Editorial: Bill Murray, who has resigned as CEO of PR Society of America with nine months to go on his contract, is joining a much smaller organization.

Murray as of June 1 will be president/CEO of the National Coffee Assn., an organization with less than one-quarter of the Society’s revenues ($2.4 million in 2012 vs. $11M).

Staff is eight vs. a staff of nearly 60 at the Society. Murray’s pay in 2012 included salary of $308,765, bonus of $61,222, and nontaxable benefits of $53,660 for a total of $423,647.

Robert Nelson, who was president/CEO of NCA for 16 years until he resigned as of Dec. 1, 2013, had a salary of $250,675 and “other compensation” of $54,918 in 2012.

Hay, Nelson
Dub Hay, Robert Nelson

Murray and Society chair Joe Cohen have told us that Murray’s departure from the Society was a “voluntary” act and “not compelled” by the Society. We did not say that the Society's leadership had anything to do with Murray's departure.

However, no one can blame us for wondering why Murray would go to a much smaller association and apparently at lower pay after being given the top title of his current association (CEO) only last October, a historic first for the paid executive of the Society.

Joseph DeRupo, who was associate PR director of the Society from 2007-2010 and who has returned to NCA as director, external member relations and communications, said that CEO Update posted the NCA job on its website and in its NL late last year and that Murray apparently saw the listing.

The job was not posted by NCA, DeRupo said.

Why Did Murray Ditch the Society?

Murray is saying that he left the Society entirely of his own volition to “pursue a new leadership opportunity outside the communications profession.”

If that is so he is confessing that he took the CEO’s title of the Society while planning to leave it, an act of disloyalty that has left it without a CEO, president or COO. Society staff is short-staffed now on two counts because of the sudden death last June 13 of Society VP-PR Arthur Yann.

The weight of carrying out Society PR has now fallen on Stephanie Cegielski, a 2006 University of Denver law school grad who joined the Society in August 2012 and who was promoted to VP-PR following the death of Arthur Yann June 13, 2013 after a brief job search.

Cegielski describes the PR staff of the Society as herself as VP of PR; an associate director of PR filling Cegielski’s previous position, whom she will not identify; PR manager Mottola, and a PR associate who is not identified.

DeRupo
DeRupo

Murray’s sudden departure will leave the Society in the PR lurch. It should have numerous PR careerists instead of two senior PR people and two who apparently are juniors.

Was Murray thinking of what was good for him or what was good for the Society?

Our Take: He Was Pushed

Looking at the pressures Murray was under, which we believe includes pressures from members who are dissatisfied with the Society’s emphasis on what is legal as opposed to what is right, we conclude that such pressures may have led him to quit. No one quits a job they are happy with for what is probably a lower salary. The Society's emphasis on what is legal is indicated by the total of $582,608 it has spent on legal advice in the past nine available years ($69,608 average).

One source of pressure may have come from Starbucks. The Society has named James Olson, VP-CC of Starbucks, as co-chair of the 2014 conference in D.C. The caring, courteous, non-confrontational, supportive, community-oriented culture of Starbucks, which holds out its facilities as places for “civil discourse and debate,” is the opposite of the culture of the Society, which discourages discussion on many fronts. It has a formal boycott against O’Dwyer reporters that was condemned by 2011 National Press Club President Mark Hamrick, an AP business reporter.

Willard "Dub" Hay, former senior VP of Global Coffee Authority at Starbucks until his retirement in November, 2012, has been serving as interim president/CEO of NCA.

We don’t think Starbucks wants to be within ten miles of a press boycott.

Coffee, by the way, is a hot topic in marketing circles. Starbucks, McDonald's and others are battling to position coffee as a drink that connotes a higher social status. McDonald's has opened McCafes and is keeping many of its facilities open 24 hours. McDonald's with sales of clost to $30 billion, is about twice the size of Starbucks. The New York Post  on March 10 did an extensive feature on the coffee wars.

[Link: NY Post - Why does this coffee taste $10? - March 10, 2014]

The Assembly, for example, on the one day a year that it meets, often loses most or all of the morning to speeches by leaders and staff despite repeated requests that such texts be e-mailed to delegates in advance. “Teleconferences” are often in listen-only mode. No Society leader has addressed the New York chapter in more than 20 years. Rank-and-file members don’t know who is in the Assembly (national list), what delegates say, or how they vote. All reporters are currently banned from the Assembly on the ground that it’s “inside baseball” stuff that concerns only members (quote from the late Art Yann).

Were Murray completely comfortable with his sudden departure from the Society, he would present himself to members and the press for questioning. There seems to be no chance this will happen.

Absent Murray, Cohen should do that for the Society’s biggest chapter, New York. Cohen’s office is on 23rd St. He is the first New Yorker to head the Society since Kathy Lewton in 2001. The trade and general press, supposedly one of the concerns of PR people, get the back of the hand from the Society.

This is the latest chapter.