The PR Society Foundation dinner last Thursday in honor of Harold Burson was a night rich in news and irony for this reporter.
Numerous leading figures were there including past winners Jon Iwata and John Graham and the paid top staffers of the three other PR groups—Roger Bolton of the Arthur W. Page Society, Kathy Cripps of the Council of PR Firms, and Frank Ovaitt of the Institute for PR.
PR Society Foundation president Gail Rymer with Burson and Corbett. Photos: Bruce Wodder
Conspicuous by his absence was PRS president and COO Bill Murray, who has gotten away with playing “The Shadow” for five and a half years. He is rarely seen or heard from but is by far the highest paid ($377K in 2010) of the top staffers at the PR groups.
Also missing in action was Arthur Yann, VP-PR of the Society, who enforced a PRS boycott against the O’Dwyer Co. Rosanna Fiske, 2011 PRS chair, who needed to catch flack for her ill-advised, global quest for a definition of PR, was seen by some attendees at the cocktail party but I didn’t see her at the dinner.
All three started ducking me years ago, then started ducking their own members (Murray avoiding the PRS New York chapter membership and the memberships of almost all other chapters, Fiske turning teleconferences into “listen-only” mode, etc.). Now they are ducking their peers.
Once someone starts running, there’s no end of it.
Attendees at the Foundation dinner April 26.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo) and Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who are investigating PR at 11 federal agencies, should also investigate PRS, a hotbed of undemocratic and information-withholding practices that deprive members of their rights.
Corbett Says No O’Dwyer Press Boycott
At the next table to me at the front of the room was PRS chair Gerry Corbett, who has ignored at least a half dozen of my e-mails to him in recent weeks alone.
There was no escaping me that night. I spent quite a few minutes with Gerry noting that the UN is on a campaign to end impunity for those who frustrate and/or persecute the press. Media-bashing has reached epidemic proportions worldwide because governments and professional groups like PRS turn a blind eye and deaf ear to it, says UNESCO’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
In PRS’s case, not only does it ignore media persecution, it practices it. Guards, under the direction of Yann, blocked me from the Assembly, exhibit hall and all sessions at the 2011 conference in Orlando.
Corbett, in front of a number of witnesses April 26, said there is no such boycott. I told him to tell that to the staff which enforces the boycott and generally does whatever it feels like.
I e-mailed Murray, Yann and several directors the next day (including Diane Gage-Lofgren of the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, a member of Page), asking for confirmation that the boycott is lifted. As usual, there was no response. Staff runs PRS, not the elected officers and directors. The tail wags the dog.
Pillay Forgot About Academics
Pillay faults governments, NGOs and professional groups for being silent about press avoidance and persecution. But leaves out a major culprit—academics.
PR and journalism professors should be howling from the rooftops about journalist killings and the many other ways that business and government undercut the press.
Even more effective than all the violence, jailings, lawsuits, and bars to access is the withdrawal of funds from media. Newspapers, the backbone of U.S. journalism, have been devastated by the loss of $29 billion in annual ad revenues (sinking to $20B in 2011 from $49B in 2006). Marketers who doubt the efficacy of newspaper ads could restock their coffers by buying website licenses.
Some parts of PR are exulting in the decline of media and looking forward to the day when there will be no mass media to interfere with client messages.
Iwata, in his speech upon receiving the Foundation’s Paladin award in 2010, said PR people are in a “new profession” that has moved from mass communications to engagement with individuals.
Enabled by “big data,” PR is now a “business-to-person” proposition, he said. His vision is of highly disciplined corporations and their employees dealing with the unorganized masses as described in his address to the Institute for PR in 2009.
IBM will recruit and train employees to “look like, sound like, think like, perform like and be IBM,” he said.
Six IBM employees are members of PRS, not including Iwata.
Academics Mainline PRS Honors, Activities
The curious silence of the academics on the PR Society press boycott is readily explainable.
They are hungry for credentials of almost any type to buttress their resumes and PRS and the other PR groups are a cornucopia of titles, awards, honors, appointments, offices, etc.
