October 24, 2006

Credible accreditation

Last Friday I went through a full day of written and oral examinations for the Canadian Public Relations Society’s Accredited Public Relations (APR) program, a lengthy and exhaustive standardized test for the profession in which I’ve worked for 15 years. It was a terrific learning experience, and, inevitably, I connected it back to my alter-world of piping and drumming.

Public relations is not an exact science. Some would call it an art. The challenge of creating an accreditation program for PR professionals is actually similar to the examination processes that I’ve seen and been through, and now help to develop and uphold, for judging solo piping and bands. Piping and drumming are musical arts. We constantly struggle to measure them in competition. And we constantly struggle trying to create standards and certifications for adjudicators, so that competitors can be sure that they’re being assessed by those who not only have played to high-competency, but understand the theoretical and fundamental aspects of the art, and are able to communicate their judgment in writing.

In piping and drumming, even those with little playing ability somehow end up judging in unregulated regions. Even after all these years, Scotland’s solo scene is rife with jokers on benches. In PR, anyone can hang out a shingle and declare themselves “professional.” It’s a primary reason why many piping contests and the PR industry overall suffer from credibility problems.

In the PR industry, relatively few practitioners actually go through the APR process. Often it is considered unnecessary by those who are already successful in the business. There is a tendency by some to be suspicious of trying to put an inexact science into a pass/fail test, assessed by those who may well not have near the breadth of professional experience and success of many of those taking the exams.

The world piping and drumming community is full of great competitors who are unwilling to go through judging exams. At any RSPBA major, the audience is dotted with former world champion pipe-majors, leading-drummers, pipe-sergeants and long-serving members of top Grade 1 bands. Sometimes they just don’t want to judge, but many out of principle refuse to adhere to certification standards. It’s a shame that they don’t understand that such a process is not intended to bring their experience into question, but is designed to create credibility through standards – something that every discipline needs if it wants to be taken seriously.

Despite my 15 years in the PR business, working with one of the country’s most successful firms and having a few dozen industry awards to my name, I may well not pass the APR accreditation exam. Regardless, I accept and understand the value of accreditation to uphold a standard for a profession that is inherently inexact and unregulated. But if I pass, those to whom I provide counsel have more assurance that I actually know what I’m talking about. It will help to differentiate me from the jokers.

When it comes to certification for solo and band judging, I wish more potential piping and drumming and ensemble adjudicators felt the same way.




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