|November 28, 2011|
|Legal Bludgeons Don't Belong in PR World|
|By Jack O'Dwyer|
|PR Society of America is seeking a new definition of PR but it must look at its own house first for a clue to what has happened to PR. It’s got nothing to do with Twitter, LinkedIn or the web. |
A camel known as the law put its nose into the PRS tent and now the whole camel is in the tent causing havoc.
Latest evidence is the remark by VP-PR Arthur Yann that the Society is “well within our rights to ban any and all reporters from attending” (the Assembly).
This may be good law but it’s bad PR. For one thing, it shows that the PRS press boycott is not just against the O’Dwyer Co. but the entire PR trade press. No reporter covered the 2011 Assembly.
PRS’s reactionary governance policies are in contrast to those of the Canadian PR Society, whose annual general meeting is not only open to the press but is audiocast live on the web for anyone to see. A transcript is then provided. CPRS posts its audit on the web (PDF) and just voted a dues increase of $30 to $250 in which all 1,600 members cast their votes by regular mail. Dan Tisch of Argyle Communications, Toronto, is on the redefining PR committee.
PRS Lacks Staff for “PR for PR” Program
The presence of only three PR pros on a staff of more than 50 means there’s a shortage of people to carry out any “PR for PR” program. Yann does not address business groups and he acknowledges in an entry on thegoodthebadthespin.com that COO Bill Murray has spasmodic dysphonia, a disorder that results in a halting, choking quality of speech. This may be a reason that Murray rarely (if ever) appears in public.
Another legal bludgeon was the opinion from Venable that PRS had the right to cancel the in-person Assembly if the 2011 Assembly did not pass a $30 dues hike.
Such an atrocity, mashing basic principles of democracy as well as Robert’s Rules, would be another example of bad PR.
Boycott Debate Shut
Similarly, Yann had the legal right to shut down a PRS blog debate on the press boycott after only four business days (Oct. 26-Nov. 1), but that violated web practice of hosting debates indefinitely.
Sixteen of 18 posts favored the boycott.
A more balanced debate took place in LinkedIn Groups as hosted by newsroomink.com.
Twenty-one of the 29 entries criticized PR’s press boycott. Four of the comments are by Yann himself including the one where he says PRS is within its “rights” to ban all reporters from the Assembly.
The Society is not legally bound to provide its IRS Form 990 (with pay of the top eight staffers) to the Assembly and it hasn’t for the past three years. But that’s also bad PR. PRS follows the letter of the law but violates its spirit which is that members have the right to know what their association executives are making. COO Bill Murray and the board refuse to divulge terms of his new three-year contract starting in January.
Is PRS a “Private Organization?”
The Society has argued for years that it is a private organization and none of anyone’s business except its members.
This is a question we’re putting to someone uniquely qualified to answer it — T. Barton Carter, chair of the Dept. of Communication of Boston University who is also a practicing lawyer specializing in communication law.
A member of the department is PR’s most visible educator, Donald Wright, PR professor and editor of the online PR Journal of PRS. His extensive credentials include serving as president of the International PR Assn. in 2004.
Wright is one of those referenced (as editor of PRJ) in the 23 pages of PRS’s complaints against this writer.
His name is not used and we wonder if PRS got his permission before making him a part of this reckless document. Supposedly we “threatened” Wright’s relationship with BU by complaining to BU president Robert Brown about the “anti-information, anti-intellectual, anti-democracy, anti-press and anti-member” regime at PRS and wondering how Wright and BU could be connected with this.
We are now also taking up our case with Carter and reiterate those charges, all of which have been documented.
Nearly a dozen other names are left out of the 23 pages of charges against us although otherwise identified and we wonder if permission was sought from them? They include Del Galloway, Phil Bonaventura, Mike Cherenson, Brandi Boatner, Gary McCormick, Cindy Badger, and Mickey Nall.
Carter, with his feet in both the law’s camp and PR’s camp, might provide an answer.
The legal axe is being swung wildly at PRS and legal’s influence is also evident in a lot of what goes on in PR today.
Legal monitors any input from reporters at organizations and checks anything before it goes out. PR pros are heavily scripted.
