Meet an APR: Michael Vannest

Michael Vannest is communications and marketing director at the E.V. Bishoff Company. He earned the APR in January of 2019.

What prompted you to pursue your APR? Put another way, what's your WHY for being an APR?
The process was both nerve-wracking and fun. I tell people two things. First, you’ll get out of it what you put into it. Second, if you dedicate yourself to the process, it will help you to mature as a practitioner. You’ll learn something new, present case studies and put together a campaign from scratch, or rework one and do it the right way.

My why for pursuing the APR was to show myself that I could do it. It was a personal journey for me. In 2014, I was at a point where I needed to write my comeback story. I set a goal to focus on my new job at E.V. Bishoff and run a half and then a full marathon. Then, I bought a house and got married, and the only thing left on my list was the APR.

It was truly my greatest sense of accomplishment since graduating from college. Getting my APR was the icing on the cake for my comeback story.

Looking back on the process, what would you say to your pre-APR self—or anyone else thinking of taking the plunge—to help you better prepare?
My panel presentation was in October, and I took the test in January. Throughout the preparation process, I had confidence issues, but it just required commitment and practice.

I needed to have a classroom setting to work through the problems that I couldn’t understand, so I took the online course. Learning about the research was a challenge for me, especially the difference between outputs and outcomes on the objective front.

What three things stand out as benefits to having your APR. What have you been able to do because of it that would not have been otherwise possible? Why does it make a difference?
Having my APR has given me the credibility to be able to sit at the management table. My leaders know how I prepared for the accreditation, and how I have changed since then. They have put their trust in me because I can now communicate clear business objectives. With the APR, you will become an authority.

Knowing the difference between outputs and outcomes has changed how my company communicates with our stakeholders. It has brought amazing success to our programs. The campaign I used for my panel presentation leveraged the outcome of customer satisfaction. Using the guidelines laid out by the study guide, I was able to see results immediately, which was impressive to the owner of my company.

Some believe that anybody can do PR. Doing it right is a different thing. We face a stigma of being spin doctors. The APR breaks this myth. We have a Code of Ethics and are serious about our profession.

One last thing I’ll say is that many in our chapter who have experience but no APR claim to already be thought leaders. Does everyone need the APR to do their job? If we’re honest about holding ourselves to a higher standard and constantly learning, the answer is yes. No one knows everything. We all need to learn more. This is why we volunteer, and this is why we set the bar higher for ourselves when it comes to accreditation.

How did you prepare for the portfolio process? Which resources did you find most helpful?
Without these three keys, I would not have walked through the door of becoming an APR:

  1. The Cutlip and Center text (Cutlip and Center’s Effective Public Relations),
  2. The APR Study Guide and
  3. The online course.

The online course is the best $200 you will ever spend, and you get a discount as an APR. You can remain in the course for as long as you want. I remained in it for almost a year. You can go at your own pace, and every week you get to meet online and make connections. We also had Google meetings once every two weeks.

I’d also consider renting the text instead of purchasing it, but it is a very helpful tool.

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Meet an APR: Gayle Saunders

Gayle Saunders is CEO of The Saunders Company, a public relations firm. She secured her APR in 2007.

What prompted you to pursue your APR? Put another way, what's your WHY for being an APR?

It really is about demonstrating excellence in our profession. Getting accreditation is another way to demonstrate the rigor of public relations. Our profession is not always considered a science, but there are metrics that demonstrate our work.

The science is real. How we demonstrate our values through metrics and measurement is so important. Accreditation helps to underscore that public relations truly has a process, guiding principles, rules and methodologies.

As an African American in the public relations industry, I believe it is important for people of color to be recognized in our profession. There is a lack of awareness of and support for the great talent that exists among people of color in public relations, and I want to raise that level of awareness and support. Having my APR projects credibility and accountability to clients, peers and others and gives me additional leverage to help mentor others along the way.

Looking back on the process, what would you say to your pre-APR self—or anyone else thinking of taking the plunge—to help you better prepare?

First, if you are not a member of PRSA, you should be! There are such great tools and resources online through the organization, and these are very valuable.

Secondly, I like to remind people to reach out to those you know, who have gone through the process recently, and pick their brains. See what they did to study and be successful.

Next, remember what you have at your disposal—your own plans and campaigns that you have created during your career. Use these as you assemble your portfolio and prepare for the panel presentation. As you pull those out, look at what you did to make the communications effective. And think about what you could have done differently, with more time or budget. These are critical considerations as you go before the panel.

Lastly, I remind people to go through the study process. Use the chapter’s study group or a boot camp. Gathering with a group of people planning to take the test, getting together in person or via conference calls, all help in ensuring success in earning your APR.

Remember that you are not alone. Where you may have strength in one area, your peers will have strengths in other areas. And you will help each other.

What have you been able to do because of the APR that would not have been otherwise possible? Why does it make a difference?

