Posts filed under ‘PRSA’

I’m accredited for another 3 years — here’s why that’s good

I got a note from the Public Relations Society of America the other day informing me that my accreditation has been renewed. That means I can put that APR thing after my name for the next three years.

The second paragraph of the letter warned me to start collecting continuing education and professional development hours because in 2014, I’m again going to need to show that I’m keeping up with whatever the world is throwing at us.

I get a kick out of all the debates I see on Linked-In and other places about accreditation. All I know is that my father, Norman, was an APR (among the first) and the credential served him well and that it has served me well.

So what do those three initials mean to my clients?

Well, let me start by telling you what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that I have any official status that my unaccredited colleagues don’t have. And I readily admit that there are some excellent practitioners out there who, unfortunately, are not accredited. I don’t get to charge clients more for my APR. And I don’t buy the idea that masters degrees in PR have replaced accreditation.

 OK, so it’s nice to put those letters after my name. What does it do for my clients?

Jim Lukaszewski, APR, once told me that APR stood for “accepting personal responsibility.” I told him I was going to steal that line and use it and now I have. But that’s one of the things it means: Clients know that I take responsibility for my professionalism and my behavior.

  • Related to personal responsibility, APR is a pledge to live by the PRSA Code of Ethics and conduct myself accordingly. By extension, it’s a commitment to demand a level of ethical behavior from colleagues and clients. So clients who hire me know that they’ll be treated ethically and that I’ll represent them aggressively, but ethically. They also know that I’ll expect that courtesy returned.
  • Also related to personal responsibility, the APR – and the warning to start piling up new CEUs — is a commitment to professional growth. At my age, it would be easy to coast. Instead, I keep up with developments in my chosen profession. That means I understand social media as well as traditional media. It means I am current with thinking on how the law applies to public relations. And it means I don’t just talk about social media and turn a kid loose to explain it. Instead, I understand it as a tactic and how it fits into a communications strategy.  Clients, then, know they’re getting somebody who understands public relations and communications, and the latest technology and trends in research, communications and measurement, but also has some perspective about how those fit a strategic approach to communications.
  • I enjoy the company my APR puts me in. For clients, that means they get the advantages of a network where I’m usually only a couple of phone calls away from top-notch people to help me accomplish whatever the client needs done.

In short, my APR is a commitment to myself and to my clients to do the best job I can for them. So there’s no debate in my mind that accreditation is good for me and good for my clients.

 Signed: Doug Fenichel–APR


June 14, 2011 at 11:38 am

The Good Seminar: The Needle In the Haystack of Spam

Public relations people must be  (to put it politely) very much in need of further education.  A day doesn’t go by that I’m not being buried in offers for seminars on this, that or the other thing, mostly related to social media.  Well, maybe somebody just thinks I’m dumb and in need of educamation, but…

As an APR, I’m thoroughly committed to constantly improving my “skill set.” But I could spend my whole career doing nothing but attending seminars, webinars and workshops. And I’m not convinced I would know much more than I know now.

I counted: Between Sept. 27 and Oct. 1, I received at least 23 solicitations for educational opportunities. And that doesn’t include the ones buried in newsletters and blogs I read from places like the Public Relations Society of America, the Daily Dog, Ragan and HARO.  They fill my mailbox like weeds in a garden and cost me time just getting rid of them. If a good one comes, it probably gets deleted with the trash.

You can’t get enough education, especially with things changing as quickly as they are. What worries me is that I could teach most of the classes being pitched to me, even about social media. That’s not a comment on my great wisdom, but on the basic (and safe for the instructor) nature of the offerings. I have this strong suspicion that many of these instructors and educational services providers are coming from (a) practitioners who are out of work or (b) agencies that want me be impressed and hire them. Many are being aimed at unemployed PR people who are feeling a little desperate…and can least afford to spend money on mediocre programs.

If the free market in educational services is to work, we need some way of judging all these classes and the people who are teaching them. We need a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for these offerings.

How do you select programs? I, for one, gravitate toward PRSA-sponsored programs or other classes from other places I’ve grown to trust like Ragan and Bulldog. I’m curious what other people to do.

PRSA is meeting next week in Washington, D.C. Lots of interesting things on the Assembly’s agenda, including improving continuing education offerings since they generate a large sum of money and prestige for the organization. Wouldn’t it be interesting, though, if PRSA (I can’t think of a better-qualified organization) established some standards for classes and teachers and offered some sort of objective rating or approval system? Wouldn’t that make it easier to select classes? And it might run some of the poorer programs out of business.

Whaddya say, PRSA?

October 8, 2010 at 10:47 am 1 comment

‘Tis the season, I guess.

I spent one evening last week with a bunch of eager students forming the Fairleigh Dickenson University PRSSA chapter. PRSSA, of course, is the student affiliate of the Public Relations Society of America.  

While it was the first meeting ever for the Fairleigh chapter, PRSSA chapters are having their annual organizational meetings all over the country. As a public relations professional, it strikes me as an exciting time.  I’m much closer to the end of my career than the beginning of it, and to see the enthusiasm of these young people just starting out charges my batteries.

