PR Society of America chair Rosanna Fiske rightly criticized Burson-Marsteller staffer John Mercurio and B-M itself after Mercurio refused to identify client Facebook when asked to do so.
This violated a section of the Society Code that says members must “reveal the sponsors for causes and interests represented.”
However, B-M has done something the PR Society never does—admit wrongdoing. B-M says it should not have taken on Facebook under the condition that it spread criticism of Google without identifying Facebook as the client.
It’s time for the Society to take its own medicine. “Physician, heal thyself” (Bible, Luke 4:23).
Another section of the Code says members must “Act promptly to correct erroneous communications for which the practitioner is responsible.”
Here’s a specific instance of an erroneous communication from PRSA VP-PR Arthur Yann to this writer (with my rebuttals in italics):
E-mail from Arthur Yann, VP-PR, PRSA, to Jack O’Dwyer, Oct. 22, 2010
Please stop with the lies, Jack; and stop cc’ing people on your emails who have no bearing on the situation, nor care to.
On the contrary, you were dozing right in the middle of the afternoon session, which is extremely embarrassing to me personally: to have a reporter, to whom I granted press credentials, sleeping in front of 400 members and 17 Board members, all of whom I serve.
[I may have closed my eyes during a break or may have been listening to the proceedings via earphones with eyes closed; this complaint admits I was awake for the morning session when a bid to let APRs run for the national board was defeated; almost the entire afternoon session was spent on defining PR and conjecturing where it is headed].
And while we’re going down that road, I’d like to bring a few other behavioral items to your attention:
· A tape recorder went off in your bag — even though I told you weeks in advance that recording the Assembly proceedings was not permitted — causing at least three delegates to get up from their seats to ask you to shut it off.
[The “play” button was accidently hit; nothing was recorded; this the first time that reporters were forbidden to record anything at an Assembly].
· You starting taking pictures when you arrived — even though I told you weeks in advance that you weren’t permitted to take pictures — until one of the members of my staff asked you to stop.
[I thought I could take a picture of the Assembly room before it started; never before had reporters been forbidden to take pictures before or during an Assembly].
· You tried to sneak into the luncheon — even though I told you weeks in advance that you weren’t allowed to attend the luncheon — and then you verbally assaulted Judy Phair and other delegates about the policy.
[I presented myself at the door so delegates could see I was being blocked. I said I should be admitted since I was “credentialed” for the Assembly and had gone to 38 previous Assembly lunches; national director Lynn Appelbaum and past president Phair said they were helpless to intervene, showing the lack of power that elected leaders have in the affairs of the Society].
· Following the Assembly, you got into a verbal (and by some accounts, physical) altercation with an Assembly Delegate, which was observed by a Board member and other conference attendees.
[A large man with a blonde crew cut rushed out of a front door of the Hilton while I was waiting for a ride, shouting obscenities at me and threatening to beat me “to a pulp”; he ran away when I asked his name and I asked a doorman to call the police].
I wonder if Huey, Pedersen, Honick et al, would support you so blindly, if you behaved toward their organizations in the manner in which you behave toward PRSA. When I told you that I’d make photos available upon request, you made zero mention of a publishing timeline nor deadline. I will tell you again what I told you yesterday: I will send you a selection of photos once we receive them from our photographer.
[I obviously needed photos right away to go with the story of the Assembly voting down an attempt by non-APRs to be able to run for the board; Yann refused to let staffer John O’Dwyer into the Assembly room; he would have taken digital photos and put them on our website within minutes; I finally got one photo from Yann a week later; it showed me with my eyes closed but listening to the proceedings via earphones during the afternoon session].
Now, if you’ll please excuse me, I’m going back to the Board-approved policy of ignoring your nonsense, and to doing meaningful work on behalf of our members.
Arthur Yann, APR, Vice President, Public Relations
Public Relations Society of America; 212.460.1452
Yann Blames Board for His Actions
At the end of the email Yann says the policy of “ignoring” me is “board-approved.” So he puts the blame on the board for this unethical policy.
The board highly approves of Yann’s actions since it made him the fourth highest paid staffer after less than a year on the job.
Joining in August 2008, his pay was $137,687 by 2009, surpassing in pay staff veterans Karla Voth, VP-special events, who was paid $135K; Barbara McDonald, VP-marketing ($126K), and Jennifer Ian, VP-membership ($121K). These figures do not include health, pension and other benefits.
