|May 25, 2010|
|PRSA Reformers Need Political Organization|
|By Jack O'Dwyer|
|The Committee for a Democratic PRSA is going nowhere unless it develops a political machine that can match the machine that is operated by APRs and national staff.|
That machine pitched a shut-out against the last reform movement—the bid by Central Michigan in 2006 to model Society governance after that of the ABA and AMA. No other chapter supported Central Michigan.
APRs/h.q. staff have a lot of carrots and sticks at their command including a hefty supply of national titles and committee appointments; funds for chapter travel and other expenses; special promotional help to chapters; the $500 stipend for attending the annual June “Leadership Rally” in New York; new business and job tips, and actual jobs on occasion.
The Counselors Academy has written that the “No. 1 question” that h.q. receives each month is “Where can I find a PR firm or consultant?”
Who do you think gets those tips—critics of the Society?
There’s no percentage at all in annoying national and lots to be gained by being pals with it.
Chapter leaders get almost everything from national and virtually nothing from their non-APR members. Is it any wonder who they look to for guidance?
Reformers Need Lists of Members
The reformers, who have only obtained 109 signatures after two weeks towards their goal of 5,000, need political whips in each chapter who will obtain membership lists, form pro-democracy committees, and educate members about the debacle that APR is.
Slogan should be “Free PRSA Elections This Summer.”
Free election supporters should raise funds and take ads in chapter websites; stage press conferences; gather statements by PR leaders; conduct chapter meetings on the issue, and send APR “white papers” to all the members by e-mail and regular mail.
Staff/leaders will try to block or limit discussion of the issue for the next four months just like they did with the bylaws re-write last year. The committee took its sweet time in unveiling its proposals and never once held an in-person discussion with a chapter.
Even if leaders are successful in blocking use of the “Leadership Rally” June 4-5 as an Assembly, one could easily be called in June or July since delegates can vote by proxy. No travel at all would be required.
APRs see such removal of the APR rule for office-holding as the end of APR and they’re right.
Almost no one takes this $385 process anymore. Only 900 new APRs of the Society have been created in the past six years or 150 each year. That is less than one per cent of the 17,000 eligibles.
The door has long been open as wide as possible. No amount of PR experience is required of applicants. There used to be a five-year minimum.
The multiple-choice, computer-corrected test is a travesty of what PR involves. There is no testing of writing skills or any chance to show creativity. At the “Readiness Review,” applicants show lots of work but who knows who did what? Also, local politics can affect whether someone passes the RR or not.
No media would ever hire a writer based on clips alone. There would be a “live” test and a deadline.
The term “PR” is hopelessly outdated in corporations and organizations. “Communications” has been the norm there since the 1970s. Agencies still use the term “PR.” But newer titles that bring job offers incorporate such terms as “interactivity,” “internet,” and “social media.” Accredited in Social Media is a designation that might have some traction in today’s market.
The Arthur W. Page Society lists 370 corporate and agency executives and none use the term “APR” although some have earned that. Same for the 170 executives in PR Seminar.
Only 51 of the 767 members of the New York chapter of the Society are APR or 6.6%.
'White Paper' on APR Needed
Non-APRs need to be educated on how wasteful the APRs have been with their money and how irrelevant it is to current PR professionalism.
The APR program, from 1986 to 2002, lost a total of $2,926,080. Expenses were $5,056,075. A big cost ($183,136 in 1999 and $207,147 in 2000) was having outsiders correct an afternoon of writing.
They had no knowledge of PR but graded the tests based on the use of “key words.”
Worst loss was in 2000 when total cost was $591,541 and the net cost per new APR was an astounding $1,794. Suppose this person then quit the Society? That would be a waste of $1,794.
Meanwhile, during this entire period, there was no “PR for PR” program. Of course not. There was only one full-time PR person on the staff (and sometimes not even one) from 1980 to 2000. Volunteers had no time to conduct such a program.
Non-APR political “whips” at chapters must circulate these and a host of other facts that will put the APR Sacred Cow out to pasture at long last.
We can help the Committee for a Democratic PRSA compile such a white paper if its leaders will let us.
We will point out how much better, operationally and ethically, the Society was run when major figures from major corporations and PR firms were the elected leaders.
The last PR dept. head from a blue-chip to head the Society was Joe Vecchione in 1994. He was VP-PR, Prudential.
Since then there has been a succession of volunteers who are either solo practitioners or in minor PR posts. They may mean well but they are breakfast for the staff that is now devouring 53.9% of revenues for pay/fringes ($5.36M). This should be about 35%, says the ASAE.
In the 1960s and 1970s the Society had such leaders as George Hammond and Kal Druck, both CEOs of large PR firms; Kerryn King, VP-PR, Texaco; Don McCammond, VP-PR of American Can; Jon Riffel, VP-PR, Pacific Gas & Electric, and Frank Wylie, VP-PR, Chrysler.
What PR Titans Would Not Have Allowed
Hammond, Druck, et al would not have allowed staff/leaders do such things as:
--Sell hundreds of thousands of copies of authors’ works without their permission and then refuse to talk to the authors once this was exposed.
--Toss hundreds of Silver Anvil entries during the 1980s because of violations of nit-picking rules such as one for a three-inch binder (“three-inch” binders are 3.5 inches on the outside which is how PRS measured them); entries fees were pocketed.
--Move h.q. downtown for 13 years with no warning to members or vote in the Assembly while leaving no midtown facility for New York members.
--Cancel the printed directory of members after 50 years with no warning or input from members or Assembly while refusing to provide a PDF of this or even say why they won’t.
--Stop publishing as of 2005 the transcript of Assemblies, again with no input from members or the Assembly.
--Stop publishing as of 2007 the list of Assembly delegates, also with no input from members or the Assembly.
--Removing this year the single list of contact points for chapter presidents, thus forcing members to download 110 chapter websites.
--Removing the names of all but seven of the 55 staffers from the Society website.
--Failing to put the 2009 annual financial report (operating loss of $453,569) in the press area of the website or even a story about it. Revenues in Q1 of 2010 are down 10.6% to $2,392,366.
--Blocking reporters from joining the Society and blocking PR trade press from advertising in Society media.
--Allowing COO Bill Murray to keep his contract secret until one year and 11 months later when IRS Form 990 becomes public.
--Suspending the spring Assembly in 1987 and replacing it in 1998 with a meeting of chapter-presidents elect who have no voting power and who receive $500 each to defray expenses.
--Having the national conference in Philadelphia twice and not once in New York.
--Skipping the spring board meeting to help defray the cost of the “Leadership Rally.”
We Know What George Would Do
We can’t imagine Hammond taking any orders from the staff or following any anti-communications suggestions of board members.
Wylie, 1978 president, gave this writer an award for being an “Outstanding Journalist” at the conference that year.
There were numerous controversial stories that we covered including his battle with Jim Fox for president-elect in 1974; the survey of members by John Sattler of Ford Motor Co. that found lots of fault with the Society and especially with the APR program, and the abortive attempt to have a staff “president.” Robert Carlson, Ph.D., resigned after a year.
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