Throughout the year, I work on scholarship programs, judge contests like the Bateman Award and, if I’m asked to, I meet with students when I attend the PRSA International Conference. When we had an intern program at my company, I enjoyed working with my interns. I always learned from them and felt they left with a little better understanding of what public relations really is. Ironically, one of the most satisfying experiences was when a student worked with me for two semesters and came to me and told me he had decided he didn’t like public relations. Better now, I figured, than after he had finished his degree and started working his first job! Of course, other interns have gone on to major PR agencies, to internships at the Vatican and to counsel state legislators…but I’m bragging now.

While some students leave me shaking my head, most impress me. Bateman Award entries almost always leave me very impressed with the quality of thinking and with the work that’s produced.  I always get a feeling that our profession will be in good hands.

Some things do worry me. As I looked around the room at Fairleigh Dickenson the other night, there were only two or three young men. The number of minority women was equally small. Why aren’t we attracting more men and more minorities into our profession? This, of course, continues to be a topic of discussion every year and I certainly don’t know the answer. But we need to find an answer.

What I do know is this: If you have the opportunity to get involved with young public relation students, I urge you to do it. It keeps you on your toes and is very satisfying. If you’d like to get involved, but don’t how, drop me a line. I’ll hook you up.

And to the students: Have a good year.

September 28, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Fake reviews hurt every PR practitioner

Special thanks go out to Reverb Communications for apparently allowing its staff to post fake reviews, thus making my job and that of every other ethical pubic relations practitioner that much harder.

According to an article (  in the Bulldog Reporter’s Daily Dog,  Reverb agreed “to settle with the FTC over charges that its staff posed as members of the public to fake reviews of video games developed by its clients. The company and its owner were accused of engaging in deceptive advertising by having staff post game reviews without disclosing that they were hired to promote the games and that they often received a percentage of sales.”

For a minute, put aside the fact that no company wants to tangle with a federal agency. The Code of Ethics of the Public Relations Society of America ( is pretty specific about this sort of thing. “We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public,” it says. One of the guidelines says a member shall “be honest and accurate in all communications.” Another says that a practitioner shall “be honest and accurate in all communications,” “reveal the sponsors for causes and interests represented,” “disclose financial interest in a client’s organization” and “avoid deceptive practices.”

Do I need to burn pixels explaining those things in terms of not disclosing that you’re getting paid to write good reviews? PRSA member or not, do I need to burn more pixels explaining how damaging this is to the credibility of that public relations firm, its clients (all of them) and, by extension, everyone one of us who acts as a counselor on matters of public relations.

One of my jobs is to gather advertorials by customers. It’s the fun part of my job because these are all people who have purchased a home and they love the home. We don’t pay these people. We don’t allow our associates to do advertorials unless we disclose they are associates. And we never make up the people, although it’s been suggested.

But the next time I go into a meeting, and someone tells me to make up a homeowner or pay a homeowner to give a specific message, and I tell them it’s unethical and illegal, what’s to stop them from waving Reverb’s efforts in front of me?

Reverb says its staff posted the reviews after purchasing the games with their own money and the reviews reflected their own enthusiasm. Sorry. Doesn’t wash: Working ethically is an individual act, albeit made easier in a culture of ethical behavior. So if your people are working unethically, Reverb and anyone else thinking of taking this stand, it’s because you’re failing to educate them and failing to demand high ethical standards.

The Bulldog Reporter quotes Mary Engle, director of the FTC’s Division of Advertising Practices as saying, “Companies, including public relations firms involved in online marketing, need to abide by the long-held principles of truth in advertising. Advertisers should not pass themselves off as ordinary consumers touting a product, and endorsers should make it clear when they have financial connections to sellers.”

Those rules of law apply to all of us who offer an opinion – ours or a customer’s – to the public as a way of positioning our clients. To me, though, the impact of the PRSA Code of Ethics is even more important: It’s about keeping communications and dialog open, credible and truthful. When you’re talking about a product, you’re talking about reputation and sales.

Important stuff. But take this tactic to the next step, and you may be taking about issues that pertain to the very foundation of democracy.

August 30, 2010 at 5:01 pm 4 comments

Agency rankings: O’Dwyer takes agency rankings from meaningless to unethical

One of my favorite blogs is Ann Subervi’s The Ethical Optimist.  She just posted a great entry about publications that offer listings of public relations agencies ( These lists, she says, are useless because there’s nothing standardized about them, they’re not verified and agencies can send whatever information in that they want.

She also chastises Jack O’Dwyer, who publishes an industry newsletter and goes out of his way to antagonize members the Public Relations Society of America (of which I’m a member). Mr. O’Dwyer provides a listing of agencies, but now charges agencies to be on it.  If that doesn’t skew results that are already skewed by a lot of other factors, I can’t imagine what would.

By way of full disclosure, I have my own personal list of PR agencies and Utopia Communications is right at the top. Ann and her folks have supported my work at K. Hovnanian for many years, helping with media relations, events, crises and just keeping me cheered up when the weight of the real estate market got to be too heavy. We are talking about doing some social media work together.

