|March 31, 2010|
|PRSA Ethics Head Hides|
|By Jack O'Dwyer|
|The non-availability of Tom Eppes, ethics head of the PR Society, is one more reason why we have to call the group the National Association of Not Availables.|
Eppes, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., is not available either to us or even to members. We want to talk to him — especially about his article on the NANA website condemning theft of "intellectual property."
That is exactly what NANA was doing to us and many others for about 15 years.
Eppes (pictured at right) is listed as chair of the Ethics Board in the leadership section of the NANA website. But unlike almost all the other chairs listed there, his entry provides no e-mail link. No one provides a telephone number.
Neither his e-mail nor phone number is provided in the NANA online members' directory. Those who want to reach him, including this website, must send a letter to his home address, which is provided. That's what we have done.
M&M Visit Was a Step Forward
We were heartened by the visit of chair Gary McCormick and COO Bill Murray to our offices March 19 and were thinking of dropping the NANA label we have put on this group.
But numerous questions remain unanswered and many leaders continue to duck us. Chapter presidents do not respond when e-mailed.
One would think Eppes would be more available to members for ethics questions since the Society makes such a big deal about ethics. Not available on the website are the names of any EB members. All committee members used to be listed in an 80-page "Leadership Handbook."
The Society's Code of Ethics uses the words "ethics" and "ethical" 11 times on the first page alone.
"Ethical practice is the most important obligation of a Society member," says the preamble, adding that the code "sets the standard for the professional practice of PR."
Eppes, in a commentary on the NANA website, railed against "Expropriation of the Intellectual Property of Others." That is the title of "PS-14," a new advisory” of NANA.
We Were Robbed
That is what NANA was doing to our "intellectual property" and those of others for more than 15 years via its information packet business. The business was closed soon after we outed it in 1994.
NANA fought the demands of us and others for compensation, insisting that it was only “loaning” our intellectual property and was not selling it.
As a library, NANA said it had the right to loan the articles as long as it got them back.
What nonsense! Articles were not involved, either, but heavy duty "professional development" pieces that showed users how to craft contracts, write non-compete agreements, make placements in specialized media, etc. Users stood to make or save money by using the content.
The heavily-promoted business got up to a volume of 3,800 packets yearly, robbing us and other authors of a large amount of income.
The O'Dwyer NL price in 1992 was $175. Had these 3,800 purchasers (almost all of them Society members) subscribed to the O'Dwyer NL instead of reading us through the Society's info service, we would have made an additional $665,000 in income in one year alone.
But why buy the cow when you can milk it through the fence?!
Policy of Non-PR Staff Heads Backfires
The non-New York Society leaders who ousted the New York-dominated leadership and staff in 1980 did not want another New York PR pro like Rea Smith heading the staff. The OOTers felt their leadership would be undercut.
So the non-PR staff headed by association pro Betsy Kovacs from 1980-92 allowed the illegal copying business to flourish, something PR pros would never have done.
Another scandal in the mid-1980s was the tossing of hundreds of Silver Anvil entries for minor infractions such as binders that measured more than three inches on the outside.
Entrants went out and bought “three-inch” binders because the entire world with the exception of the Society measured such a binder from the inside. Staffers took a rule to such binders, found they were 3.5 inches on the outside, and sent them back to the entrants without an explanation while pocketing the entrance fee.
PR Pro Would Not Have Tossed Entrants
No PR person would ever have been so cavalier with the hundreds of hours of work that went into a Silver Anvil submission.
The O'Dwyer Co. exposed this practice and counselor Lou Capozzi forced a change in how "nit-picking" rules were applied to submissions. Those who followed all such rules got four extra points.
Kovacs initiated strict control of the Society’s press relations. We only lunched three times in ten years with PR director Donna Peltier and each time Kovacs was present.
Kovacs’ successor, career ad executive Ray Gaulke, also strictly controlled press relations.
When the copying scandal broke in 1994, Gaulke and Society leaders decided to fight the concept that payment was owed to the authors.
We believe that a PR pro as head of staff then would have sought a settlement of some kind. Some authors would have been satisfied with free ads in Society media. Others would have wanted payment. No negotiations of any type took place.
Gaulke Left Suddenly
Gaulke, after receiving a five-year contract from the 1999 board headed by Sam Waltz, suddenly left the Society as of 2001 to work for its Foundation. His contract was reportedly bought out for $250K.
With the removal in 1999 of Atlanta counselor Lee Duffey as a contender for chair-elect (following charges his firm was using a front group in a PR battle vs. the EIFS form of construction), power in the Society passed to a group of Northeasterners headed by Kathy Lewton, Maria Russell and Anthony D’Angelo.
They installed as staff head PR pro Catherine Bolton, who had been hired in July 2000 as the first "chief PR officer."
She had no experience in handling a 50-person staff.
Bolton headed the staff until the start of 2007 when she was succeeded by Murray.
