Should PR pros be licensed?

November 10, 2009 at 8:51 pm 14 comments

42-15660108I’ve discussed this question with friends and colleagues, and it was brought up again on twitter (a tweet from someone at the PRSSA National Conference #prssnc): Should PR professionals have to go through some sort of licensing before they can practice PR?

My opinion is YES.

Here’s why:

  1. The PR profession is in need of a MAJOR face lift. Case in point: When I told my mom I was no longer going to aspire to be a lawyer, but a PR practitioner instead, her response was “Oh, so you’re going to make white lies sound like the truth?” I think a lot of people have that same misconception about the PR function.
  2. There are too many bad PR people who call themselves professionals that ruin it for the rest of us. Have you read the Bad Pitch Blog lately? If you have, you will know how many stupid PR people there are out there: and this blog only exposes a few of them! There needs to be a way to regulate who can practice PR and who cannot.
  3. APR and PRSA are not enough. There already is an accreditation test available, but it’s a common opinion today that an APR is useless since you don’t “really” have to have it to practice PR. And I would have to agree, ANYONE with a suit and a smile can call themselves a PR pro these days. Most CEOs or clients don’t know what the hell an APR even is or what it stands for. Another form of an attempt to keep PR pros in check are the PRSA ethical guidelines. However, this deals with the same dilemma. What happens when that so-called PR person is not a PRSA member? More importantly, what happens to the CEO or client that doesn’t understand the point of PRSA and hires bad PR? Both APR and PRSA may be important to (some) good PR people, but the point is that it’s not about us, it’s about them: the client.

This leads to my conclusion:

There needs to be an identifiable (aka PUBLICIZED) form of licensing or accreditation that is mandatory for all PR practitioners. PR practitioners should have to EARN the right to practice PR. But more importantly, publics must be made aware, as well as educated, about the formal requirement to practice PR in order for PR to earn credibility and trust.

Lawyers have to attend law school and pass the BAR exam in order to practice law. They can also be dismembered from the BAR and banned from practicing law if they cross the fine line of ethical standards. In my mind, a PR pro’s function — dare I say it? — can be as important as a lawyer’s (I DID just go there!). Therefore, PR practitioners, like Lawyers, should be held to some sort of standard that produces serious consequences when trodden upon.

Times Online has an interesting counterpoint to my opinion about PR people and Lawyers that I suggest you all read. The Times Online viewpoint, and others like it, proves that we need to do something to be taken more seriously as professionals.

Entry filed under: PR Ponderings. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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14 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rachel Esterline  |  November 10, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    Great post. Part of me says yes, but part of me is hesitant.

    I think it would be great if there were better standards for who could practice.

    But, who is going to set these standards? In the variety of environments I’ve worked in, I’ve experienced many different things. I’ve also heard of sticky situations others have been in.

    As for the APR, I would love to get mine. But, being a soon-to-be grad, it’s not yet feasible. There needs to be something for young pros to distinguish themselves too.

  • 2. Alison Schuermann  |  November 11, 2009 at 12:06 am

    Yes, PR is struggling with its reputation and needs a bit of its own PR right now. There are flacks out there that are giving the profession a bad name. Do I think we should have to be licensed? No.

    It’s not practical first of all. It’s not like a doctor that can’t practice medicine without being licensed. It would be impossible to regulate.

    PR is too enmeshed with other positions nowadays. I am a PR and marketing professional that uses both practices to benefit my clients. I think they work really well together and the lines between the two are being blurred every day.

    I wish there was some way to weed out the bad apples that give us all a bad name, but all we can really do is promote ethics and best practices in the profession and become good examples to others as to how to practice public relations the right way.

  • 3. peacelovepr  |  November 11, 2009 at 12:24 am

    You make some very valid points. I’m think I will sit on the fence for this one. I see the benefits of requiring PR professionals to obtain a license in order to practice, but who will regulate these guidelines? Our field can range from agency, to government, to publicity, etc., etc., etc. If this is something to be considered in the future, it will take a long time to implement. I do agree, that is will assure clients of their potential firms professionalism, but what about the successful agencies that have been in business prior to the requirement of a license? Will they be grandfathered in?

    Just a few thoughts. Great post!!!

  • 4. Norm  |  November 11, 2009 at 7:25 am

    Allison shares my sentiments. I graduated with a PR degree but really didn’t start to use those skills in an ongoing environment until six years into my career. Even then it was sporadic until this past year.