But Utopia isn’t the only agency that I’ve used (sorry, Ann). And I do not use the listings from O’Dwyers, PRWeek or any other publication. It’s an interesting place to look and see where my friends’ agencies land (if they’re on there), but that’s not how I make a decision. Instead, I look at who’s writing articles or teaching seminars conducted by PRSA or International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) or other groups I respect. I talk with others and ask who they use or would recommend. I use my network to find names and check them out.

When you’re looking for an agency to work with, you’re looking for a business partner. Not only do they need the technical skills to do the job, they have to match you in size, ethical position and temperament.  You have to keep in mind that huge agencies usually require huge retainers. Is it worth burning your budget on a name? If your budget is as meager as mine (read: $0), you have to find someone who’s really good and better fits your budget (read: $0…ok, just read: reasonable).

Are they willing to adhere to your strict ethical standards? Any agency that works with me must adhere to the PRSA Code of Ethics and sign an agreement to do so.  Our company also has a code of ethics that it requires trade partners to agree to.

And because I’m a one-person department working at about a million miles per hour, anybody I hire better be able to follow my instructions and hit my high standards with a minimum of supervision. And the reality is that the most successful people with whom I’ve partnered learn to read my mind.  They understand what K. Hovnanian PR needs and don’t need me to sit in long conferences to get jobs done.

The last place to get that information is a list, especially one where one of the qualifying factors is ponying up an inclusion fee.

February 28, 2010 at 2:00 pm 1 comment

More discussion on the APR

One of the reasons I love going to the PRSA International Conference is that I — a lone PR guy among a bunch of people who have a variety of wrong ideas about what I do to assure that they are putting their best foot forward — am surrounded by enthusiatic PR practitioners including some of the best minds in the business. And while I’m proud of my APR, not all of those “best minds” have their APR.

One of the things I don’t like about representing my colleagues at the Assembly, the governing body of PRSA, is the continued discussions that link the APR with governance…but that’s another post.

I often try to convince those without the APR that it’s worth pursuing. Many tell me it isn’t worth the time or that it doesn’t garner enough recognition outside of the industry.  It’s frustrating. I did my APR at a time when I decided I needed to commit 100 percent to public relations as a career or move on. Nobody in my office understands why my APR is important, but it’s important to me. I think I’m a better practitioner because of some things I learned and because it enhanced my understanding of and commitment to the profession. I don’t understand how something that stands for a commitment to continued professional development and a high ethical stance can be unworthy of someone’s time.

But I was never a great salesman.

Mary Barber, APR, apparently is a better sales person. Ari Adler, a public relations practitioner who attended the conference in San Diego (I’m sorry we didn’t get to meet, Ari!) talked with Mary about APR and was so impressed, he blogged about it. See his post and Mary’s explanation of the APR at

Ari also talks about APRs having “an attitude.” Man, I hope I’m not one of those. I’ll be trying to do better when I talk about APR in the future!

November 17, 2009 at 2:54 pm

Living in a pot of water warming to a boil

SAN DIEGO, Calif — I’m attending the PRSA International Conference (#prsa2009). We had the Assembly Saturday and today, several business meetings.

The high point, for me, was the presentation to the Sections Council about plans to start a Real Estate and Construction section, a place for folks practicing public relations for clients — internal or external — involved in homebuilding, real estate, commercial building or other related industries to discuss PR issues.  More about that when I get confirmation that we can forge ahead with it.

The opening program was Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post, author and TV personality. and healthcare advocate Wendell Potter, APR. Some time ago, I wrote about Potter (, so it was interesting to hear him speak today. And what he said affirms what I said last September.

As I tweeted during the talk, Potter’s tale is truly a cautionary one, especially for those of us who are in-house PR counsel. We have to buy into our client to do our job. We have to believe in what our company does and what we are doing to support our client’s business strategy. We can’t do our job unless we do.

Potter talked about doing an ethical self-check to be sure that your moral compass is working right. He gave certain warning signs, like being worried about information getting out and asking if you would be willing tell your mother what you’re doing. He suggested that he didn’t see the warning signs.  It should make every practitioner step back and re-examine what they’re doing and how they’re doing to check for warning signs.

Ethical breaches are a proverbial slippery slope that starts imperceptably. Potter alluded to the old story about a frog in a pot of water that’s being heated to a boil. The frog doesn’t notice til it’s too late, unlike what would happen if you dropped the frog into the boiling water. Kinda makes you look for signs that the water’s heating up.

It starts with being asked to put a “spin” on a story. Then maybe it’s changing numbers…you know…just a little. Where does it stop? At what point does it become worth threatening to quit?

These are tough questions. I guess there are times when a little spin, or an adjustment of numbers is harmless…providing you realize you’re on that slope. The problem, of course, is when they ask you to do it again, you’re going to have a harder time saying, “No.”

Potter talked about being the conscience of an organization. It’s a line I’ve used before, and I know many others have as well. But you can’t “spin” or adjust facts one minute, and be the conscience of the organization the next. Potter’s experience urges each of us to be very aware of the ethical implications of every decision we make, especially we’re playing with shades of the truth…or doing something you want to tell you mother.


November 9, 2009 at 5:23 am 1 comment

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