Teri O’Neal, APR, Director of Public Relations for the woman-owned, full-service creative agency A. Bright Idea Advertising and PR, was the latest PRSA Maryland member to become accredited. Dianna Fornaro, our chapter’s APR Manager, recently sat down with Teri to discuss her APR journey. As Teri herself says: “It’s definitely about the journey, not just the destination.”
- Can you share why it was important to you to earn your APR? The timing felt right to renew my commitment to my career and the PR profession in a very public fashion. Currently, I provide leadership and strategic oversight for a five-person public relations department. I serve as a working manager, allowing me to lead by example and grow talent within the agency. I take my role as a leader and mentor very seriously. I wanted to instill a commitment to lifelong learning in my team. But, even more than that, I chose to do it for myself. The sense of accomplishment and overcoming my fear of taking the [APR exam] is priceless.
- How long did it take you? Were there particular challenges? It took me 13 months from the approval of my application to the date I took the CBE [Computer-based Exam]. However, realistically, I have been stopping and starting this process since 2008. I have terrible test anxiety, always have, and I let the thought of this challenge overwhelm me time and time again. It wasn’t until I chose to do this for myself and my team that I decided to hit this challenge head-on during the pandemic.
- Was it particularly difficult or not during the pandemic? Committing to this process during a global pandemic had its challenges and opportunities. While I had more time available to study and participate in the online course, I was also working virtually and experienced the burnout from staring at my computer all day and all night. The cohort of people also going through this process at the same time really helped get me through it, as did my mentor, Anita Brightman, APR, Fellow PRSA.
- Has earning your APR enhanced your career professionally? If so, how? Even after 23+ years in the industry, I learned so much about PR through this process. It confirmed the theories and communication models I knew and added additional tools to my toolbox to enhance my approach further. Understanding that this industry requires a passion and a thirst for knowledge, I feel like this is the beginning of the journey, not the end. I look forward to learning and growing in the profession as part of this distinguished network of PR practitioners.
- Would you recommend your colleague pursue their APR? If so, why? I would definitely recommend any PR professional pursue the APR. Investing in your career and committing to making yourself better, regardless of whether you are new to the industry or more than two decades in, will make you more confident in your practice and opens up relationships with others in the industry. I am truly grateful to all those who encouraged, guided, and supported me through this process. I have solidified old relationships and established new ones. I have gained additional resources that I immediately put into place with my clients. It’s definitely about the journey, not just the destination. I have grown and learned so much in the last year.
- Would you like to share anything about the challenge of earning your APR? The biggest challenge for me involved not wanting to let anyone down, including myself. I have been practicing for 23 years, and the fear of failing a test that gauged what I do for clients every day scared me. Once I pushed myself to overcome my fear and the stigma that I didn’t have the time to invest in the process, my commitment to making this happen solidified. PRSA has the tools and resources necessary to give you the foundation necessary to succeed—you just have to believe in yourself.
- Any pointers? Take the online course and join several cohorts!!! I did a summer and fall cohort because I couldn’t commit the time at first to attend every session. Use the online course to set the rhythm for your studying. Study before you submit and schedule your panel presentation. It is important to know all aspects of the RPIE process and other KSAs before meeting with your panel. Know that your panel has gone through this as well and wants to see you succeed. Any feedback provided only seeks to make you better. If you can find a mentor it really helps to keep you focused, build your confidence, and encourage you to keep going, even during a global pandemic. Read the Effective Public Relations (EPR) book and the study guide. I spent the days leading up to the exam re-reading the study guide and looking at the flashcards provided by the online class. Use the strikethrough and flagging features in the online test; these help to narrow down your answers. Don’t forget to go back to review your answers before you submit the test. And, most important, relax and breathe. Find the courage within yourself to accept the challenge, and you can achieve this goal.