This is an opinion by Jack O'Dwyer. Bill Murray, whose seven years at PRSA were marred by anti-press, anti-communications, anti-New York and anti-democratic policies and practices, has resigned, a move we believe was forced on him.
The Society announced Murray’s resignation late Friday afternoon, March 7, Friday being the dumping ground for news that people want buried. The O’Dwyer website posted the story at 4:14 p.m.
The release gave no reason for the sudden exiting from a contract that ran to Dec. 31, 2014 except that Murray has decided that “the time has come for me to leave PRSA and pursue new opportunities and challenges.”
Stephanie Cegielski, VP-PR of the Society, initially said on March 8-9 that Murray has a new job at a non-profit organization but refused to identify it. She further said, in reply to questions, that Murray’s only payout will be accrued vacation days. There is “no buyout, no severance, nothing,” she said in an e-mail. Murray is being paid through the last day that he works.
The National Coffee Assn. announced on Monday, March 10 that Murray would join it June 1 as president and CEO.
NCA's 2012 revenues were $2,404,371 which is less than one-quarter of the 2012 revenues of the Society, which were $11,083,420. Eight staff members are listed on the current website of NCA including Willard "Dub" Hay as interim president/CEO. The Society's 990 indicated 60 employees in 2012. Hay is described as "Senior VP of Global Coffee Authority at Starbucks until November, 2012."
Previous NCA president/CEO, as of Nov. 13, 2013, was Robert F. Nelson. His current status is being sought.
Former Society associate director of PR Joseph DeRupo, who was at the Society from September 2007 until 2009, returned to NCA where he is now director, external member relations and communications.
NCA is located at 45 Broadway, a downtown office a short distance from the Society's office at 33 Maiden lane.
We told Murray in e-mails that we believe he was canned and this was answered with threats of legal action if we report he was dismissed rather than left “voluntarily.”
We are not reporting as a fact that he was fired. That is our opinion. It is not subject to legal action unless it can be shown that such an opinion was based on “reckless disregard of facts.”
Dismal Membership, Financial Totals
The Court of Public Opinion has cost Murray his job. He and recent boards have never shown anything but contempt for this Court and it has come back to assert its dominance. People do not like to be held in contempt. They want to be listened to. They expect reasonable behavior from institutions and individuals.
The claim by 2014 chair Joe Cohen that Murray has done “an excellent job in providing leadership for our organization” is belied by financial and membership stats. Cohen has told this reporter in e-mails that Murray's departure is "voluntary."
Members totaled 20,266 in 2000 and currently stand at 22,021, a gain of 1,755 in 14 years. That is pitiful growth in a period when PR employment has soared to 270,000, a statement made by 2012 chair Gerry Corbett. He sadly noted that only 8% are Society members.
Journalists, hit with declining ads and declining readership, are flooding into PR, particularly on the agency side, as documented by the O'Dwyer website.
The Counselors Academy of the Society has shriveled as many of the biggest players went to the Council of PR Firms.
Revenues in 2006 were $11,426,867. Six years later, in 2012, they were less than that--$11,083,420. There was a $30 dues increase in 2011. Neither membership nor revenues have grown under Murray.
Hidden Pay Was Scandalous
The scandalous hiding of Murray’s 2012 bonus of $61,222 may have toppled him. A printed copy of the 55-page IRS Form 990 containing this information was delivered to the O’Dwyer offices on Nov. 4, long after the Oct. 26, 2013 Assembly. Final deadline for this IRS form is Nov. 15. Early deadline is May 15. Murray’s total 2012 package was $423,647.
The 990 we received was marked “Draft” and had no date on it.
The reason it had no date was because it was filed at the IRS on July 17, 2013, a fact we verified by obtaining the official copy from the IRS. That took a month. The Society did not want us or anyone to see that date.
Cegielski’s explanation was that the July 17 filing was a mistake by a clerk at PKF O’Connor Davies, the Society’s auditor. The clerk was not supposed to do this. The Society did not seek any change in the filing because no changes were necessary, Cegielski also said.
