|July 8, 2010|
|PRSA Candidates Duck Questions|
|By Jack O'Dwyer|
|PRSA candidates, with few exceptions, have been ducking our questions for years.|
However, this year, three PRSA Fellows (including a Gold Anvil winner), sent the 19 candidates 14 questions on such issues as whether APR should be dropped for national posts, whether Assembly transcripts should be provided, whether the Assembly should be audiocast, whether members should be able to get a PDF of the membership list, etc.
The Fellows identified themselves.
To our mind, all 14 questions should have been answered "Yes."
Only six of the candidates responded and one of them demanded that the answers not be given to any media.
The respondents answered "yes" to 23 questions, "no" to 34, and left 27 unanswered.
One respondent answered "no" ten times and "yes" three times.
What's needed, of course, is for all the candidates, and particularly the two for chair-elect, to allow face-to-face questioning by the press and members.
Chair-elect candidate Gerard Corbett (pictured at left with Phil Tate, right) responded but did not give a "yes" or "no" to any of the questions. He answered six of them with the reply that it was "up to the Assembly." He was told we were seeking his opinion, not the Assembly's.
In any case, the Assembly only meets once a year and has not had a "town hall" for three years. Attempts by delegates to raise issues during the meeting are met with "wait till the (non-existent) town hall."
Corbett's opponent, Philip Tate, did not respond at all nor did he return phone calls or e-mails from this writer.
Corbett, previously with Hitachi, has been in his own firm since 2007. He was on the 2005-07 board and returned as secretary on the 2009 board.
Tate, VP of the Luquire George Andrews ad/PR firm in Charlotte, N.C., "supervises advertising, marketing and PR strategies" for clients. The campaigns, says his bio, have won awards from IABC/Charlotte and the American Advertising Federation. He sounds like an ad person to us.
We examined the statements of all 19 candidates on the Society website and none of them addressed any of the 14 issues raised by the Fellows.
A typical statement is: "We will come to the board nearly color, age, race, gender and experience-blind, wanting only to do what is fair and right and good."
There is never any specific mention of what is "fair and right and good."
Nomcom Did Little Work
How far did the nominating committee, headed by 2007 chair Jeff Julin, search to find two consummate insiders, the one a solo practitioner and the other a mostly ad exec at a small Southern firm? Not very.
Corbett would be a returnee to the board, something the founders decreed was abhorrent. Directors were not to return to the board and that meant as officers who also serve as directors.
Chair-elect Rosanna Fiske of Florida International University is making her fourth trip to the board. She brags about her famous photographer father but won't reveal his name.
There's no question that a clique of APR cronies, minor players in the PR industry, has a stranglehold on national leadership of the group that purports to speak for the entire industry.
They also have a stranglehold on the 110 chapter presidents, none of whom has expressed support of the Committee for a Democratic PRSA.
They are setting an example of avoidance of democratic principles, blockage of the flow of information to members, and chronic inability to deal with the press.
DeCourcy Should Withdraw
Debra DeCourcy, candidate for East Central district director, should withdraw. She is VP-corporate communications of Fifth Third Bancorp, Cincinnati (PDF of bio).
One section of the application form asks candidates if they are aware of any "matter" that may arise during their term that "might reflect adversely on the profession or the Society?"
The genesis of this is the Tony Franco scandal in which an SEC case against the 1986 Society president on charges of insider trading burst in the middle of his term. He signed a consent decree that admitted no guilt (he always contended he did nothing wrong) but Society leaders were furious that he did not tell them about the pending case.
DeCourcy is a member of PR Seminar, the annual off-the-record meeting at a plush resort of top corporate PR people and editors and executives of the financial press.
It gives the appearance of an unethical coziness between press and PR especially since none of these media (Forbes, Fortune, Bloomberg, Financial Times, etc.) ever mentions the group.
An ethics committee member of the Society of Professional Journalists said the wing ding breaks ten articles of the SPJ Code (link, sub req'd).
