|November 23, 2009|
|Logic Took Holiday in PR Society Bylaws 'Debate'|
|By Jack O'Dwyer|
|The thought processes of a number of PR pros have been on display the past year in the debate over the new bylaws of the PR Society. It looked like many of the participants lost their power to reason.|
We’re reminded of the Dec. 24, 2007 New Yorker article in which Caleb Crain said researchers have found that the current graphics and digital-oriented generation is losing its interest in and even the ability to read since it is developing different neural patterns.
The percentage of people reading books, newspapers, etc., is in steep decline, he noted.
The new neural patterns, he said, make reading “an effort” rather than a delight. As an example, he noted that dyslexics in particular have a tough time reading because the right part of their brains “never disengages” from the left or “ventral” part. A similar thing seems to be happening even for those with normal brains.
“Canned” Messages Dominate
“PR” in the past several decades shifted away from discussions with experts who work in or for the press and towards advertising, promotional and other one-way messaging.
PR is mostly staffed now by people who never worked in the press and have had little contact with reporters. They don’t know how to behave with reporters, vacillating from fawning and obsequious behavior to that which is cold and unhelpful.
Gone from the language of PR is “third party endorsement,” replaced by “Let’s look for people with the right demographics and target them.”
But “social media,” we are now told, is a return to “conversations” with audiences who are fed up with sales messages.
PR pros must do a flip-flop and converse one-one-one with bloggers including some who are going to become experts at one field or another. Bloggers will want answers to their questions and PR pros will be back to square one after all these years of dodging reporters.
Bloggers vs. Information Deficit
We wonder what the bloggers are going to do about the Information Deficit that has sprung up in recent years as lawyers, marketers and the CFO’s office have choked off the flow of much info.
Secrecy is at the root of the financial collapse that has wounded the U.S. The reduction in information available from organizations is one reason for the decline in media. Who wants to follow media when there are obvious big gaps in the information they present? Consumers are hoping to learn more from their own “media” such as blogs.
In the ad/PR field, there has been a giant gap in data available since 2001, the last year the five big ad/PR conglomerates allowed (sub req'd) any revenue or staff data to be released for their hundreds of ad/PR firms.
The last year we got data directly from the conglomerate firms was 1998 (The Council of PR Firms started collecting such data in 1999 and conglomerate firms only reported to the Council).
Seventeen of the 25 biggest PR operations listed by us in 1998 (those owned by the conglomerates) vanished from the list. Six were owned by Interpublic, five by WPP, four by Omnicom and two by Publicis. Of the remaining eight, three went out of business and one dropped out of the ranking.
That left only four independents that still report figures—Edelman, Ruder Finn, Waggener Edstrom and Schwartz Communications.
There is thus a big gap in our reporting on the PR counseling industry. Meanwhile, 169 independents took part in our rankings last year. They do not believe secrecy is the way to go.
What will the bloggers and Tweeters do when they run into such organizational stonewalls? Will they be any better at cracking them than full-time reporters?
Stonewalls Need Attacking at PRSA
An obvious place where stonewalls need attacking is the PR Society. But we’re getting no help from blogland or the academics. The latter have an alleged professional interest in research. Instead, they’re hogtied by politics.
The organizational world equivalent of the sports replay (in which a controversial play is examined in super slow-motion from many angles) is the video or audiotape of a proceeding and the word-for-word transcript of it.
Each word, each inflection, can then be examined at leisure.
PRS used to give out such materials for its Assembly but starting in 2005 (when proxies were used to block a motion to block proxies!) the Society has refused to turn them over to anyone.
They’re ashamed of them.
This contribution to the Information Deficit hangs not only PRS but the PR academic community and especially its Educators Academy.
Where is the Academy’s devotion to the “highest standards of accuracy and truth?”
Journalism education is lambasted in three essays by journalists as intellectually vapid and a waste of time and money. Michael Lewis said academics can’t accept that “journalism is as simple as it is” and insist on making it as complicated as possible.
