“Decoupling” accreditation from national board posts of PR Society of America was the chief topic at the Town Hall of the Assembly Oct. 26 but suggestions to end the grip of the APRs on office-holding went nowhere.
Delegates, about 70% of whom are APR, rejected any move to open offices to non-APRs even though they had just heard consultant Laura Freebairn-Smith say that APR had little impact in the job market, the Universal Accreditation Board lacked independence (the PR Society controls a majority of the seats), and “monitoring and enforcement of ethical standards are weak.”
The number of PR Society members who have obtained their APRs in the past ten years is half of what it was in the previous ten. Non-APRs have not been able to run for national office since the mid-1970s.
PRSA educators (clockwise from top left) Don Wright, Boston Univ.; Maria Russell, Syracuse Univ.; Tina McCorkindale, Appalachian State Univ., and Bey-Ling Sha, San Diego State Univ.
PR educators have become the dominant factor in Society affairs in the past two decades and they are ill-disposed to give up the one national credential for PR even though no government body nor anyone but PR people themselves are providing the credential.
Schools Take 17 Ads, Booths
The economic clout of the educator segment was evident at the 2013 conference.
Schools advertising undergraduate and post-graduate study of PR and communications were the biggest single category of ads in the conference program.
Seven schools took full page ads: Temple, Bowling Green, Ball State, Johns Hopkins, S.I. Newhouse and George Washington.
Ten other schools either had booths or were sponsors—Drexel, Missouri School of Journalism, NYU, Quinnipiac, Rowan, Rutgers, Hofstra, University of Florida, West Virginia and Wilmington.
PR professors made up by far the largest single class of attendees—about 250 of the 1,350 on a list distributed by e-mail several days before the conference.
Nearly 40 professors conducted more than 40 of the breakout sessions at the conference. Some conducted more than one session.
Profs Must “Publish or Perish”
PR professors prize the Society because it has three avenues that can carry articles—the monthly Tactics, the quarterly Strategist, and the online PR Journal supervised by Prof. Donald Wright of Boston University.
Other PR academics occupy key posts at the Society including Prof. Deborah Silverman of SUNY Buffalo State, who is chair of the Board of Ethics & Professional Standards, and Bey-Ling Sha of San Diego State University, who is vice-chair of the Universal Accreditation Board.
Susan Barnes, chair of UAB, previously was at Belmont University, Nashville, but her current listing on the Society website shows no affiliation.
Another academic playing a major role at the Society is Prof. Maria Russell of the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. She is chair of the College of Fellows.
PR Professors are co-chairs of the research committee—Prof. Tina McCorkindale of Appalachian State University, who is also chair of the Educators Academy, and Prof. Marcia DiStaso of Penn State University.
PR profs have fought “decoupling” since it was first proposed by the 1999 Strategic Planning Committee headed by Steve Pisinski. The unanimous proposal of the SPC was that APR be completely removed from the bylaws. PR profs and others blocked the proposal from getting to the floor of the Assembly for several years but in 2004 allowed Assembly delegates to be non-APR. The main reason for the reform was that more than 25 chapters were not sending anyone to the Assembly or conference because APRs were so scarce. This was hurting the Society in the pocketbook.
APR Study Was Costly
The APR study conducted by Freebairn-Smith was costly, based on the nine-months financial report of the Society.
“Professional fees” shot up 70% to $497,194 from $284,620, a gain of $212,574.
Freebairn-Smith and members of her firm interviewed 750 members and non-members over a period of several months.
PRSA VP-PR Stephanie Cegielski with Jack O'Dwyer
Photos: Sharlene Spingler
She was given a conflicting mandate, told to have “no reservations” in what she could recommend and that the charge to her was “open-ended.”
However, chair Mickey Nall also told her that “abandoning APR is not an option.” Participants in the survey were asked to vote on several issues but not whether APR should be divorced from office-holding or dropped entirely.
PRSA Was Cold; Marriott Was Warm
The PR Society continued its anti-competitive moves against the O’Dwyer Co., barring O’Dwyer staffers from all events including the Assembly, exhibit hall, opening night reception and all the general and breakout sessions.
O’Dwyer reporters were not allowed on the fourth floor where the exhibits were nor the fifth floor, where the general sessions took place. The Society had rented not only the rooms, but all the hallways leading to the rooms, it was explained.
However, the attitude of the security staff of the Philadelphia Downtown Marriott to O’Dwyer staffers was the polar opposite of the attitude of the security staff to O’Dwyer staffers at the San Francisco Marriott last year.
S.F. security, following requests by the Society, had told O’Dwyer staffers not to speak to anyone anywhere, including the lobby, nor hand out anything to anyone, nor display any O’Dwyer products.
The registration desk in Philadelphia was approached by O’Dwyer staffers to see if “credentialing” had been granted.
VP-PR Stephanie Cegielski appeared, said it had not been and asked us to go back to the lobby. Several hotel security witnessed this confrontation.
Cegielski also accused the O’Dwyer website of incorrectly reporting the nine months financials of the Society which showed an operating loss of $466,869. She was asked to show what the alleged errors were but declined, saying she would take up that matter at a future date.
She refused to provide the cost of the Freebairn-Smith survey, saying it would be in the audit next year.
O’Dwyer “Press Facility” Allowed
Marriott furnished a work space for O'Dwyer's in the lobby.
Hotel managers said that anyone is welcome in the hotel, including those who are not staying in the hotel, as long as they do not create a “disturbance.”
Hotel managers and security listened politely while this reporter showed them the 60-page October issue of O’Dwyer’s magazine and explained that the Society was engaged in blocking competition and blocking the free flow of information by not allowing O’Dwyer staffers into the exhibit hall.
We explained that the January O’Dwyer’s is also a PR Buyer’s Guide listing nearly 200 service companies. Exhibitors were deprived of the opportunity to meet O’Dwyer editors and propose stories for that issue.
O’Dwyer staffers set up “mini-press facility” in the middle of the lobby at the entrance to the main dining room and in front of the escalators that were used by attendees on their way to events.
Numerous Society members visited us and gave us information on the Assembly and the meetings.
Hotel security, unlike last year, did not mind O’Dwyer staffers taking pictures, talking to people or distributing literature.
Bill Huey (Oct. 30, 2013): As the barnacles continue to accumulate on PRSA and its flaccid APR credentialing process, one wonders if the market is preparing itself for a new kind of membership organization for communication professionals, a kind of AMA or ABA of communication.