Definition Must Address Legal Issue
PRS has cast a net far and wide (although reporters are not invited) in an attempt to craft a new definition of PR in the face of the internet, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
But there’s no use coming up with a new definition of PR if PRS is not going to live up to its current Code that promises the “free flow” of information, “fair” treatment of the press and others, being “honest and accurate in all communications,” “reveal all information needed for responsible decision-making,” “preserve intellectual property rights in the marketplace,” “avoid deceptive practices,” and “act promptly to correct erroneous communications for which the member is responsible.”
Yann has posted several places that the Society of Professional Journalists wants this writer to quit because of violations of the SPJ Code. SPJ wants me to quit because it doesn’t want to get involved in the “situation” between PRS and the O’Dwyer Co. Its statement has nothing to do with ethics. The “situation” is that PRS sold hundreds of thousands of copies of authors’ materials without their permission and it’s about time a PRS board took responsibility for this.
Romenesko Tweets O’Dwyer Boycott
Journalist Jim Romenesko tweeted to his 40,000+ followers Nov. 22 that “PR man Jack O’Dwyer says PRSA has circulated a 23-page list of charges against him” (linking to that day’s O’Dwyer blog on the Society seeking a new definition of PR).
PRS staffer Keith Trivitt was the next tweet denying any such circulation. Said Trivitt: The Society “did not ‘circulate’ as you state. We mailed the letter directly to Mr. O’Dwyer. No circulation by us.”
That’s partially true in that the 23-pages were initially sent to us. PRS thought that if we published it first, they would get off any legal hook. But in the weeks that have followed PRS has distributed the 23 pages to numerous places including since Oct. 26 its own website, PR Watch, Talentzoo.com, Jane Genova’s blog, and newsroomink.com.
Yann posted on the Genova blog Oct. 27 that “the Society’s response details the abusive, unprofessional and unethical behavior of Mr. O’Dwyer towards the Society.” The entry contained a link to the 23 pages.
Trivitt should correct his false statement if he wants to abide by the PRS Code.
Fiske Tweeted About Father’s Death
While exploring on Twitter, we came upon this post by chair Rosanna Fiske (@fiskey) on Nov. 13: “The entire family is together today to honor my dad who died a year ago, to share all our great memories and celebrate his life.”
Fiske provided this information about her father via Twitter to her 1,850 followers and anyone else who chooses to access her Twitter page.
She has also written about her photojournalist father in biographical materials on the web, citing him as the reason she went into journalism and then PR.
For some reason, she declines to provide further information about him.
Bad law Is Being Practiced
I wouldn’t mind good law being practiced at PRS. But this is bad law.
Robert’s Rules, for instance, provide that if a group does not have a specific bar against proxies, the adoption of RR is sufficient to satisfy any state law that requires a specific ban on proxies.
PRS uses RR as its parliamentary guide but both PRS and Venable ignore the RR rule on proxies.
If members could afford their own lawyer there is no doubt some members would fight this legally.
Another RR rule that is ignored is that if a group has an “assembly,” such as PRS’s, that assembly “is the highest authority within such a society” (page 6-7 and 549).
PRS’s Assembly delegates have been told numerous times never to tell the board what to do.
A 2006 attempt by the Central Michigan chapter to copy governance of ABA and AMA was trounced with no other chapter publicly supporting it. The AMA says its House of Delegates is its “principal policy-making body” while the ABA says its delegates are “the ultimate governing body of the Association.”
No mention was made in any PRS media of the proposal from April of that year to the Assembly.
That’s how PRS practices the “free flow of information.”
Such practices provide a bad example to its 31,000 regular and student members. Journalists should be part of the committee and members should meet face-to-face including sessions open to the public.
PRS supports information that is “truthful” but truth in a democracy is obtained by forging it in the hot cauldron of public debate.
While some PR pros see the internet and social media as a grand opportunity for them, others are hearing a death rattle for what was once the prime function of PR—providing information.
A PR pro quoted on Peter Himler’s blog said: “Those you’re hoping to engage have a myriad of other credible sources for story ideas or actionable information. We simply no longer serve nor are we perceived as the primary bearers of timely, accurate and actionable information. Google, Twitter and Facebook have seen to that.” http://www.theflack.blogspot.com/
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