The removal of enforcement provisions from the Code of Ethics of PR Society of America (the “Society”) in 2000 was done in defiance of the wishes of the general membership, Society leaders, and the advice of the Ethics Resource Center, Washington, D.C.
ERC did extensive member and leader surveys for the Society, receiving a total of $50,554 from 1999-2002.
Details of how the Code was rewritten are in two articles totaling 45 pages by Prof. Kathy Fitzpatrick of Quinnipiac University that appeared in the Journal of Mass Media Ethics in 2002.
ERC in January 2000 created and conducted a poll of the 20,266 Society members that drew a response from 2,099 members (10.4%). [There were 21,192 members as of Dec. 12, 2012, a gain of 926 in 12 years].
Initial and follow-up questionnaires had 79 items.
Ninety percent of the respondents “agreed that the Society should deny or revoke membership for failure to meet Code standards,” said the Fitzpatrick article that is titled “From Enforcement to Education: The Development of PRSA’s Member Code of Ethics 2000.”
Belief that a “formal mechanism should be in place to resolve allegations of ethical misconduct” was expressed by 92%.
Half of the respondents said they “feel an extraordinary amount of pressure to compromise their ethical standards,” said the article. One interviewee told ERC that “in some ways, lying permeates everything we do.”
ERC recommended that the Code “be rewritten and its enforcement provisions revised as part of a larger campaign to position the Society as the integrity leader in the PR field,” said the Fitzpatrick article.
ERC is a 501c/3 non-profit that conducts polls about ethical subjects for companies that want an outside party to do this. Its IRS Form 990 for the year ended June 30, 2011 show revenues of $1,625,284. EIN: 13-1671026.
Ethics Board members were pushing a Code that would be “aspirational” and “inspirational” and avoid accusing any members of wrongdoing. Fears that members might sue the Society were expressed
Ethics Board Ignored Society Abuses
Members of the Ethics Board were thinking about long term ethics policy but were ignoring numerous ethical abuses and wrongful practices at the Society itself involving its governance, allocation of funds, relations with the PR press, reporting its finances, and lack of its own members on staff.
The Society had a loss of $1,105,181 for 1999-2000 and saved money by not printing the 2000 members’ directory, a nearly 1,000-page volume that was one of the most valued if not the most valued of member services.
The yearly loss reached a record $441,467 in 2000 when it cost $1,794 to create each of the 246 new Society APRs that year.
Spending on travel, meals and hotels for leaders and staff was excessive, totaling $3,272,162 for the seven years from 1994-2000.
Worst abuses came in 2000 when the board met in London from April 5-8, its first ever meeting outside of North America. Its July 13-15 meeting was at the Northstar-at-Tahoe resort. Travel/meals/hotels that year totaled a record $717,478 or 7.56% of total expenses of $9,484,001. There should be a breakout of staff and leader spending on each of the three categories.
Practice during the 1990s was for the board to meet at resort destinations like Vancouver, Montreal, San Juan, Santa Fe, Carmel and London or at resorts themselves such as Lake Tahoe and Sundance.
The board found plenty of money for meetings at highly desirable locales but not enough money for the members’ directory. The printed directory was discontinued after 2005, a decision that was not run by the Assembly.
APRs Go on Rampage
The APR members, who had exclusive control of the board since the mid-1970s, not only splurged on the APR program and board expenses, but beat back all attempts to place non-APRs in the board or even get the topic discussed at the Assembly.
APRs twice over-ruled attempts by the nominating committee to place New Yorkers on the board who wanted the APR rule removed from the bylaws.
The APRs’ candidate for treasurer, Joann Killeen of Los Angeles, defeated official candidate Michael McDermott of Riverside, Conn., at the 1999 Assembly. Killeen had some financial background but McDermott was a financial specialist who lived about an hour from Society h.q.
The parliamentarian, noting that delegates were using electronic voting devices for the first time and many had not voted, called for a second vote on Killeen/McDermott but was over-ruled by Arthur Abelman, the Society’s lawyer. Robert’s Rules are actually advice and can be disregarded by an organization professing to follow them.
Killeen, again as a write-in candidate in 2000, defeated Art Stevens of New York who was the official candidate for chair-elect.
Stevens, an ardent foe of the APR rule who wanted Assembly delegates to be reachable via a single e-mail and for annual conferences to be in New York every second or third year, claimed “foul” since Killeen had the public support of nine sitting directors.
Joining him in the same criticism were 1987 president Jack Felton whose committee on nomcom reform said directors were not to elect fellow directors, and Mary Cusick, 1998 president and chair of the 2000 nomcom.
The strategic planning committee of 1999, headed by Steve Pisinski, unanimously urged dropping the APR rule. The 1999 board expressed its opposition to that and refused to put the topic on the agenda of the 1999 Assembly.
Members of the ethics rewrite committee were Fitzpatrick, chair Robert Frause, David Bicofsky, Roger Buehrer, Linda Cohen, James Frankowiak, Jeffrey Julin, James Lukaszewski and James Wycoff.
Society Leaders Polled, Assembly Demurs
Frause in 2000 polled national directors, chapter presidents, Assembly delegates and section and district chairs (more than 300 members) and received 20 responses.
