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PRSA Accreditation Helped Launch a Second Career

PRSA Miami Accreditation Committee chair and board member James L. Brooks, APR-M, shares how accreditation helped him immensely in his post-military career.

Twenty five years and about as many pounds ago, I waited outside a ritzy Los Angeles restaurant for a friend.  I was a U.S. Navy officer dressed in the civilian equivalent of a tuxedo: short white jacket with gold buttons, bow tie, Navy-blue shoulder boards each with a star and two gold stripes. I thought no one could look better in uniform except perhaps Kevin Costner or Alec Baldwin. After all, this was the late 1990s. As I waited, an expensive car pulled up to the front of the restaurant and one of LA’s archetypical slick-looking, would-be actor/agents got out and handed me the car keys as he quickly walked into the restaurant. 

I looked down at his keys in my hand.  He thought I was the valet. 

That memory was still with me when I transitioned from a successful 20-year career in military public affairs to the civilian world. In the Navy, I held a series of increasingly challenging assignments and had a solid reputation as a good communicator. I had more gold on my shoulder boards to reflect my rank. But when I left military service I was faced a new challenge. In the civilian world, experience and seniority aren’t reflected in stripes, stars or medals on business suits. How could I differentiate myself from my civilian public affairs colleagues?

I was encouraged to pursue PRSA accreditation from a civilian colleague.  A communications program I devised to address jet noise complaints in the community around a naval air station won the Navy’s equivalent of a Silver Anvil Award (Rear Admiral Thompson Excellence in Public Affairs Award).  She told me my work was characteristic of what is examined in an accreditation readiness review. 

Back then, I questioned the value of accreditation. Why did someone with my experience and reputation need to earn the three letters A-P-R to put at the end of my name on a signature block?  I didn’t see the value of accreditation.  I didn’t understand why I had to defend my professional record and back it up by passing a long multiple-choice test. 

By the time I walked to my car in the parking lot after that conversation, I had convinced myself accreditation wasn’t for me. Then as I unlocked my car, the feel of the keys in my hand reminded me of that night outside the LA restaurant. What would differentiate me from any other public affairs professional looking for a job? Will I be seen as a dutiful valet or a seasoned professional?

I chose to pursue my PRSA accreditation as a way to define my military public affairs experience by a nationally recognized and objective process. Future employers might not understand what was required to be a spokesperson for a floating city (i.e., aircraft carrier) or a stealthy security and self-defense company (i.e., submarine service). But PRSA accreditation denotes professional experience as determined by peers. Had I stayed within the Department of Defense, where my reputation and experience were understood, I could probably find plenty of challenging assignments. But to seek greater challenges in the corporate world or elsewhere, I needed something to set me apart and define my experience. PRSA accreditation was it. 

My APR-M (Military) accreditation opened doors and landed me a job far removed from the military. I tell other communications experts to weigh the potential value of accreditation in their professional careers.  How will your skills and experience be understood outside your current organization?  How will you differentiate your own personal brand from a competitor? 

Don’t let your skill and professionalism be overlooked or misunderstood. The key to define yourself as a professional communicator is PRSA accreditation. Begin the process today to earn your APR. 

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