Control of the Society had passed again from the Northeast to the South and West. Newly dominant were Rhoda Weiss of Los Angeles, Jeff Julin of Denver, Del Galloway of Jacksonville, Fla., and Dave Rickey of Birmingham, Ala.
They went back to a "command-and-control" association pro—Murray.
Info Flow Choked
Murray is no doubt a good administrator and is running a tight ship at h.q. but no administrator can control facts.
Under his reign, information control practices have multiplied, standing on its head the pledge in the Society Code to "advance the free flow of information."
The new website of the Society no longer has a single listing of chapter presidents. Each chapter has to be downloaded separately. Only seven h.q. staffers appear by name whereas all 55 used to be listed.
PRSAY, started in January 2009 as a forum for members and non-members, appears moribund, the last entry being March 5.
There’s no hiding the copying scandal and numerous other abuses including the invalid 2009 Assembly.
That meeting, while professing to follow Robert’s Rules of Order, violated the most fundamental of the rules—those forbidding proxy votes and those demanding that in a bylaws revision all articles in that revision be placed before the Assembly. Only a few were.
Advice of Robert’s is that such a revision be done over a series of meetings and never at the regular annual meeting. That advice was disregarded.
Also defied was the rule in Robert’s that all actions in a meeting, including all tabulated votes, be reflected in the minutes. The minutes mention only one of the scores of votes that were taken.
Worse yet, from a communications point of view, was that many delegates could not hear what other delegates were saying. Delegates should have been given the stage and the mike there, just like the leaders (who were easily heard) instead of being forced to speak from the aisles where many other delegates just saw the backs of their heads.
The entire Assembly could easily and cheaply been audiocast to the membership.
Rickey and other bylaws committee members had said all year long that what was earnestly desired was more “member involvement.”
That opportunity was missed and from what McCormick and Murray told us March 19, the 2010 Assembly will not be audiocast either. They said we will get earphones so we can hear everything but will not be allowed to tape the Assembly.
NANA Code Not Evenly Applied
Our problem with the NANA Code, which was enforced in a spotty manner up until 1999, is that leaders seemed to get off the hook while rank-and-file members got hammered.
For instance, Summerlein Harrison, a Washington, D.C., counselor, in 1988 asked NANA to investigate the session that four NANA members (including two former national officers) had with CIA Bill Casey.
Casey was looking for ways to raise funds for the Contras of Nicaragua and the PR pros gave him 25 ideas including a gala ball in New York.
The four were 1972 NANA president Kal Druck; ex-treasurer Ken Clark; James Bowling of Burson-Marsteller and William Greener Jr. of G.D. Searle. B-M chair Harold Burson refused to attend when he heard the meeting was about helping the Contras.
What happened is that the NANA board exonerated the four and went after Harrison.
She was charged with two ethical violations—discussing a confidential ethics inquiry and failure to respond to a board request.
Harrison countered that she talked about the meeting before filing with the EB and had every right to do so. She then refused to reply to an inquiry by EB head Elias Buchwald of B-M, saying he should have removed himself from the case because he was judging a fellow B-M employee.
She lost her job in D.C. and moved to Hawaii.
Epley Escaped EB Notice
The Charlotte, N.C., firm of 1991 president Joe Epley got hammered in statewide headlines that year when someone “outed” the firm’s “Confidential” 500-page “PR Assessment” of proposed nuclear waste sites in the state.
The report suggested that 12-13 sites for the waste facility might be put into public discussion rather than the “real” 5-7 sites so that opposition would be more “dispersed.”
The anti-nukers went wild. Banner headlines said “State May Bar Work by Nuke Firm” and “Memo Describes Waste Dump PR Plan.”
There was no investigation nor hint of an investigation when that incident cried out for thorough vetting.
Duffey Incident Helped Kill Code
Atlanta PR counselor Lee Duffey was treasurer of NANA in 1999 and in line to be chair-elect when the O’Dwyer NL revealed his firm was charged with using a front group to attack the EIFS (External Insulating Finishing Systems) form of construction.
The alleged front group was the Stucco Home Owners Committee. Founder Niki Lee Hurst’s EIFS home was shown to be crumbling because of moisture damage.
EIFS companies charged that SHOC was secretly funded by makers of brick and other building materials.
Some releases for SHOC listed Duffey employees as contacts and when the O’Dwyer NL called the SHOC telephone number, a Duffey employee answered.
Duffey denied that SHOC was a client but admitted it gave SHOC some help.
Asked to reveal his clients, Duffey responded that the Society Code only said that PR pros had to be “prepared” to divulge clients but were not actually required to do so.
Said Article 7: “A member shall be prepared to identify publicly the name of the client or employee on whose behalf any public communication is made.”
Efforts by NANA over the years to tighten the loophole had failed.
The 1999 EB headed by Bob Frause not only did no public investigation of the EIFS charges but dissolved the entire Code. It created a new code at a cost of $197,247 including $62,958 for staff time and $18,059 for travel, meals and hotels.
The new code was a re-write of the old code sans enforcement provisions.
Return to Latest News