like that since college, so I definitely had some concerns, but when I learned that I would be able to take it remotely from home, that eased some of the anxiety. However, a remotely proctored exam is definitely a unique experience. The pre-exam security procedures felt like I was going through airport security multiplied by a factor of 10! Then, halfway through the exam, I put my head in my hands as I thought through a question and I got the surprise of my life when I received an alert on my screen telling me that my face had to be visible at all times! That was kind of creepy!

It was an unusual journey, and in many ways, an unexpected one. But now that it’s done, I can say without hesitation that it was one of the most educational and rewarding experiences of my career!

Dave Whitman, APR is a Principal and the Corporate Communication Director at SmithGroup. He serves on the Programs Committee for PRSA Detroit.

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