But we don't need him or any official group to know that something wrong is going on here. The financial press failed to warn the nation of numerous wrongful practices.
It should have revealed "credit default swaps" to be insurance. Nothing was "swapped." It was a phony term designed to deceive. Dangerous speculation was being "insured" by companies without sufficient funds.
Should one of the media (or a blog) "out" this group then DeCourcy and PRSA would have red faces. ProPublica, the group of well paid investigative journalists (the top eight staffers are taking home $6 million from 2008-2010), attended this year and might investigate Seminar. National Public Radio was also present and might live up to the “public” in its name.
PR Society Is Uncompromising on Ethics
The Society Code calls on its members to have the loftiest of ethics, using the term "ethics" or "ethical" 11 times on the first page of the Code. "Ethical practice" is a member’s "most important obligation," it says.
DeCourcy attended the 2008 Seminar and the group’s rule is that members remain if they keep their jobs. They can attend one more session if they lose them. Quite a few are losing their jobs these days since the 2009 meeting inducted a record 46 new members.
We also question the statement in the DeCourcy application that during the current financial meltdown she “successfully managed some of the greatest communications crises and issues any PR person could imagine.”
Fifth Third shares 2008-present
That's a pretty sweeping statement since Fifth Third was one of the hardest hit by improper investments, its stock falling from around $60 to $9 and recovering currently to $11 or so (see chart). It took $3.4 billion in bail-out money.
DeCourcy says PR pros "managed the key messages, dispelled rumors, kept reporters in check and maintained customer and employee confidence."
We wonder about the "kept reporters in check." How many press conferences did Fifth Third hold? This is too glib a description of an issue that is still on the front burner in Congress.
Fifth Third's website, as is typical in corporate PR, has no names of either PR or IR people. PR/IR was shut down over the three-day Fourth of July weekend. An operator gave us the phone numbers of two marketing people who did not return calls.
Lewis Gave Most “Yes” Answers
Regina Lewis, chief communications officer at The Potter’s House of Dallas, a "megachurch," gave the most "yes" answers and also did not object to us using her answers when we queried her by e-mail and phone.
Lewis, who would be the only African-American on the board if elected, said being a paid-up member should be the only requirement for national office; that the 2010 Assembly should be audiocast; that transcripts of Assemblies since 2005 should be made available to members; that Tactics & Strategist should be PDFed rather than printed and mailed; that more PR pros should be hired by h.q., and that there should again be a single list of the 110 chapter presidents and their contact information (instead of forcing members to visit 110 websites to get the information).
She is not in favor of PDFing the entire membership list until she can find out more about how such a list would be used.
She rejected proportional voting in the Assembly (a chapter with 20 members would get two-tenths of a vote); moving most h.q. staff to another city (unless qualified staff can be obtained); chapter-only membership, or converting the “Leadership Rally” into an Assembly.
Opponents of Lewis for director-at-large are Susan Walton, associate professor of communications, Brigham Young Univ., Provo, Utah, and Cher Merrill, VP-PR, marketing and communications, Associated Industries, Spokane, which provides member companies with business and management services.
Three Fellows Refuse Questions of Fellows
Ignoring the questions of the Fellows were three Fellows:
Iseman, Hazlett, Valbona
--Prof. Stephen Iseman of Ohio Northern University, PRSSA national faculty advisor who replaced the resigned Catherine Huggins on the national board and who is running against DeCourcy for East Central director.
--Kirk Hazlett, assistant professor of communication, Curry College, Belmont, who is the only candidate for Northeast director.
--Marisa Vallbona of CIM Incorporated, La Jolla, Calif., who is running against Jane Dvorak of JKD & Co., Lakewood, Calif., for Western director.
Fellow Deborah Radman, senior counselor, Darien, Conn., who answered some questions, is running against Joseph Cohen of MWW Group, East Rutherford, N.J., for Tri-State director.
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