, , , , , , ,

It’s summertime — so I usually don’t blog. It’s my downtime, my “me” time, my gather stuff for next year time. However, I have had a lot of emails lately from recent PR graduates asking me for advice. Some have even played to my ego saying  they “valued my opinion” and wanted my “expertise.” I’m going to give you some advice that I wish someone had given me.

If you’ve ever taken a class with me — or heard me speak — you’ll know that I tell a lot of stories, give tons of examples and make many (sometimes good) parallels. I’m going to try to do that again here.

A few months back I called to make a doctor’s appointment. After the appointment my husband (curios chap that he is — and also an orthopedic surgeon) asked me which doctor I had seen. It was a large practice and I only remembered that her name had been Nancy. He then asked if I was sure she was a doctor. “Well,” I said,   “she was wearing a white coat” (feeling very proud of myself for knowing that doctors wear white coats while nurses do not). He replied, “That doesn’t mean she was a doctor.” Wait, WHAT??????

See if you can pick the doctor out of this photo:

The doctor is the one in the LONG, WHITE COAT while a nurse practitioner is the one in the SHORT, WHITE COAT.

Sure enough, Nancy was a nurse practitioner. None of the receptionists had mentioned I was seeing a nurse practitioner. Nancy had never introduced herself as a nurse practitioner. Yet, she had been wearing a short, white coat.  I felt somehow violated. I had asked to see a doctor. I thought I had seen a doctor. And, nothing against nurse practitioners, but I WANTED TO SEE A DOCTOR, DARN IT!!!!

I considered myself smarter about all this “medical stuff” because I was married to a doctor. I had watched him move from a medical student, to an intern, to a resident, to a chief resident, to a board-eligible doctor. So if I, someone who was “in the know” so to speak, did not know about this then how does the average person??? The answer is, they don’t. Thousands of people see the 180,000+ nurse practitioners (compared to the 384,000+ primary care doctors) in the United States every day. There is no rule that receptionists or nurse practitioners have to tell you that you are not seeing a real doctor. So chances are you probably saw one and don’t know it.

What does this have to do with public relations you may ask? Here’s the parallel.

According to Education News there were 53,000+ public relations professionals working in the U.S. in 2010. That same year, the Nieman Lab estimated that there were 41,500 journalists. The number of PR professionals has been steadily increasing and the number of journalists has been steadily decreasing. So what’s happening??? I’ve spoken to many laid off/fired/”restructured” journalists and found that they are applying for, and getting jobs as, public relations professionals. They have turned to what they refer to as the “dark side” for employment and are often taking jobs from people who were actually trained in public relations.

Now, despite what Bridget Jones suggests, public relations people don’t just “fanny about with the press releases.” There is so much more to the public relations profession (more than I can possibly cover in this blog post). But I will tell you that the definition of PR is ever-changing. According to the PRSA (2012) the new definition is:

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” 

Let me be clear though — it’s not just journalists taking PR jobs. It’s all kinds of different degrees that even hint at “communication.” However, not all communication or all communication degrees are equal. I don’t want someone who is a political communication major; who was forced to take ONE public relations writing course; who eked out a passing grade because they simply didn’t care about public relations as it wasn’t their major doing any of the following: forming relationships, strategizing communications or representing in public my organization.

This is one of the main reasons that I am advocating that public relations seniors and recent graduates take the new Principles for Accreditation in Public Relations (P-APR) offered by PRSA. The P-APR helps new PR graduates compare themselves to their peers at other universities.

“The credential indicates that a new graduate has a firm grasp of the principles of public relations that are important to corporations and businesses across the globe” (FAQ: Principles for Accreditation in Public Relations, 2012).

What are these principles you may ask?

These are the public relations industry standards that are not taught to “communication” students. It is therefore essential that students and recent graduates get their APR credentials. It is even more essential that employers ask for these credentials. Otherwise you may not be hiring someone who can represent your organization in a knowledgeable, truthful, accountable, loyal and respectful way. The APR is the only way we have in PR to distinguish the long,white coats (the professionals) from the short, white coats (all other “communicators”).

Employers, would you let someone who got a Business Administration degree; who took ONE required accounting class, come do your accounts and payroll for you? No, you want someone with a degree in accounting (preferably one who is certified in accounting). Then why would you trust the image and reputation of your company to someone who got a degree in communications (or an off-shoot related field)????

Students/graduates – get the APR so people know you are a certified public relations professional.

Employers – hire individuals with the APR so you know you are getting a certified public relations professional (and not some other type of “communicator” who thinks they should “fanny about with the press releases” all day).