Spotlighting our APR members
Patrick McSweeney, APR
Patrick McSweeney, APR is a senior account manager at St. John & Partners, one of the largest full-service advertising, public relations and online marketing agencies in Florida, where he directs media relations and crisis communications response for a variety of clients. Prior to joining St. John & Partners, McSweeney spent nearly eight years in public affairs for a state environmental agency. Before that, he held reporting and editing positions at TV and radio stations in Florida and Ohio. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from The Ohio State University.
We talked to Pat to find out more about his experience earning his APR.
Why did you decide to pursue your APR?
When I left television news 22 years ago, I was encouraged by several PRSA Chapter leaders who voiced their support that I could successfully make the transition to public relations. I was impressed by their professionalism and how their work seemed on a higher level than other PR practitioners I’d met. Later, I learned all of these leaders were accredited. Having never taken a PR class in college, I was invited to “audit” the Chapter’s Accreditation study sessions as a way of quickly learning about communication theories and best practices. I found the study sessions valuable and committed that I would one day earn my APR.
During the past 20 years, I have progressed from working on a tactical to a more strategic level for clients. I was ready for the challenge and saw this as a way of demonstrating my knowledge while also showing thanks to the many mentors I’ve had in the past two decades.
I have been fortunate to work with and learn from a number of accredited Chapter members over the years: Ed Albanesi, Kathy Barbour, David Blakeman, Sarah Brown, Laura Jo Brunson, Ray Bullard, Barbara Denman, Bobbi Reid-Doggett, Anne Dubois, Jack Felton, Jay Fogg, Del Galloway, Tom Gniech, David Grant, Judy Hall, Jerry Hanks, Murray Harris, Rebecca Hart, Julie McGuire, Susan Milhoan, Beth Mixson, Cheryl Munn, Joe Nolan, Robert Peek, Amy Rankin, Jay Rayburn, Amy Reese, Hollie Smith, Lauri-Ellen Smith, Susan Towler, Rosemary Tutt, Bonnie Upright, Jennifer Wade, Winnie Wagner, Francine Walker, and many others. (I apologize for those I’ve left out, but space does not permit me to list all of them)
What does achieving accreditation mean to you?
Earning my accreditation is a validation of the commitment I have as a professional as well as the completion of a long-term goal. I sat for the “old” exam (short essay and creating a full PR plan including timelines and budget) twice and came within a percentage point or two of passing each time. When I decided to sit for the Prometric-based test a year ago, I committed the time to study and pass with a high score.
What was beneficial about the accreditation process?
The entire process reinforces thinking on a strategic level, understanding the big picture and being able to be a trusted counselor for senior management. The need for research and developing clear, measurable objectives for any communications program becomes second nature. I came away much more confident of the knowledge and skills I had developed, and understanding weak areas that needed improvement.
Before taking the exam, I may have been seen as a “senior PR practitioner” – because I have some gray hair and 20 years’ experience. Taking the test validated (for me) the knowledge and skills I have acquired and demonstrates the credibility we have as professionals. What surprised me more than anything was the pride others around me – my family, coworkers and colleagues – demonstrated after I’d earned my APR. That spoke loudly to me that earning accreditation is an important professional accomplishment.
What are the hurdles, and what is your advice to overcome them?
Time management and a commitment to finish the process (and earn that credential) are vital. Setting aside time (an hour each night or half a day each weekend) to read the textbooks and work through the study guide in a consistent, methodical manner pays huge dividends. The study sessions offered by the Chapter were very helpful – and having a study buddy to push/challenge/inspire you is something worth pursing. I also enrolled in the online study course, participating in the weekly cohorts and completing the various section exercises. I highly recommend the online course – it keeps you focused and really prepares you for the Prometric testing. This was my first experience with an online course (the first generation of personal computers were just hitting the market when I graduated from college) and it helped my studying.
What would you say to public relations practitioners who are considering pursuing accreditation?
If you have a minimum of five years in the field, you should consider it. Ten years or more, I encourage you to do it! While you may start the process for personal reasons, what I found was that it not only enhances your own reputation but that of our field. The people around you – family, friends, co-workers, clients – recognize the commitment you have to professionalism and ethics.
I am grateful to the North Florida Chapter members who showed their support and freely gave of their time to lead study sessions, review portfolios and push/encourage/cajole me and others in pursuing accreditation.