The complete 990 is at GuideStar.org (PDF). Society EIN is 13-1582190.
'Altercation' is Wrong Word for An Assault
It’s false to describe the verbal attack on me in front of the hotel as an “altercation” which means a “dispute” or a “fight” as though both parties are to blame. I was standing minding my own business when I was shouted at and placed in fear of imminent physical harm by a man who rushed up to me.
Yann has advised me to go to the police which I already did. They advised me it’s a matter for the Society since I was not physically touched. The slightest touch would have justified a charge of assault.
Blocking pictures, blocking recording and blocking access to delegates are all violations of the Code that says members must “deal fairly” with media.
Lunch Blockage Was Inconsistent
I was the only reporter at the Assembly (as usual). If I was “credentialed” for the Assembly, why wasn’t I “credentialed” for the lunch?!
I needed to interview delegates about the defeat of the bid to allow non-APRs to run for national office for the first time since the mid-1970s. Tens of thousands of words on this topic were posted by more than 50 members in a Society e-group. More than 10,000 were posted by 2001 president Kathy Lewton.
Members pledge to “Protect and advance the free flow of information.”
Since at least one national director knows the identity of the verbal assailant, Fiske and other leaders must acknowledge these ethical violations. They should criticize the assailant and order him to apologize to me.
Fiske should also criticize Derek DeVries of the West Michigan chapter and the 20 Assembly delegates who interrupted an interview I was trying to conduct with delegate Art Stevens during the afternoon break. He had just seen the defeat of his committee’s proposal to have non-APRs run for the board. Here is a video of this ethical atrocity.
The Society also unethically tried to charge me $1,275 to cover any sessions of the conference while reporters for PR News and Mediabistro went free.
The Hilton Hotel, as required by law, set me up with two types of hearing assistance devices which I need to cover a meeting in a large room. Technical personnel of the hotel were most helpful and solicitous as was Hilton VP-PR Ellen Gonda.
But the devices were not used for the conference since Yann then demanded I pay for admittance.
Gonda said she called up Yann and told him that charging O’Dwyer staffers to attend the conference while letting in other trade reporters free was “unfair.” She said her plea “fell on deaf ears.”
Currently Yann is saying I can’t even apply for “credentials” to the Assembly or conference or admittance to the exhibit hall until August. A
Almost all of the exhibitors will be O’Dwyer subscribers and/or advertisers and I will contact them about stories as well as advertising in my role as publisher/editor.
O’Dwyer products include a PR Buyer’s Guide listing 1,000 products and services in 60 categories.
Interfering with contact with advertisers and news sources violates the Code section headlined “Competition” that says “healthy and fair competition among professionals” is required and that members must “serve the public interest by providing the widest choice of practitioner options.”
The Society refuses to take ads for or mention any O’Dwyer products. How does that “provide the widest choice of practitioner options?”
Rules Are Obeyed Selectively
If the Society is such a bear on rules, why does it disobey some of the chief rules in Robert’s Rules such as the ban against proxy voting?
It ignored in 2009 the RR rule that says all articles in a bylaw revision must be voted on one-by-one at a meeting. Also ignored is the rule that an elected “assembly” of a group is its supreme authority.
The 2010 financial report was a violation of Section 5.46 of FASB (ASC 958-605-2-1) that says dues of a group must be booked over the period covered by the dues and not upon receipt of the dues, as PRSA does.
At the very least, to be transparent and pursue “the highest standards of accuracy and truth,” and to reveal “all information needed for responsible decision making,” as promised by the Code, the Society should show how the balance sheet looks if Rule 5.46 were followed (“net assets” would go down by about $2.4 million).
The unearned dues would become a “liability” rather than an “asset.”
The Code also says “all opinions” are to be respected and FASB 5.46 is as legitimate as any “opinion” can be.
How about this from the Code: “Preserve intellectual property rights in the marketplace.”
Tell that to the dozens of authors whose works were copied and sold without their permission from 1980-94 by the Society. Packet volume reached 3,800 yearly in the 1990s. This was an early “print” form of Google with numerous authors unwittingly providing free editorial.
Buyers, mostly members, saved many thousands of dollars by having access to cherry-picked articles from publications listed under 1,000 topics. Newsletters costing subscribers hundreds of dollars were ripped off.
The Society, which stopped the practice as soon as the O’Dwyer Co. exposed it, has never admitted any wrongdoing in this matter which netted it profits of hundreds of thousands of dollars.