Drop the Membership Requirement for Accreditation in PR

Last year, while still a self-employed communication consultant, I allowed my membership in the International Association of Business Communicators to lapse. When I did, I immediately lost my Accredited Business Communicator (ABC) status, which I had earned in 1992.

I had been an IABC member for 23 years before ending my membership. I had been president of the Richmond, Va., chapter twice, district director for two years and served on the international executive board for three years. However, I didn’t have an employer to pay for my memberships in both IABC and the Public Relations Society of America. I chose to stick with PRSA because it better meets my needs at this point in my career and due to dissatisfaction with IABC’s focus on products and programs rather than the member experience.

When I dropped IABC, my accreditation went away, as if I never had it.

Accreditation was a point of pride for me, but it was also valuable in other ways. The ABC process is rigorous. It includes submitting a portfolio of work and sitting for a thorough written and oral exam. (PRSA’s Accreditation in Public Relations process is even more so.) Achieving the designation was like receiving a seal of approval from my profession. I can’t directly quantify its value in terms of getting higher salaries or better jobs – I got my current job without having the letters behind my name – but I do believe ABCs are looked upon as leaders in the profession, just as those who have the APR label.

I pay more attention when I read articles or listen to presentations by accredited communicators. I figure they have the body of work and the recognition of their profession that lends a bit more credence to what they have to say.

Accreditation also opens doors. At chapter meetings and conferences, I had a conversation starter when I ran into other ABCs or APRs. Accreditations aren’t exclusive clubs, and most accredited members don’t look down their noses at peers who are not accredited, but having an ABC did create an immediate camaraderie.

It’s time to remove the “members only” requirement for accreditation in IABC and PRSA. Lack of membership in IABC doesn’t mean I suddenly became less experienced or knowledgeable about my profession. It simply means I could no longer afford, or no longer found value in, membership. IABC does give me the option of preserving my accreditation for an annual fee (which I won’t do). It’s just another way to make money rather than focusing first on what’s right for the profession – which is one of my gripes about IABC in the first place.

PRSA requires ongoing professional development and public service, making the APR a more meaningful designation that goes beyond simple membership. Beyond the membership requirement, the APR at least helps to strengthen the profession. IABC should adopt similar conditions and drop the membership requirement. Both designations would then serve the public relations profession by setting standards through their accreditation programs rather than simply using them to add numbers to their membership lists.

P.S.: There’s an interesting, relevant discussion going on over at Gini Dietrich’s Spin Sucks blog about her proposal to somehow regulate the public relations industry. One idea is for required accreditation to be the mechanism for setting some sort of minimum competency level for PR professionals. Of course, the first step in that scenario would be removing the membership requirement for accreditation by either IABC or PRSA.


6 Responses

  1. Can you imagine if you had to pay an annual fee to your alma mater to maintain a bachelor’s or master’s degree? That’s basically the IABC/PRSA accreditation model. I also have a problem with the way IABC charges ABC candidates to retake parts of the exam. That struck me as building the program around a profit center rather than strictly a professional credential.

    When I was in between positions I paid the annual IABC/PRSA dues out of pocket just to keep my credentials. Looking back on it now I have to question the value. And I’m not alone in questioning the value of the ABC and APR credentials wholistically. I know many practitioners who have given up on counting on PRSA or IABC to demonstrate the value to anyone outside the PR/communications profession. Most people who aren’t in our field have no idea what ABC or APR stand for. When I hand out a business card people always ask me what those letters mean. The most common guess is “annual percentage rate.”

  2. This is a really interesting discussion. I hadn’t even considered you’re accredited until your membership lapses. You’re right – that needs to change. If you continue some sort of continuing education program, you keep your accreditation.

  3. I actually don’t think you “lose” your ABC technically, just they say you can’t put it as a title. Whatevs, is my view. What are they going to do, come after you? If you put in on your CV, it’s an accreditation you’ve earned. I wouldn’t worry too much about it, frankly. IABC’s pursuit of any of this would only damage their reputation, not enhance it.

    • I think you’re right, Kevin. As I was interviewing for this job back in December, I didn’t put the letters behind my name on my resume. However, I didn’t mind saying that I had gained accreditation in 1992, but my IABC membership lapsed last year and the letters went away with it.

  4. In my opinion, I did not buy my accreditation, I earned it. Should I ever lapse or discontinue my IABC membership, I will still use the credentials and just explain the practice of IABC selling the rights to accreditation — a practice that leads many to question the ethics of our esteemed association.

    • I agree with you, Rob. The membership requirement does make it feel as if the accreditation is bought, and you and I (and others who earned the ABC) know it is indeed earned. Having served on the IABC Executive Board, I understand the need for the association to earn revenues. However, I’m dismayed by what seems to be a greater emphasis today on making money than on making the member experience as good as it can be. The membership requirement for accreditation has always been there, as far as I know, but it just doesn’t feel right.

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