It makes a difference to me. To maintain my accreditation, I have to demonstrate how I have stayed in tune with PR trends and submit what I’ve done over the course of every three years.

This process holds me accountable. It benefits me, and in turn my clients and others I serve.

How did you prepare for the portfolio process? Which resources did you find most helpful?

I highly recommend purchasing or renting the Cutlip and Center text (Cutlip and Center’s Effective Public Relations), and be sure to download and use the APR Study Guide.

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Getting Through Tough Times - Together

I think we can all agree that the past month has been quite a year.

Anxiety. Grief. Disappointment. General overwhelm. These are just some of the emotions I know I’ve felt, and I’m sure many of us have experienced the same thing.

As we figure out our “new normal” of working from home, homeschooling and social distancing, it’s extremely important for us to take care of ourselves. I know we’re all guilty of pushing the envelope, but now, more than ever, we need to step back, take a breath and acknowledge that right now is not a normal time. It’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay to feel the feelings we’re feeling. 

But how do we build up our resilience and our ability to cope during this time? I loved this advice in  “How To Be Resilient: 5 Secrets To Mental Toughness (Pandemic Edition)”:

  1. Positive self-talk: Be nice to you! It’s been easy to be down on myself this past month. I’ve been practicing writing three positive things that happened that day: from a Zoom call with friends to sunshine to my husband cooking dinner … I’m trying to reframe my brain -- because there is still so much to be thankful for.  
  2. Physical fitness: Move your body to help handle the stress. The gym is such a huge part of my life and now I have to adapt. Take walks. Use cans of soup, cat litter, paper plates, your stairs and more to make a workout (email me if you want to know more). Moving will help you feel better.
  3. Make it a game: Can you clean your inbox? Can you make your to-do list a Bingo card? Games drive us to keep playing until we win.
  4. Humor: Don’t be afraid to laugh! (Memes highly encouraged!) Cheer up a coworker or friend with your favorite meme or quote. Or talk to someone who makes you laugh. Watch your favorite show.
  5. Embrace meaning: Research shows that those who get through life-threatening situations do so because they helped others… because helping others takes you out of yourself. Stay connected. Hear and see the voices of those you love. Continue to check in on each other. 

Central Ohio PRSA, I wish you continued health and hope. I know this time is challenging in our profession. Please lean on your association if you have questions or need help. And take care of yourself. I hope to see you online or hear from you soon. 

Katie Thomas, APR, President 
[email protected]


Since the March 10 order from Gov. DeWine banning gatherings over 100 people, your Central Ohio PRSA Board has been working behind the scenes on plans to help better serve you and to help keep our members safe and healthy. We are rescheduling our Annual Conference and PRism Awards and are looking to implement more online programs during this time. In the meantime, we’d like to know: what topics would you like to have informal chats or happy hours around? Please email me at [email protected].

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April is for APRs: Push Beyond Tactics and Advance Your Career

Each year in April, chapters across the country join with our national association to celebrate APRs--those who have demonstrated the pinnacle of communications excellence through our profession’s Accreditation in Public Relations.

This year, while it is quite a bit different than past years, it is still the right time for us to recognize our APRs. In our local chapter, we have a higher proportion of APRs than most. Among our members, 22% have earned the accreditation.

And because APRs are firm believers in lifelong learning, all of us want to support the next generations of APRs. If you have been considering this step, you may have questions, and we’re here to answer them.

What does it take to receive the APR? And why would you want to pursue it? This month, we have devised a number of ways for you to learn more:

  • Meet 12 Central Ohio APRs: Throughout the month, you will see our social media posts about the process. And we will be featuring a dozen APRs from our chapter, telling their stories via Q&A on our blog. 

  • Join Our April 16 Coffee Chat: Hear all about the APR from three panelists with a variety of experiences to share. You’ll learn about:
    • The study group hosted by our chapter’s APR Committee Chair Susan Fortner, APR The national perspective from PRSA’s Sr. Manager of Accreditation Kathy Mulvihill How the process unfolds consistently across the country via Arkansas PRSA’s APR Chair Denver Peacock, APR 
    • Tips for success from Bravo Group’s Senior Director Sean Connolly, APR, and Partner and Senior Counselor at PRworks Jason Kirsch 

  • Listen in for the Good Morning, Communicators! APR Panel Podcast: The coffee’s so freshly brewed with this one that we are still finalizing the date and our panelists. More soon!

  • Just Connect with Us: As our APRs share from their own unique experiences throughout the month, we encourage you to reach out to them for guidance as you consider this journey. Is there someone whose story resonates with you? Don’t be shy to reach out for virtual coffee, lunch or a happy hour to talk more about what it takes to get started, and sustain yourself through the process.

Any APR will tell you that the experience is life-changing. It reframes our industry, how we approach business challenges and how we engage with our peers all around the decision-making table. 

Questions about the APR? Contact [email protected] 

If you have your APR and want to make a difference, we’d welcome you to join the APR Committee! Just fill out this form, and we’ll follow up with you.


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