Michael Wolff decried the overlaying of journalism with all sorts of transcendental meanings—making the goals of a J-school “grand enough and vague enough” to gull the financially naïve “who are willing to pay for quite a bit of B.S. in their curriculum.”
The same could be said about much of PR education.
The failure of PR academics to press for the documentation of the 2009 and previous Assemblies, not to mention other informational materials, positions them as politicians rather than educators.
Illogic, Stonewalling, Ineptitude at PRSA
When we look at the so-called PRS “bylaws debate” of the past year, in which all members were supposed to participate in order to promote “democracy” in the Society, we find an absence of logic.
Only a couple of percentage points of the 21,000 members took part in the discussion.
Neither PRS chair Mike Cherenson nor bylaws chair Dave Rickey ever had face-to-face discussions with any chapter memberships.
Had that been done early in the year, most of the changes would have been dropped and the rest of the year spent on some other activity.
Only on Nov. 6 did the delegates finally get their chance to reject almost all of the proposed changes.
There were eight bylaws teleconferences but the general membership, except for a few who joined a governance e-group, did not take part in them or even listen to them. The recorded sessions were not put on the PRS website. Only delegates could propose bylaw changes.
We put three of the teleconferences on the O'Dwyer website (sub req'd).
The obstinacy of Cherenson and Rickey, particularly on the matter of how open elections were to be conducted, was evident.
There was endless talk of bringing “democracy” to PRS but this would only be possible if any member could run for office and campaigns could be on the basis of platforms such as giving the Assembly power over the board, allowing chapter-only membership, and moving from New York and to cut expenses.
A non-APR would win handily in an open election since more than 80% of members are non-APR. But the 2009 Assembly not only failed to remove the APR rule for national leadership posts but inserted a new one that only APR directors could run for office.
Where is PDF of Members’ Directory?
PR delivers the positive points on something for a client. Reporters and others are needed to fill in the blanks.
For instance, PRS VP-PR Arthur Yann, shortly after joining the Society in 2008, argued that the printed directory of members of PRS was a dead issue and why don’t we give this up.
The online directory is up-to-date, and saves not only money but 75,000 lbs. of paper, he said. “The far-reaching benefits of transitioning to a real-time, online directory far outweigh the costs of maintaining the status quo. It’s time to put the issue to rest,” he argued.
No! The elephant-in-the-room is that PRS could easily PDF the directory to anyone who wants it, eliminating PRS paper/mailing costs. This kills PRS’s two main arguments—up-to-date and cost of printing/mailing. Speaking of saving printing/mailing costs, both Tactics and Strategist should be converted to PDFs.
So what is PRS’s answer to a PDF of the members’ directory? Nothing. Zippo. Run, run, run.
How’s this for logic: Cherenson said audiocasting the Nov. 7 Assembly would have been “near impossible, technologically challenging.” But on Nov. 10 he took part in live audiostreaming from the conference.
Vintage Cherenson was his appearance before the Central Michigan chapter Sept. 24 when he spoke for 57 minutes non-stop before allowing a couple of questions from the audience.
The 2009 Assembly set new records for illogic.
It used 56 proxy votes or about 20% of those cast to approve the use of proxies! This is a desecration, a no-brainer, say experts who interpret Robert’s Rules of Order. You can’t use the very matter under discussion to rule on that matter.
The use of proxies or any violation of a “fundamental principle” of parliamentary procedure means that all the votes taken on Nov. 7 can be challenged indefinitely. There is no “statute of limitations” on such an egregious offense.
PRS Staff Refused Hearing Help
We’re especially entitled to the recording and transcript of the 2009 Assembly because PRS staff, told about a hearing problem we have, refused to let us sit closer to the front or to wear earphones of the type being used by the audio technicians.
We believe this violated either the letter or spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 or both.
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