|September 4, 2012|
|PR Society Says Our Reporting Its Finances Was Improper|
|By Jack O'Dwyer|
|Andrew Fowler, technical support rep of the PR Society, has e-mailed us that someone broke the PR Society web rules by sending us the first half financial report last week and can have his or her web privileges revoked.|
The first half financial report, as we noted, was a financial “dirty trick” because it was only posted the day before the PRS Assembly delegate teleconference Aug. 29 and gave the delegates no time to pore over the figures and prepare questions.
Another dirty trick is promised for the Assembly Oct. 13 since that’s the day when the Q3 figures will be given to the delegates.
On top of these sharp practices (and September is “Ethics Month” at PRS) the Society had a staffer (instead of chair Gerry Corbett or COO Bill Murray doing this themselves) chastise us for reporting the finances and says, improperly, that anyone who sent us the figures can lose his or her PRS web rights.
This is the Theatre of the Absurd because the PR press can’t report adequately about PRS unless it has access to its financial reports. Reporters can’t get them as members since PRS won’t let them join. That’s odd in itself because many of its members are doubling as reporters as well as PR people. It’s also folly for PRS to think that it can get 21,782 members to go along with its policy of stiffing the press.
Neither the board nor the staff has the power, at their “sole discretion,” to expel members or deprive them of any of their rights. Those rights can only be removed if the member has been “sanctioned by a government agency or convicted in a court of law.”
The current PRS Code of Ethics says: “Emphasis on enforcement of the Code has been eliminated. But, the PRSA Board of Directors retains the right to bar from membership or expel from the Society any individual who has been or is sanctioned by a government agency or convicted in a court of law of an action that fails to comply with the Code.”
Kangaroo Court Was Rejected in 2009
The 2009 bylaws re-write committee, headed by Dave Rickey, attempted to give the board the “sole discretion” to expel or discipline a member but that was rejected and the language above substituted in Article XII, Section 2 (b).
The 2011 Assembly, from which this reporter was barred, removed the sentence in Section 2 (b) that said “sanctioned by a government agency or convicted in a court of law” and left in the sentence that said the board may bar or expel from membership “any member who violates the PRS Code of Ethics.”
However, Article III, the current Section 7 on “Termination of Membership,” says a member may be expelled “who shall have been convicted of, or shall have pleaded ‘No Contest’ to a charge of, a felony or misdemeanor related to the conduct of the PR profession.”
The need for conviction by an outside authority is invoked. There is an obvious danger of members, who may be in competition with each other for jobs and accounts, sitting in judgment of other members and convicting them of anything.
The PRS “Kangaroo Court” is not in session and never will be. If leadership/staff want to remove any privileges from a dues-paying member they will have to go to court to do so.
Members should ask for a copy of the new 13-pages of harsh legalisms that apply to users of the PRS website.The words “sole discretion” appear five times and violators are threatened with “criminal and/or civil prosecution.” After all this nearly endless legal Sturm and Drang, the document says “PRS encourages open and sincere communication, but urges all users to remember that PRS Blogs is intended to be a resource for all.”
Any searches by members become “PRS’s own records” and may be intercepted and reviewed “at any time,” the document warns. The PRS system collects “cookies” that identify users.
Furthermore, by agreeing to the Terms of Usage, members are letting PRS sell their names and addresses for “one-time mailing use only” by “responsible third parties.” Members can opt out of this if they find out about this by wading through 13 pages of dense legalisms.
Members ought to protest the existence of the PRS Kangaroo Court to their chapter presidents, Assembly delegates and h.q. staff. “Kangaroo,” first used in 1853 in Texas, refers to justice taking “leaps” like kangaroos.
PRS leaders have gone way over the top in invoking fatuous legalities and paying astronomically for this to Venable ($405,571 in the latest five years and 2011’s legal bill has yet to be revealed).
Press Needs Finances to Cover PRS
Added attention is on the 2012 first half report because it’s an indication of how many members are paying the $30 dues increase. It looks like quite a few are not.
The dues hike was 13% but 1H dues “revenues and fees” are up only 7% to $2,907,285. If renewals and new members were at the same rate as in 2011, dues revenues would be up 13%.
The dues figure includes initiation fees and dues of new members and the new member total is probably 2,500 or more for the half. New members pay $255 dues plus $65 initiation fee or $320 total ($775,000 total although initiation fees are waived in some instances).
PRS typically renews 70% to 75% of current members. There will be at least 5,000 new or renewed members in 2012 based on history.
PRS used to reveal the renewal and new member figures but these got quarantined many years ago as part of the PRS policy of telling members and the press as little as possible.
PR director Libby Roberge announced at the beginning of 2003 that the renewal rate was 70.5% for 2002 since 5,769 members didn’t renew and 5,903 joined the Society. The two-year total (2001-2002) was 11,042 members not renewing while 11,227 joined. The net gain in the two years was 185 members.
