Lt. Col. Jackie Guthrie, the director of public affairs for the Wisconsin National Guard, earned an APR+M (Accredited in Public Relations + Military Communication) certification Saturday (April 14), becoming one of only 19 APR+Ms worldwide and the first actively serving member of the National Guard and U.S. Army to be certified.
Guthrie, of Sun Prairie, successfully completed a 90-minute oral readiness review presentation and a three-hour plus computer-based exam that tested her knowledge, skills and abilities in public relations and military public affairs in joint operations to earn the certification that she's been working toward for more than a year.
"While the personal accomplishment means a lot," Guthrie said, "it's really about demonstrating not only my competence in public relations but, more importantly, how public affairs supports military operations and using that knowledge every day on behalf of the Soldiers and Airmen I represent."
"Lt. Col. Guthrie is a consummate professional," said Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin, and Guthrie's supervisor. "Under her leadership, the Wisconsin National Guard public affairs office has won numerous awards and her vision is evident in our social media strategy. This latest credential reflects her commitment to continuous improvement on a personal and professional level, and I am very proud of her accomplishment."
How the military practices public affairs has come a long way in the last 20 years, Guthrie explained. "When I joined it was about press conferences, press releases and pretty pictures," she said. "Now it's about the important role communications plays in military operations from planning through execution."
Guthrie has more than 20 years of public affairs experience acquired as a Department of the Army civilian public affairs specialist and a Soldier serving the National Guard, U.S. Army Reserve and the Army - not only in Wisconsin, but throughout the world. She is also an adjunct instructor in the communications department at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and commands the Monroe-based 64th Rear Operations Center.
"I decided to pursue this Accreditation to better myself, increase my ability to contribute to the Wisconsin National Guard's mission and goals, and to encourage my peers to do the same," she said. "Over the past 10 years especially, we [public affairs practitioners] have demonstrated how we contribute to overall mission success. To keep a seat at the table it's essential that we remain relevant, and some of that comes from continued education such as that offered through the APR process."
Guthrie is a graduate of Beaver Dam High School, has a Bachelor of Science in Public Relations from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and a Master's in Public Administration from Webster University, St. Louis, Mo. Her military education includes Adjutant General Officer Basic Course, the Defense Information School's Public Affairs Officer Course, Adjutant General Officer Advanced Course, the Combined Arms and Services Staff School and U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.
According to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) website, Accredited in Public Relations (APR) is the voluntary certification program created in 1964 for public relations professionals to unify and advance the profession by identifying those who have demonstrated mastery of a body of knowledge as well as recognition of experience and professional judgment in the public relations field. The international certification process is governed by the Universal Accreditation Board (UAB), of which PRSA is a lead participant.
In May 2010 the U.S. Joint Forces Command's Joint Public Affairs Support Element (JPASE), UAB and PRSA partnered to develop the APR+M credentialing in an effort to provide public affairs and communication certification for military, contractor, and Department of Defense public communication professionals.
"It's not just an expansion of the Accreditation program, but an expansion really directed at military members," said Barbara Burfeind, APR+M council member and chair of Guthrie's readiness review panel. She also stressed that Accreditation not a one-time thing, but requires continuous professional development to maintain the credential.
In addition to completing the readiness review and exam, APR+M candidates must also be a member of the military (active or reserve) or a Department of Defense civilian employee whose primary responsibilities lie in military communication-related fields, or a DoD military contractor and member of a UAB participating organization and whose primary responsibilities lie in military communication-related fields.
"Anyone can say they are a public relations practitioner," Burfeind said. "We're not required to be licensed - however, this [APR] sets the standard or the bar, and the bar is pretty high."