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.

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