Revolutionary WarThe 110 chapters of PR Society of America can take the bull by the horns by running the search for a new staff executive. The search committee should be ten chapter presidents.

The last search committee only came up with two recommendations to the board resulting in the selection of Bill Murray who has resigned as of June 1.

That committee (two academics, two assn. people, two counselors and one corporate exec) lacked even one chapter president. 

Now is the time to rectify that huge error, the time for chapters to take back the Society from the association people who dominate h.q. A chapter leader or leaders is needed. Who will step forward? 

Chapters showed they are not complete patsies when they rejected bylaw proposals in 2009 that would have made all national directors at large; would have put 25 appointed national committee heads in the Assembly as voting delegates; would have let the board expel any member “at its sole discretion,” and would have let the board create additional classes of Assembly delegates. 

Chapters Erased “Three-Year” Rule

Most importantly from a control standpoint, the aroused chapters erased the long-standing rule that no delegate could serve more than three years by an overwhelming 242-26 vote. Delegates said national had no right to tell chapters who they could send to represent them. The demand that all delegates be APR had been overthrown in 2004.

The three-year rule was stringently enforced. The aim was to keep the Assembly well-stocked with neophytes who were not likely to make any waves. Delegates were awe-struck at being in the nearly 300-member group for the first two years and by the third year were on their way out. In any case, they were sitting with a bunch of raw recruits. It was a prescription for being herded like sheep.

Chapter Presidents Were Sent Blogs

We are e-mailing the chapter presidents our blogs on the resignation of Murray including the original blog of March 10 that gave possible reasons for his resignation; the March 12 blog on Murray’s appointment by the National Coffee Assn., and the March 17 blog on the need for a search committee run by the chapters.

These blogs have been changed as directed by chair Joe Cohen and VP-PR Stephanie Cegielski. We have asked if they have any further objections to what we have written but no further suggestions have been received.

More than 50 Society chapter presidents have individually been sent the O’Dwyer blogs and no chapter president has e-mailed back asking us not to contact them. One chapter president e-mailed Cegielski saying she did not want to hear from us. That person will not be sent any more communications. Our return address is on every e-mail, making reply a matter of one keystroke.

Reforms Are Needed

Reforms that we recommend are as follows. Our advice is based on 46 years of close coverage of the Society. We have seen it go from a friendly institution in the 1960s-70s that welcomed reporters to its midtown offices and named them as Silver Anvil judges to one that has barred reporters from its Assembly the past three years.

Society h.q. now is like an armed fortress based downtown.

Society presidents used to address the New York chapter at the final meeting each year. The chapter stopped having monthly lunches at least 25 years ago. National now ought to host the lunch and present the elected head to the chapter membership for questioning. Elected leaders/staff are in hiding.

1. Staff culture must be changed from association/legal to PR.

2. The new staff executive must be an executive director and not CEO or president. Those titles belong with the elected Member. The new exec must be a career PR person.

3. The board must report to the Assembly and not vice versa, a reform attempted by Central Michigan in 2006, which used the AMA and ABA as examples.

4. The Society, which has a bulging treasury of $5 million+, should open a midtown facility.

5. Tactics & Strategist should be converted to online only, a step taken by most groups including IABC. Partial conversion is underway for all new members.

6. The directory of members, the most valuable single service to members, which was taken from them in 2005 without a vote or discussion in the Assembly, must be returned as a PDF.

7. Reporters should be able to join as members with full access to all areas of the Society website including financial reports.

8. All types of legal threats to members must cease including those affecting member use of the Society website and database. The Society should not monitor member usage.

9. The annual June weekend in New York for chapter presidents, sections and district heads, who get $550 stipends, should be converted to an Assembly.

10. APR must be removed as a condition for running for national office. Chapters must take steps to insure the Assembly has no more than 18% of members who are APR, mirroring the extent of APRs among the membership.

These and other needed reforms are covered in this directory.

Abuses Will Continue Without Action

If chapter presidents don’t assert themselves, the search committee of the current leadership will almost certainly pick another executive who is not a member of the Society nor even a PR person and who marches to an association or legal set of drums.

Staff will be well over 90% non-PR people.  The appointee, when picked, lasts a long time because leadership does not want to go through another search process. Betsy Kovacs was COO from 1980-93; Ray Gaulke from 1994-2000, and Murray from 2007 to mid-2014.

The only PR careerist in the COO post was Cathy Bolton who served from 2001 to 2006. She had been hired as “chief PR officer” in September 2000 but was quickly recruited as COO when Gaulke suddenly resigned at the end of 2000 although he had four years to go on his contract.