    There are many current PR pros out there that were just thrown into the profession due to work environment and they had to learn on the fly. Some very good, some very bad.

    If it becomes too much of insure, and licensure is the only way to be recognized then maybe PR degree programs need to work closely with PRSA and incorporate certain aspects of the APR exam into their curriculm. This way the graduate gets not only a degree but they walk away with some creditials.

    I am not saying that they will get and APR, but something that might be a step down. Nursing has a couple of different levels: LPN, RN, BSN, MSN. The other thing is that schools that offer a degree in PR could work with PRSA to have a special accrediation for the program. I know of other industries where they have organizational accreditations and although there are many programs out there only a handful are recognized by the industry as leaders.

    Just my view.

  • 5. gentrylassiter  |  November 11, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    I disagree with licensure, for a variety of reasons, but the predominating one being that government would have a handle in organizational communications from its inception.

    I do not believe that government influence in who can speak on behalf of companies is the way to go – if companies are attempting to be transparent, I believe we can all agree there is one example not to follow (government officials’ office communicators).

    However, accreditation (similar but not replicative in structure to the CPA designation) – an industry standard against which all practitioners would be judged and that does not have necessary government input – is something for which I would advocate. This gives companies the option to choose whether they want to hire someone who is known to be ethical, educated and able to perform the duties associated with managing communications for their organizations.

  • 6. mikinzie  |  November 11, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    I agree, government should stay out of the accreditation/ licensing except for obvious reasons (laws about communicating accurate and true information, etc.).

    However, like I said in the post, there needs to be a stricter standard, something IDENTIFIABLE that distinguishes whether a PR practitioner is credible, ethical, professional, etc.

    Basically, I was thinking this accreditation/ licensing could be a required form of the APR, maybe held to slightly stricter standards. This also opens up the possibilities of “levels,” like Norm mentioned. Obviously there is the menial work that most entry and low-level PR practitioners can handle, but I’m talking about the “big functions” that hold a lot of responsibility and give way to serious consequences.

    I plan to do a follow-up post this week. Stay tuned.

  • 7. steve fox  |  November 12, 2009 at 9:14 pm

    I’d be supportive of accreditation for PR training programs and universities offering degrees in PR, but not licensing. I think we get too caught up things like that. Can a person get a journalism degree and make the move to PR? Sure, why not? In that line of thinking, if PR needs licenses then where do we stop? Surely, journalists would need to be licensed.

  • 8. josmosis6  |  November 19, 2009 at 11:46 pm

    I completely agree that PR pros need a declaration of credibility and commitment to the profession. APR might be just that, but the ambiguity of what a PR position is makes regulations difficult if not impossible. PR is as much of a concept as it is an industry; a company can get bad PR from a faulty product as easily as it can get bad PR from an unqualified practitioner. A company “spokesperson” is just as responsible for PR as is a the star player of a professional sports team. It’s hard to regulate the concept of PR, but I support the APR accreditation process giving credibility and confidence to those who display it.

  • 9. SylkeJoan  |  November 23, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    While I do agree that PR has an image problem, I do not agree that being an APR is “useless.” It is true that most people both outside and inside the PR industry don’t have a clue what an APR is; however, it is the closest thing to a license that our industry has. Plus, it differentiates the real PR pros from the flacks.

  • 10. Robin Luymes  |  December 1, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    Being an APR already, I don’t think a new license is the answer. I think doing a PR campaign about what PR really is and the benefit of working with accredited professionals would go a long way. You know, a Got Milk? campaign for PR. Except, well, not advertising. A PR version. 🙂

    I don’t think anyone can “own” the term “public relations” in order to license it. And, as has been pointed out, lots of people do PR-ish things as part of their jobs, without it being in their title. Plus, there is a lot of disagreement about what PR really is anyway.

    There are a lot of shysters out there, and perhaps if the PRSA did a better job of rooting the offenders that are within its own membership, there would be more acceptance of those that the PRSA says are the good guys. But that would require PRSA being willing to take a hit financially, since members pay dues (which then pay for NYC offices … but that’s another topic).

    So, my vote is to beef up recognition/promotion of the APR, which requires five years of experience, proof of expertise, and rigorous testing. AT THE SAME TIME, the public relations industry has to do a better job of pointing out the bad actors. If PRSA doesn’t, the truly professional PR pros need to.

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