An Inside Look at the APR Process: Start to Finish

By Ben Butler, APR

[ This is the second post in the APR Journey Series exploring the Accreditation in Public Relations credential and the journey to getting it. Check out the introductory post here. ] 

If you stumbled upon this post curious about the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR), here’s a quick primer. APR is the communication industry’s only post-graduate certification. It’s a designation that tests and proves one’s knowledge of the core tenants of our profession, especially a business-objective-centered and ethical approach.

So, you’ve read up on APR and you’re interested. What do you do next? Here’s an inside look at the process from the beginning until the “end.”

Step 0: Evaluate Your Credentials

Before you enter the process, it’s important to evaluate your credentials. The biggest question to ask yourself is, “Do I have a track record of being a strategist?”

The APR designation is designed to evaluate a professional’s ability to think like a strategist. It also evaluates a professional’s experience showcasing that strategic thinking.

  • Pro Tip: The Panel Review (Step 2) requires a case study demonstrating the Four-Step Process. If you don’t have a solid, real-world Four-Step Process case study that you led or were integral in, I’d recommend waiting until you do.
  • Pro Tip: PRSA recommends a minimum of five years of experience. I’d say, However, if you’re a young professional with an exceptional portfolio of strategic case studies you can still qualify.

Step 1: Application

First step is … You guessed it. An application. The application will ask for a detailed background of your professional experience.

Once you fill that in, you’ll send it to the Accreditation Department at PRSA Headquarters. You’ll receive a letter within a few weeks with the status of your application. If you’re approved, you can continue forward.

Step 2: Panel Presentation

The Panel Presentation is your opportunity to showcase your experience. You’ll present a case study exemplifying the Four-Step Process (Research, Planning, Implementation and Evaluation) to a panel of local APRs. This case study should clearly demonstrate thorough research, strategy and results.

This is meant to be a conversational session, so there are no powerpoints allowed. You will, however, be able to share a handout or other case study collateral examples.

After presenting, the APR panel will ask followup questions on both your case study and experience in general.

  • Pro Tip: My mentors in the APR realm recommended holding off on setting up the Panel Presentation until I was ready to sit and rock the computer exam (Step 3). This advice was a game changer for me. Not only was I able to take the exam immediately after the Panel results, but I felt even more polished for my panel review.

Step 3: Computer Examination

If you pass your panel review, you’ll be ready for the final step: the computer examination.

This examination is meant to cover your knowledge on the history, theory, principles and methods of public relations.

Step 4: Lifelong Education

If you’ve made it past the exam, then you’ve made it. The journey, however, isn’t over. The core of being an APR is a dedication to lifelong learning. To keep your APR status, you’ll have to demonstrate your commitment through maintenance.

Are you ready? If you have any questions or are ready to get rocking, get in touch with me. I’m happy to be your sherpa.


Ben Butler, APR, is the client services director for Top Hat, an award-winning marketing communications firm in Pittsburgh, and the Accreditation Director for PRSA Pittsburgh. In his past life he served as a public relations guy for a motorsports complex, director of inbound partnerships for an inbound marketing agency and head of communications for a software startup. He’s been named a Top Under 40 Communicator and is Accredited in Public Relations (APR)—a distinction held by less than 20-percent of all practitioners.

Your PR Business: Tactics April Issue Recap

By Bre Stephens

The April issue of Tactics focuses on making the most of your PR business—covering topics such as launching your own independent PR firm, making the transition from an agency to a solo career and connecting with other indie PR pros across the country.

Here are some articles from this month’s issue that provide insight into navigating the waters of starting an independent PR business, and engaging audiences through emerging platforms and traditional communications—while learning what workplace aspect millennials view as a priority.

Reality Check: Why Live Video, VR and AR Have a Bright Future

  • Cathy Hackl, APR, chief communications and content officer of Future Lighthouse and Nicole Henderson, owner of Selsi Enterprises, Live video, discuss how content creators can tap into the growing power of live video, virtual reality and augmented reality to communicate a brand’s story.

Secrets for Successful Subheads

  • Written by Amy Wylie, this article explains the magic of an effective subhead that will compel audiences to read more.

The PR Tools That Work for These Independent Pros

  • Tim O’Brien, APR, owner of O’Brien Communications, shares the insights of independent PR pros, who explain their go-to communications tools for staying on top of their game.

Game Plan: Should You Start Your Own Business?

  • In this article, Stephen Dupont, APR, vice president of public relations and branded content for Pocket Hercules, compiles the best tips and tricks from entrepreneurs who took a leap to start their own businesses.