PRS had 19,600 members as of 1998 and currently has 21,782. The average yearly gain over the 14 years is 155. The 21,782 figure includes members who are two months past their renewal dates but are nevertheless carried on the books as “members.” The 21,782 figure is bloated by that practice.
2009 Assembly Showed Some Gumption
A power grab breathtaking in scope had been prepared for the 2009 delegates but was overwhelmingly rejected.
--Rejected at the opening was a proposal to remove from the Assembly, for an undefined new election process, its power to elect directors and officers.
--Rejected was a bid to eliminate district directors and have the entire 17-member board “at large.”
--Rejected was a move to add 25-30 national committee heads to the Assembly as voting members (further packing the Assembly with leaders who already include the national board, ten district chairs and 15 section chairs).
--Rejected was a bid to let the board create new categories of members and Assembly delegates at will.
--Rejected was a bid to let a sitting board member chair the nominating committee, replacing the chair-elect twice-removed. A sitting director could pick his or her “pals.”
--Rejected was a move to let PRS acquire “PR and communications” groups at the board’s discretion.
--Rejected was a move to let anyone join who was in “communications” including advertising. The term “public relations” was to be replaced with or accompanied by “communications” throughout the bylaws. That also was rejected.
Assembly Used Proxies to Vote in Proxies
Regrettably, the 2009 Assembly used 56 proxies to vote in the use of proxies and allowed a bylaw that restricts the top offices (chair, chair-elect, treasurer, secretary) to those who have already served on the board.
Although only a few of the 15 new articles were presented to them for a vote, the delegates accepted that. Dozens of votes were cast all day long and should have been in the minutes but were not.
The bylaws re-write was shoehorned into a regular meeting (against the advice in Robert’s Rules) and 3.5 hours of the day was wasted on other matters (1.5 hours of leader presentations in the a.m. and a two-hour lunch/election break).
The 2009 Assembly, although flawed, was a marvel of courage compared to what the 2012 delegates are doing.
They will apparently take part in an Assembly Saturday, Oct. 13, paying two extra days of hotels and meals, that has absolutely nothing to do.
Corbett told the delegate teleconferences Aug. 29 that there are no bylaws changes to consider and that delegates will have to dream up their own topics to discuss during the afternoon session. Officers and board members are automatically elected after Sept. 13 so no in-person vote is needed.
Corbett told both sessions that delegates were not to deal with the O’Dwyer Co. because that would “only add fodder to his commentary.” This puts PRS in violation of anti-trust laws that say trade groups are not supposed to “refuse to deal” with anyone. That’s the same type of offense as price-fixing. Collusive behavior like that turns a trade group into a mob or gang rather than a positive, law-abiding force.
Hours of Leader Speeches Planned
The morning, as usual and in spite of numerous requests to do otherwise, will consist of leaders and staff saying what a great job they are doing and how rosy the future looks.
For the afternoon session, national director Diane Lofgren of Kaiser Permanente, a member of the Arthur W. Page Society (whose motto is “Tell the truth and prove it with action”), will ask the delegates to post ideas for discussion on a bulletin board. Delegates can then pick what discussion they want to join. The delegates will be dispersed to 15 or more different locations in the hotel.
If the delegates become bored with a discussion group, they can look for another group. We think a lot of them will just look for the bar and will watch one of the many football games that will be on.
Although literally faced with no actions to take, the 2012 Assembly will convene anyway. One reason the Assembly is on a Saturday is that numerous parties and dinners are held Saturday night by the delegates, chapters, sections, districts, the ex-presidents/chairs, and the national leadership with many of the bills picked up by PRS. More than 20 ex-presidents/chairs attend because they have lifetime free admittance to the conference (a $1,075 value) as well as lifetime free chapter dues. This is a violation of the “no inurement” rule for non-profit leaders but PRS ignores that.
Leaders Don’t Want More Members
Corbett told the teleconferences that PRS needs ideas that will help it to grow since the PRS membership total is only 8% of the 270,000 PR people. We don’t think that’s what the leaders want at all. The fewer members there are and the fewer APRs there are, the more “elite” they can claim to be.
If PRS wanted to grow and fill its coffers with $$, it would allow chapter-only memberships (as the American Society of Assn. Executives and many other groups do); have the annual conference in New York every year; convert Tactics & Strategist to online-only; move at least 90% of the staff OOT; replace the 95% non-PR staff who know little about PR and care less with career PR people; stop with the ham-handed legal threats, fire Venable and stop paying nearly $100K yearly in legal bills; stop booking dues as cash which no other major non-profit does (ABA, AMA, AICPA, IABC, ASAE, etc.), and cut national dues to $95 or less.
PRS can attract members by behaving decently and not like Attila the Hun. Joe Cohen of MWW should withdraw as chair-elect and throw the race open to candidates who will answer member questions. Icky actions like last year’s quest for a definition of PR and the new quest for P-APR (for recent grads) will prove embarrassing for anyone who attaches his or name to this group.
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