Fitzpatrick’s 24-page article on Code revision says respondents supported a revised Code “with most supporting enforcement and suggesting various degrees of punishment be used.”
Respondents also supported ethics education and said members “should be held responsible for the actions of non-Society members they supervise and should identify employers, clients and front groups.”
Rank-and-file members, leaders and ERC thus had lined up in favor of enforcement but the 1999 Assembly, all of whose members were accredited, thought otherwise.
ERC and Society leaders discussed a possible new Code with the 240 delegates in 1999 who were split into 18 focus groups.
The focus groups “seemed to support” an ERC preliminary finding that eliminating enforcement would be “a step in the wrong direction and would send the wrong signal,” writes Fitzpatrick, but at the same time they were “split in their views on whether enforcement was desirable, possible, or both.”
Frause had contended in a memo to leaders March 17, 1999 that it had become nearly impossible to enforce the Code because of legal challenges by some accused members and the refusal of others to cooperate. “Our entire committee is frustrated powerless and unable to do justice to the spirit” of the Code, he wrote.
Duffey, Election Battles Ignored
Fitzpatrick’s article and 21-pages by her on “A Historical Examination of PRSA’s Code of Ethics” do not mention the turmoil that marked the 1999 Assembly which included two contested elections and charges of abuses in the nominations process and in the reporting of the finances of the Society.
The sudden need to back away from the enforceable Code coincided with charges by the EIFS construction industry that the firm of treasurer Lee Duffey was involved in a front group that was unfairly attacking EIFS. Duffey was in line to be chair-elect but the nominating committee rejected him, picking non-board member Kathy Lewton instead. He contested the election but lost.
The announced aim of a group called SHOC/Georgia (Stucco Home Owners Committee) was to “ban the use of EIFS” in Georgia. A law was passed in 1997 banning EIFS that doesn’t allow for drainage.
Such a public affairs aim put any activities of the Duffey firm, which included helping SHOC, under strict terms of the Society whose 1994 board passed a motion criticizing alleged “citizens’ groups” that hide sponsorship and demanding that sponsorship and funding be revealed for any member attempting to influence public policy.
Coverage of EIFS industry charges was extensive in the South and included three pages in the Nov. 10, 1997 Atlanta Journal-Constitution and a four-part series by Fox 5/Atlanta in November 1996.
Press Boycott, Financial Issues Ignored
Also not mentioned by Fitzpatrick are the boycott of the O’Dwyer Co. voted twice by the 1999 board and which resulted in ethics charges against the board by a Fellow; the initial refusal of Deloitte & Touche to sign off on the 1999 audit (it finally signed in August 2000, a record lateness); the sudden resignation, after six years, of CFO Joe Cussick in June 2000 before the 1999 audit was completed; the five-year $150K study of credible sources of information released in 1999 that placed “PR specialist” No. 43 on a list of 45 sources, and the questionable financial practices that resulted in a loss of $1,105,181 for 1999-2000.
The resignations of PR director Richard George and his assistant Heather Rogers in 1999 left no PR staffers who could devise a program to combat the bad PR generated by the credibility study.
Policy of the APR-dominated leadership was to keep PR pros on the staff to a minimum, usually no more than one or two on a staff of around 50.
Ethics, as in 1999-2000, is again a major issue for the Society which has a formal press boycott in force. Attempts to reach Nall on this have been unsuccessful. The first meeting of the 2013 board is to take place later this month.
Graves, Silverman Urged Nall to be Chair
Ogilvy CEO Christopher Graves and past CEO Marcia Silverman encouraged an apparently reluctant Nall to become chair of the Society, according to an article in the January 2013Tactics.
Graves, formerly CEO of Ogilvy PR in Asia Pacific, joined the firm after 23 years in business news including 18 with Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal and CNBC. He succeeded Silverman in 2009. Nall, who went from being a director to chair-elect without serving as either secretary or treasurer, a tradition at the Society, answered as follows when asked by Tactics editor-in-chief John Elsasser why he desired to pursue a leadership role in the Society:
“I began to see how I could have a positive influence on the Society. I could be part of a group of people who wanted to do things with PRSA that mattered to me and to the profession. Several leaders said, ‘You should be doing this. Why aren’t you doing this?’
“I later became involved in the PRSA Foundation.
“In 2010, my mentor Marcia Silverman, who was retiring as chair of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, became the second recipient of the Foundation’s Paladin Award.
“At the Foundation’s Paladin Dinner, Gary McCormick, APR, Fellow PRSA, PRSA’s 2010 chair and CEO, was there for the presentation. And Marcia looked at me and said, ‘Why don’t you do that?’ [Laughs.] I said, ‘Well, it is a commitment.’ [Laughs.] She said, ‘Absolutely. We want you to do that. We’d love for you to be the first Ogilvy PRSA chair and CEO.’ And I was like, ‘I would love that.’
“After she retired, Chris Graves, our global chair, wrote me a lovely letter of endorsement when I was up for the chair-elect position. That meant so much to me. The company I work for values the commitment to leadership and values what PRSA stands for, particularly around advocacy, ethics and diversity for the profession. We advocate for our profession every single day at Ogilvy. We’re earning our clients’ trust and working hard to keep it. So it did fall in line with my work.”