Millennials Sound Off on Diversity in the Workplace

  • Dean Essner, the editorial assistant for PRSA’s publications, examines how millennials place importance on diversity and inclusion in the workplace.


Read the latest issue of Tactics here.

Bre is an assistant account executive at Havas PR. Follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

Using Immersive Storytelling to Stimulate the Senses

By Annamarie Robinson

We all know what it’s like to tell an amazing story, and not get the reaction that we were hoping for. The situation could have been hilarious to us and the people who were present at the time, but it somehow lost its luster when you shared it with other people. Why is that?

Please allow me to introduce you to my new favorite storytelling approach – immersive storytelling.

Immersive storytelling transforms visual experiences using virtual reality, augmented reality and 360 video. This gives the viewer the chance to feel like they’re actually a part of what they’re watching, which could be pretty useful for industry professionals.

Here at the WVU Reed College of Media we’ve been exploring immersive storytelling and decided to share what we were learning with other professionals in the region. Recently we hosted a workshop with nationally-renowned experts in digital storytelling for our friends at PRSA Pittsburgh and WV PRSA.  To find out six tips from this workshop, keep reading!     

1. Immersive storytelling opens up new opportunities, but isn’t for every story.

Not all stories require an immersive experience. You have to be very picky with the stories that you choose to tell because virtual reality, augmented reality and 360 videos take more time to produce. Our experts from RYOT told us that most of their videos highlight an issue of importance that people would not be able to actually experience. However, due to the memory-like feeling that immersive storytelling evokes in the brain, it makes it easier for people to “walk in someone else’s shoes” for a while (which will hopefully induce an empathetic response and a need to act).

2. Producing 360 is not out of your reach.

While some PR pros work in agencies with tons of money and resources, others work in smaller companies with limited time and budgets. A lot of these professionals use this as an excuse for not being able to tell immersive stories, and completely give up on the idea. Keep on pushing! Anyone can have access the tools that make telling these stories possible. Immersive storytelling equipment can range from $16,000 to only $200, and according to our experts, shooting on your iPhone is sufficient

3. Telling tales in immersive means taking people there.

The great thing about immersive stories is the fact that they remove the “you had to be there feeling.” Virtual reality, augmented reality and 360 videos allow viewers to travel to a whole different place without requiring them to actually leave their comfort zone. However, according to Ben Roffee, RYOT’s digital director, to ensure that your videos evoke this type of response, it’s important to keep them short. It only takes about 2 seconds to capture someone’s attention, so a five-minute video will suffice. Also, remember that people connect to people, so make sure that there is a human touch to your videos.

4. Opportunities from advocacy to education, and public health to tourism.

Immersive storytelling is all about taking your audience to a new place and giving them an experience. For that reason, it can be used for just about anything. Averie Timm, RYOT’s managing editor, used her platform for advocacy at the Women’s March on Washington. I have even seen 360 videos promoting tourism in South Africa. Eventually virtual reality, augmented reality and 360 videos may even be used to allow students to virtually attend courses in classrooms that are on the other side of the world. 

5. Insights and analytics help mine meaning from the mess.

As with anything that you publish, it is imperative to pay attention to your analytics. They provide vital insights about your audience and how they are responding to the content that you have delivered. Sometimes analytics serve to specifically help to contain a crisis. According to Alex McPherson, FleishmanHillard’s Director of Insights and Analytics, you must do thorough research to ensure that you are able to provide an adequate recommendation to your client or company. That research will require way more than just a Google search. There are tons of free tools such as Buzzsumo that are useful in helping to dissect your online data if you’re on a budget.

6. If you’re interested in VR, now is the time to get started.  

Since immersive storytelling is relatively new, it is still easy to enter the playing field. Everyone is on the same level, so now is the best time to become an innovator! The tools are in reach, and there is opportunity all around you. For women, this is especially important because video production is often considered to be a “boy’s club.” With the help of people like Jenn Duong, who co-founded Sh//ft, an organization promoting equality, diversity and inclusion in future technologies—anything is possible!

Telling stories through virtual reality, augmented reality and 360 video may seem intimidating at first, but we all have to start somewhere. There are resources and opportunities all around you and now that you’re in the loop, it’s time to start creating! 

If you’d like to learn from one of our local experts, David Smith is happy to answer questions about 360/VR, and/or hear any ideas for potential clients interested in partnering with WVU’s Reed College of Media.

Annamarie Robinson is the public relations director for West Virginia University’s chapter of PRSSA. Robinson is a senior at WVU and will graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, Strategic Communications degree in May 2017.

