|October 2, 2010|
|PR Is Played on the Field, Like Sports|
|By Jack O'Dwyer|
|Don Bates, veteran PR counselor and educator, has delivered a blow to the solar plexus of the APR die-hards who dominate (in numbers) the furious debate on governance that is taking place in a limited access e-group of the Society.|
Several participants have claimed to be “insulted” by posts and have vowed not to return to the debate.
Rank-and-file members are not allowed to see the battle that has generated well over 100 postings, many of them heated. Members were also not allowed to hear the debate when it was conducted in Society teleconferences earlier this year.
Delegates have been warned in a four-page memo that they face prosecution under New York state laws if they make more than one copy of a posting in the e-group or forward any posting to another person.
All members are under orders from the Society’s “Media Relations Policy” to obtain permission from the PR staff before discussing with a reporter anything related to the Society.
Bates, currently teaching advanced writing at The George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management and an APR since 1975, cited his experience as a Little League baseball coach and former football coach. “I can assure you,” he said in a posting Sept. 27, “that the criterion for success in sports is performance, not a certificate for passing a test in a particular sport’s theory and practice.”
No amount of degrees or book study will help a batter facing fast balls, sliders and curves unless that batter has previously faced many thousands of them.
'Media Relations Is 2% of PR'
The “batters” that PR people are supposed to face are reporters flinging questions at them or questions they have obtained from various experts.
Tim Russert told the 2007 conference of the Society that the job of PR pros is to give “hard answers to tough questions” of reporters. Recent PR practice, especially evident at the PR Society, has been to avoid such “pitchers.”
Stephanie McFarland, an Assembly delegate from Indianapolis where she is PR director, Indiana Dept. of Revenue, posted Sept. 30 that, “The APR Key Performance Indicators states that media relations is only two percent of a well-rounded PR pro’s role and contribution.”
She continues: “So the ‘journalist in residence’ practice of PR—of knowing how to write a good news release, give a good interview to the media, and be merely persuasive—has become obsolete. PR pros are so much more today…”
If PR pros minimizing the role of “media relations” were to substitute the words “public discussion” for that phrase they would think twice before belittling the press relations function.
Commenting on the McFarland “2%” remark, Bates told this website today that every study he has ever seen places media relations as the most important duty of a PR pro.
The latest edition of Fraser Seitel’s "The Practice of Public Relations" says the same which is no doubt why no chapters of the book are recommended in the APR Study Guide and his book does not even make its “short list” of recommended texts.
Echoing McFarland’s sentiments is the 150-page APR Study Guide that gives only three pages to media relations and says only 5% of the questions in the computer-based exam are on that subject.
Delegate Says Votes Being Taken
Delegate Debra Bethard-Caplick, of Dialectic PR, Chicago, posted Sept. 29 that “The (APR) arguments have been presented, the information in most cases are being relayed, discussed and voted on at the local chapter, section and district level, and the vote (at the Assembly) will happen.”
Debra L. Bethard-Caplick
The arguments in the sequestered e-group cannot be relayed by delegates to non-delegates unless such delegates want to face prosecution by the Society for breaking the legal agreement (if they signed such an agreement).
There are no binding “votes” being taken at any chapter that this website knows of. The Boston chapter, for instance, polled its members and found 60% want to remove the APR rule. But the board is only taking that poll under advisement and will make its own decision.
If legitimate, secret balloting were allowed, the APRs would have been dethroned many years ago because more than 80% of Society members are non-APR. Also, many APRs themselves want to remove the APR requirement for national office.
APR “Foxes” at Assembly “Hen House”
In another argument that ticked off the APRs, Bates said that “the Assembly pretty much represents the fox guarding the hen house door.” [APRs comprised 72% of the 2009 Assembly—editor’s note].
Bethard-Caplick found this remark “insulting.”
She posted: “Insulting the delegates who have put in considerable time and energy into being a delegate is not the way to persuade them to support one’s position on this issue. It’s bad enough to have to put up with flak from O’Dwyer and his perpetual temper tantrum against the Society and the Assembly—we don’t need to resort to internal fighting and name calling that does nothing to resolve this issue.”
APRs Defy Own Ethics
Bates asked a lawyer to look at the APR issue.
Studying the Code of the PR Society, he came across “Professional Standards Advisory PS-10” of July 2009 whose title is “Phantom Experience: Inflating Resumes, Credentials and Capabilities.”
“Inflated resumes, credentials, documentation and capabilities are a growing problem in American industry and commerce these days,” says the advisory.
The Code implies (PDF) that it is unethical for APRs to tell or suggest to clients, employers and others that their APR status means they are better practitioners or more capable leaders than non-APRs (which is just what the APRs are claiming).
Society leaders and UAB officers have traditionally stressed that APRs do not possess better skills than non-APRs nor are they superior to non-APRs in any way.
PRSA H.Q. “Cleansed” of PR Pros in 1980
Bates was on the staff of the PR Society in 1980 when Patrick Jackson became president.
Jackson’s stated philosophy with reporters was “duck ‘em” and “screw ‘em” and “go direct” (to target audiences).
He also believed in having perhaps one PR person at h.q. and that the staff should be “association professionals.”
Throughout the 1980s and until 1994, the only PR staffer was Donna Peltier, who was kept under tight control. This reporter only lunched with her three times in ten years and each time COO Betsy Kovacs was present.
All PR pros left the staff in 1980 by one route or another including Bates, the first head of professional development; educational director Chris Teahan, and librarian Mary Smith, who retired
Rea Smith, who had been COO, was named COO of the Foundation and given an office away from h.q. She was not allowed to come to h.q. Smith, whose husband, Shirley, had died several years previously, lived by herself in Peter Cooper Village and had only distant relatives.
She was found dead in her bathtub on May 17, 1981 by a Society staffer after she failed to show up for work. He told other staffers there were signs she committed suicide.
Bates also noted that “95% or more” of senior PR executives do not have APR after their names and this has helped to drive them away from the Society.
Corporate executives formed the Arthur W. Page Society in 1982 and counselor executives formed the Council of PR Firms in 1998, he noted. The educational Institute of the Society broke away from the Society in 1989 claiming it was hobbled in fund-raising and leadership by the requirement that all Institute directors had to be APR.
The Institute for PR is now several times the size of the Society Foundation which was set up after the Institute broke away, Bates noted.
APRs Flunk on the Field
The performance of APRs, who have ruled the PR Society with an iron hand over the past 30 years, is execrable.
They allowed mass theft of intellectual property from 1980-94; presided over misleading financial reports for decades (dues income not deferred as it is at the ABA, AMA and AICPA); choked off the supply of needed information to members including transcripts of the last five Assemblies; refuse to publish lists of Assembly delegates; deprived members of a complete, convenient list of fellow members (easily and cheaply available via PDF), etc., and have instituted two unethical press boycotts.
They gutted the enforceable ethics code in 1999 when the board itself was hit with ethics charges. PR groups in the U.K. and Germany continue to enforce such codes.
Currently the APRs are withholding IRS Form 990 from the membership although the audit was completed in April. Legally, they do not have to file until Nov. 15, the last of three deadlines.
Assembly delegates last year did not get to see the 2008 Form 990 which contains the pay/benefits of the top highest paid staffers; legal costs; stock trades, and other information not in the audit.
Members who have asked Society leadership and staff about the 990 have been unable to get answers about it.
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