Bonus Was Concealed
The net nut is that the Society sat on Murray’s bonus for more than four months, depriving the PR press and the Assembly of this knowledge. The bonus was not discussed by the 2013 Assembly and it should have been.
Cegielski, asked about the bonus, said Murray has fulfilled certain terms in his contract. The LinkedIn entry for Murray, who joined the Society in January, 2007, says “Collectively, my leadership resulted in PRSA meeting or exceeding financial goals for every year of my tenure, including thru the Great Recession.”
If membership is stagnant and total revenues are below when Murray arrived, it raises the question of just what were those “financial goals” that Murray exceeded?
Net assets rose to $4,153,951 as of Dec. 31, 2012 from $2,826,525 at the end of 2006. That might be the basis for the bonus. However, the Society, in violation of section 958-605-25-1 of the Financial Accounting Standards Board, books dues as cash upon receipt when FASB as well as common sense calls for revenue to be booked as earned. This would cut net assets by about $2.5 million.
Starbucks Link May Have Been Fatal
A more recent possible cause of the demise of Murray is the Society’s choice of James Olson, VP-global corporate communications and Americas PA of Starbucks, as co-chair of the Oct. 11-14 annual conference in Washington, D.C.
The culture of Starbucks, which holds out its facilities as a place for “civil discourse and debate,” whose heart and soul is politeness, good manners, courtesy and caring, and which describes itself as a “company with a conscience,” is the polar opposite of that exhibited by the Society.
The Society shows a harsh, legally-oriented face to the public and its members. As indicated by the last minute filing of its tax return, it does what is legally required and nothing more. Legal bills totaled $582,608 in the latest available nine years. Only a few thousand is ever spent on “ethics,” supposedly the main concern of members.
Starbucks PR people are no great fans of the Society. Only two are members—Olson and VP Valerie O’Neil.
The Assembly is regularly told that state and federal laws “trump” the bylaws of the Society, leaving the delegates in legal never-never land. What the leaders mean is that state and federal laws are what they interpret them to mean. Delegates need their own lawyer to make their own interpretations.
Robert’s Rules, for instance, say the adoption of RR satisfies any state requirement for a rule against proxies. The Society, ignoring this, allowed 56 proxy votes at the 2009 Assembly to vote in the use of proxies.
Assembly mornings are taken up with leader speeches despite repeated demands that they be e-mailed in advance to the delegates and the mornings be spent in open discussion.
Lawyers for the Society, sitting on the stage with officers and staff, admonish the delegates “never” to tell the board what to do. The Society’s governance is opposite to that of the American Medical Assn. and American Bar Assn. whose Houses of Delegates tell the board what to do. An attempt in 2006 to model the Assembly after those boards was defeated.
Auburn “Interview” Set Tone of Murray
Murray’s command and control approach was evident from the beginning. He agreed to be questioned by students of Auburn University on Jan. 29, 2007. But then he demanded that all questions be submitted in advance and that only Prof. Robert French could ask them.
The students were astounded not only at such rules but that Murray was not even a member of the Society. They said he “danced around” the questions and “didn’t know jack” about PR. That was the first and last time we ever knew Murray to take questions in a public forum other than the Assembly.
Numerous Reforms Needed
The departure of Murray is a signal for members to take control of their Society again, installing numerous PR people at h.q.; getting back the printed directory of members and putting Tactics and Strategist online; scheduling most or all annual meetings in New York; installing e-mail voting using the secure Condorcet system; putting teeth back into the Ethics Code; removing APR from the bylaws; using its $5 million+ in cash and stock to open a midtown facility, etc.
The O’Dwyer Co. will offer its midtown offices to members who want to discuss these and other reforms. The chances of either national or the New York chapter providing such a forum are non-existent. Discussion-stifling tactics are rampant not only in the Assembly but in the “teleconferences” which are mostly held in “listen-only” mode.