The Motherhood: Communicator Tour Recap

A big thank you to everyone who showed up to our first communicator tour of 2017 and our first host: The Motherhood, a social media marketing agency nestled in what used to be the Fort Pitt Brewery, in Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania. 

Located on 16th Street off of Main Street, The Motherhood welcomed us with open arms. Cooper Munroe, CEO, Brittnee Hammonds, director of client services and business development, and Brittany Coburn, director of operations, greeted us as we walked through the doors and into the quaint agency. They still have the original “Fort Pitt That’s It” flooring upon entry, but have updated the space with art and drawings on the colorfully painted walls. 

Students and young professionals began snacking and networking at the beginning of the event and were treated to a tour of the offices shortly after. Cooper took this time to discuss the rich history of the building, including the fact that HJ Heinz started his horseradish business on their office grounds!

Our keynote speaker arrived shortly after our Pittsburgh history lesson began and we were able to officially introduce our speaker for the night, Chaton Turner, one of The Motherhood’s own influencers who blogs about her world, while being a mother and full-time attorney. 

Chaton didn’t just give us insights into an influencer’s life, she also gave us a few tips as PR professionals. When pitching to influencers (or any other media professional!), make sure you read their stories. “Be mindful of what message you are trying to convey… [and] make your message consistent,” Chaton said. Many influencers work with so many organizations that it’s easy to tell who is reading their content to make a connection and who is just sending out mass pitches.

And for those of you trying to juggle work or school with your home life, Chaton believes in staying in the moment and focusing on one thing, not everything all at once. 

Stay tuned for information about our next communicator tour through PRSA Pittsburgh’s social media channels and newsletters! 

Our Favorite 2017 April Fools’ Day Brand Pranks

By Brian Ackermann

Now that April Fools’ Day is over, it’s time to look at which brands stood above the rest in their efforts to prank consumers. The number of brands involved continues to increase, and it’s exciting, but overwhelming, to think about which ones did the best job at putting their brand at the center of the April Fools’ Day conversation.

Lexus – Lane Valet

While most people wouldn’t believe the luxury automaker created a way for spirited drivers to move cars in front of them out of the way, it’s relatable nonetheless. The best part is that it positions Lexus as a car that’s fun to drive, one that the spirited driver would want. Unlike the many April Fools’ pranks, Lexus managed to seamlessly integrate their brand message with subtle comedy.

Google – Google Gnome

No brand roundup is complete without a shout-out to Google. It’s surprising how many long videos there were this year, considering how many people are getting less patient with consuming content. However, Google’s clever smart Gnome prank was funny enough to hold your attention for 90 seconds. What makes this campaign unique is the fact that Google is poking fun at its own product, while also promoting it.

Starkist Tuna – Raspberry Jalapeño Jellyfish

I’m not quite sure why, but the thought of eating jellyfish sounds extremely cruel. Luckily, no jellyfish were harmed in the making of this April Fools’ Day prank, according to the small print in the lower right corner. We love seeing Pittsburgh-based brands get in on the April Fools’ Day fun.

Brian Ackermann is an account coordinator at Havas PR US and social media coordinator for PRSA Pittsburgh. 

Google Blog

April Fools’ Fun: 3 Fantastic Brand Responses From Years Past

By Brian Ackermann

There’s arguably no better day than April Fools’ Day for advertising and public relations geniuses to flex their creative muscles. In fact, it’s almost expected. It’s like the Super Bowl of social media, except it doesn’t take a big budget to be relevant and amusing on April Fools’ Day.

To celebrate, we’ve created a roundup of some of our favorite brand responses from the past several years. Check back on Monday, April 3, for our favorite brand responses from this year.

Pizza Hut –The Pepperoni Pilsner

Given the obsession with combining bacon with almost everything, it wasn’t too hard to believe that Pizza Hut could create and market a pepperoni-flavored beer. However, what really put this campaign over the top was the lack of sarcasm. This video looks and feels like a real commercial, while remaining an obvious joke.

National Geographic – Animal Photos


Anything with puppies has the potential to go viral. When you add cute clothes to puppies, there’s no way it won’t. Last year, National Geographic announced that it would no longer photograph nude animals. The result was a series of adorable animals in people clothes with clever one-liners. Enough said.

BMW – Are You Driving a Genuine BMW?


Going back a few years to 1987, BMW ran an ad in the London Times claiming that fake BMWs were being sold in the UK. To test the realness of their cars, BMW told owners to sit in the cars, start their engines and shout, ‘Esel. Du bist ‘reingefallen.’ The German translation = “You Ass! You fell for it!” While dated, it’s still clever.