An example is the resume of PR’s best known educator, Donald Wright of Boston University. It notes near the top that he is the only full-time academic ever elected president of the International PR Assn. That body is currently wracked by internal battles including charges the 2012 president was wrongfully elected. Some longtime leaders have quit the group which disbanded its “Council,” the equivalent of the PRS Assembly.
Also mentioned are his trustee posts at Page, IPR (chair of its Commission on Measurement); APR membership in PRS, and being a Fellow of PRS and IPRA. He got the “Outstanding Educator Award from PRS and the Pathfinder Award from IPR. He is the editor of PR Journal of PRS.
A fifth PR group, (PR) Seminar, a smaller and more secret version of the Page Society, does not have a paid president. Ray Jordan of Johnson & Johnson, current chair of Seminar, is vice chair of Page.
I was able to shake the hand of Iwata and ask if he and I could get together to converse. He did not answer. Iwata is chair of Page and I have a lot of questions including how can Page be a charity that allows corporations to give it tax-free gifts ($247K in 2010) and why is Page withholding its results for 2011 when IBM ($106 billion in sales) gave a full financial report Jan. 19?
Page is not “required by law” to provide its financials, as a member has pointed out. But members are “not required by law to
Burson said Wall Street and big business have become too obsessed with profits to the exclusion of human values.
The corporate mission “narrowed” in the early 1980s from being a “good citizen” to “maximizing shareowner investment,” he said.
Noting that trust in business is as low as trust in Congress, he told corporations to return serving all the people and not just their shareholders.
Steve Barrett, covering for PR Week/U.S., wrote that Burson’s message about high profits “may have made some in the audience squirm in their seats a little.”
Sitting right in front of Burson was Mark Penn, CEO of B-M who was the chief strategist for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2008. Don Baer, vice chair of B-M, was Bill Clinton’s speechwriter.
Wall St. is currently no friend of the Democrats. Columnists, including Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post, have tracked the shift of Wall St. financial support from Obama to the Republicans. Meyerson wrote of “Wall Street’s Brazen Cluelessness” April 9.
B-M was once in the Republican camp, Burson describing his work for President Ronald Reagan, including offsetting the bad publicity Reagan got for taking a $2 million fee for giving a speech in Japan.
The U.S could get Gross released if it traded the “Cuban Five” (Cubans accused of not registering as foreign agents) for Gross but that would anger the politically powerful Cuban ex-patriate community in Florida.
The JDF has noted that Israel traded 1,000 Palestinians for one Israeli soldier and the U.S. Government traded ten Russian spies for four Russians caught spying in Russia for the U.S.
“Why can’t Washington trade five Cubans for one U.S. citizen?” it asks. The answer is politics.
Burson is the only PRS member among 500 B-M employees in the New York office. Eleven other B-M employees are members.
Dukes, the Rejected Candidate, Honored
A $10,000 scholarship was announced in honor of Ofield Dukes, 2001 PRS Gold Anvil winner who died Dec. 7, 2011. An additional $5,000 was contributed by Andy Polansky of Weber Shandwick at the dinner.
A lengthy description of Dukes’ life was given by Robert DeFillippo, chief communications officer of Prudential Financial.
He noted that Dukes served on President Lyndon Johnson’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity and was a communications consultant for every Democratic presidential campaign from 1972 on. He helped organize the first Congressional Black Caucus dinner and founded the Black PR Society of D.C.
Ironic is that Dukes ran for the PRS board in 2009 as an at-large delegate but was rejected in favor of Barbara Whitman of Honolulu, a close friend of 2009 nominating committee chair Rhoda Weiss.
Dukes was offered a non-voting post on the board but refused, at first. However, he later consented to that role.
He would have been only the second African-American male to serve on the board. Ron Owens, the other such director, quit the board in 2006 shortly after his term began.
Regina Lewis, an African-American from Dallas and a 22-year PRS veteran, was rejected by the nomcom when she ran for at-large director in 2010.