Check back on Monday to see some of our favorite brand responses from this year’s holiday. Tell us your favorite brand response to April Fools’ Day in the comments or Tweet @PRSAPgh.

Brian Ackermann is an account coordinator at Havas PR US and social media coordinator for PRSA Pittsburgh. 

National Geographic

I Made a Pie Chart: A recap of the March 2017 PRSA Pittsburgh Board meeting

By Samantha McClintock, PRSA Pittsburgh Vice President

What do pie charts have to do with PR? Plenty. Our talented, and very organized, Membership Services committee lead, Meredith Amoroso, even made one to show membership diversity. She exclaimed, “I made a pie chart” during her report at our monthly board meeting Tuesday, March 21, 2017. She also shared a few recent survey results that will help us to plan better events for the Pittsburgh PR community.

Steve Radick, our president, gave an update on our 2017 Strategic Plans/Goals. In January, every board member submitted goals for the year, and Steve is helping us to stay on track with this ambitious undertaking.

Our programming calendar is already well underway, with an IABC/PRSA Pittsburgh Content Marketing Discussion coming up March 30, 2017, and a Communicator Tour at The Motherhood April 4, 2017. We also heard updates from our Renaissance Awards committee and PD Day committee (already!).

IABC/PRSA Content Marketing Discussion


Our Communications committee is working hard on the March PRSA Pittsburgh Newsletter. Look for it in your mailboxes this week. We’re also continually adding to and improving our new website and social media presence.

Katie Carr, our Public Service committee lead, collaborated with the Programming committee to support our public service partner, Glimmer of Hope, in some upcoming events.

Accreditation, Diversity and Ethics committees are all completing outreach to determine how we can best support our members in these areas.

Everyone left with specific action items to complete during the month of April. We’ll meet again April 25 to continue discussions on summer events, speakers, membership benefits and more.

Do you have a question or idea for our board?  Let us know before the next meeting. You can email Samantha McClintock, with ideas, concerns and questions to be discussed at the April meeting.

We’re Headed to The Motherhood for our Young Professionals Communicator Tour!

The first Communicator Tour of 2017 is set to take place this spring! Please join us Tuesday, April 4, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., for a tour of The Motherhood.

Attendees will have the opportunity to see the Sharpsburg office space, learn about the agency’s culture and network with The Motherhood team.

“It’s never too early to start building your network,” said Kariann Mano, PRSA Pittsburgh’s Young Professionals co-chair. “This event will provide everyone with the chance to speak up and create that first connection. Students: don’t be afraid to introduce yourself!”

After the tour, attendees are invited to participate in a panel discussion that will include speakers from the company’s internal communications team and Chaton Turner, blogger of Chaton’s World and one of the many influencers The Motherhood works with.

“This is an opportunity to focus on social media,” said Taylor Bombalski, PRSA Pittsburgh’s Young Professionals co-chair. “Students will learn from professionals that connect brands with key consumers ranging from millennials to lifestyle-focused influencers to moms and beyond.”

Space is limited. RSVP as soon as possible by sending a note to We look forward to seeing you there!


About The Motherhood

The Motherhood was founded in 2006, built on the notion that women online have the ability to make a huge impact. The Motherhood has become the gold standard in social media marketing today, working to connect some of the country’s most prominent organizations with influential online moms.

The Motherhood team specializes in developing and executing innovative social media campaigns that drive results and create long-term value for our brand partners.

For more information about The Motherhood visit their website.

5 Simple Ways to Stay on Top of Social Media Advertising Trends

[ This article originally appeared on The Way, Sprinklr’s content hub. As one of PRSA Pittsburgh’s sponsors, each month Sprinklr will be delivering you with some insights into how you can use technology to make your marketing more efficient and effective. ]

It’s hard to take your social advertising program to the next level when platforms and publishers are constantly changing. There’s always a new update, trend, or feature to be aware of—whether it’s Facebook’s algorithm, Twitter’s targeting options, or Snapchat’s ad formats.

This makes it difficult to run consistent strategies and repeat successes. That’s why marketers need to adopt habits that help them stay on top of social trends and get ahead in the game.

Here are five simple tasks you can incorporate into your routine right now.

1. Read Those Emails from Facebook and Twitter

When social platforms launch updates, you might find yourself thinking, “How come no one told me?” Sometimes that update will have actually come through your inbox. You just weren’t aware.

Be sure to keep an eye out for marketing emails from your go-to platforms. You might even funnel them into a designated email folder, and check that folder every few days. Then you won’t have to get stuck playing catch-up; you’ll probably even learn about certain features before they go live, giving you time to adjust your strategy.

2. Keep in Touch With Your Account Liaison

You might already have a main contact at your social platforms of choice. Don’t forget to stay in touch with them. They can let you know about key changes ahead of time, and even provide personalized recommendations for new strategies and ad formats. Just remember that it’s their job to encourage you to spend money. So always be sure their suggestions line up with your budget and goals.

3. Set Up a Slush Fund

If you plan your budget a year in advance, either allow it to stay fluid or set up a slush fund for unexpected changes. You never know when you might need some extra cash to test a new ad format, boost a popular post, or reach an emerging target audience. When certain trends do arise, you want to be ready to jump on them and engage your audience.

4. Outsource Your Industry Research

It’s not uncommon for social platforms to roll out changes quietly. This means you need to actively research your industry to keep from being left in the dark. This can be incredibly time-consuming, however, and difficult to do consistently.

Consider outsourcing this task to freelance researchers and consultants. This will leave you more room to brainstorm new content ideas and build innovative strategies.

5. Approach Stand-Alone Solutions With Skepticism

New features may seem exciting, but they’re not all worthy of your time and money. You also don’t want to stretch yourself too thin. That’s why it’s important to take all stand-alone solutions with a grain of salt. Answer this: Will learning, integrating, and funding the solution pay off in the end?

If you’re overwhelmed with updates and trends, try picking just a few to tackle. Find the ones that have the greatest impact on your audience, and incorporate them into your strategy. It’s better to launch a few great campaigns than 10 mediocre ones.


Staying Ahead of the Game

Choosing the right platforms for your marketing operation is hard enough; staying on top of each platform’s updates and nuances is a whole different obstacle. With so many changes, running even one consistent strategy can feel impossible.

By adopting a few of these simple habits, you can stay on top of important new features and trends, and be prepared to optimize accordingly.


The author, Uyen Nguyen, is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at Sprinklr. 

Why I Chose the APR Journey (and why you may as well)

[ This is the first post in the APR Journey Series exploring the Accreditation in Public Relations credential and the journey to getting it. ]

Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) is the communication industry’s only post-graduate certification. It’s a designation that tests and proves one’s knowledge of the core tenants of our profession, especially a business-objective-centered and ethical approach.

To earn your APR, you need a recommended minimum five years experience and to go through a multi-phased process (which I’ll discuss more in coming posts).

I won’t lie to you—it’s a significant investment of time. When I entered the APR process in early 2016, I was up to my waist in empty coffee cups, putting in 80-plus hours a week. So why in my right mind would I add such a commitment into my life?

Here’s why I chose the APR journey and why you may, too:

Lifelong Learning

A key theme to APR is lifelong learning.

As you go through your career, it can be difficult to consistently interact with every niche of the industry. Through the APR journey, you study and are tested on a broad spectrum of communications knowledge. This spans everything from the Four-Step Process to history to ethics to communications law to business acumen.

In some areas, this is knowledge you wield on a daily basis. For others—like the full history of the profession—it’s a refresher. And others still, you gain a new understanding and framework for thinking.

Credibility and Distinction

APR is the only postgraduate industry designation that has lasted the test of time.

The credential is a written testament to one’s expertise, principles, values and professionalism. It really speaks for itself.

PRSA says it best, “With so thorough a process, the APR credential is both a professional and personal achievement—a revelation of drive, capabilities, and dedication. Receiving this Universal Accreditation Board (UAB)-administered recognition demonstrates your proficiency and alignment with the industry, positioning you as a leader in the field.”

Access to Exclusive Benefits (like progress towards a Master’s Degree)

APR comes with a growing and sweet trove of benefits.

First and foremost, you get connected to the APR community, which includes professionals spanning age, tenure, industry and location.

You can also receive advanced standing credit towards Northern University’s Master of Science in Corporate and Organizational Communication. APRs complete the program in 12 courses rather than 15, which is savings of 20% in tuition.


Do one or all of these sound appealing? The APR journey might be for you, too. If you have any questions, get in touch with me. I’m happy to be your sherpa.


Ben Butler, APR, is the client services director for Top Hat, an award-winning marketing communications firm in Pittsburgh, and the Accreditation Director for PRSA Pittsburgh. In his past life, he served as a public relations guy for a motorsports complex, director of inbound partnerships for an inbound marketing agency and head of communications for a software startup. He’s been named a Top Under 40 Communicator and is Accredited in Public Relations (APR)—a distinction held by less than 20-percent of all practitioners.