PR Society of America, after welcoming Jack O'Dwyer as a new member April 3, accepting a $440 credit card payment via its website, then cancelled the membership.
“Dear Jack, we are pleased to welcome you to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), a vibrant community of more than 21,000 public relations professionals committed to helping you achieve your goals,” said an e-mail from the automated member application process.
We were told that in the coming weeks we would get a membership card and electronic copies of PR Tactics and Strategist (hard copies are now only for previous members).
However, when we went to search something in the members’ area of the Society website on April 4, a message came up saying “Your log-in appears to be pending evaluation or has been disabled.”
VP-PR Stephanie Cegielski told us via e-mail that we had failed to meet the requirements for membership which call for PR to be a “significant function” of my position.
Society Website Lists Required Duties
The Society website calls for no such thing. New members, it says, are “eligible” if they spend “a substantial portion of your time in one or more of the designated practice areas below.”
Financial communications / investor relations
Institutional / corporate advertising
Public relations counseling
Public relations management and administration
Public relations teaching
[Red has been added to three areas by this website]
We e-mailed Cegielski and Society chair Joe Cohen that we do all the “employee relations” at the O’Dwyer Co., all of the “media relations” about half of the “marketing communications.” We work on and direct much of the research, which includes the biggest annual research project in the PR industry -- gathering up-to-date facts about more than 1,600 PR firms nationwide and ranking (this year) 129 firms according to net fee income and number of employees.
The O’Dwyer Co. is the only one basing rankings on tax documents such as top pages of income tax returns and W-3s and requiring account lists.
If that isn’t research, we don’t know what is.
Legal Route Would Be Tough; Not So PR
Lawyers said that forcing the Society to accept our membership would be a difficult and costly route since private membership organizations can “discriminate in any way they wish as long as it is not based on race or religion.”
Societies can exercise their “freedom of association” and can exclude certain individuals, lawyers said.
Told that the inability of O’Dwyer reporters to cover the past four annual meetings of the Society, including the Assembly, exhibit hall and all the plenary sessions, is harmful to the O’Dwyer business, lawyers said we would have to prove the extent of the alleged financial harm.
“It appears they don’t want you personally in the Society and are focusing on narrow aspects of their rules to keep you out,” said one lawyer.
Exactly, we responded.
Take This Public, They Say
A better route, they said, would be to launch a campaign like that of women who were barred from membership in the Augusta National Golf Club, host of the Masters Golf Tournament that starts Thursday.
Martha Burk, then chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, led the battle for female membership in the Club starting in 2002.
As a result of death threats she received, she hired bodyguards and wore a bulletproof vest when she led a demonstration against the no-women policy of the Club. “I got a lot of death threats,” Burk told media.
The Club finally responded to the campaign in 2012 by admitting as members former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina businesswoman Darla Moore.
NOW’s campaign to force acceptance of women as members targeted the sponsors of the Masters, CBS which carries the event, and the PGA Tour which supposedly barred courses with discriminatory membership practices from hosting its tournaments.
A key factor in 2012, according to numerous media following the story, was the appointment of Virginia Rometty as the first female CEO of IBM, one of the three principal sponsors of The Masters. The previous four IBM CEOs were members of Augusta.
O’Dwyer Targets Journalists, Exhibitors
Taking a page from NOW’s ultimately successful approach, we are attempting to line up as many supporters as we can for full membership in the PR Society.
A prime audience is the sponsors of the Society’s national conference in D.C. Oct. 11-14 where we again face a barricade to all events.
E-mails, regular mail, a UPS package and phone calls have been made to Gary Pruitt, who became president and CEO of the AP in 2012. AP offices are at 450 W. 33rd st.
AP is a “gold” $30,000 sponsor of the conference and we wonder how one of the world’s leading newsgathering organizations (3,400 employees and revenues of more than $600 million) can be involved with an event marred by a press boycott. All reporters have been barred for the past four years from the PR Society’s Assembly, the legislative body of the group.
So far there is no response from Pruitt, a lawyer who was involved in administrative matters for The McClatchy Co. It is the third largest newspaper company with circulation of two million daily and 2.8 million on Sundays. Pruitt was general counsel of McClatchy from 1984-1991. He has been VP of operations and technology, overseeing corporate legal and directing the firm’s online strategy.
AP Biz Editor Supported O’Dwyer
We’re hopeful of support from the AP because AP’s longtime business editor, Mark Hamrick, chastised the PR Society in 2011 for having the press boycott. He was president of the National Press Club that year, the world’s largest press organization with more than 3,000 members. Hamrick’s letter, sent to 390 major media, said the Society’s boycott against the O’Dwyer Co. was a violation of freedom of the press.
Hamrick was with AP from 1987 to 2012 when he joined Bankrate as its D.C. bureau chief. He joined AP in 1986 as news anchor and correspondent, AP. He then served in the same titles for AP Broadcast from 1987-94. He was business editor, reporter and producer for the AP from 1994 to December 2012 when he joined Bankrate, which covers regulation, the economy, and finances of consumers.
Support is being sought from 2014 NPC president Myron Belkind, a journalism lecturer at George Washington University since 2005 after 40 years as an international reporter. He was an AP foreign correspondent and bureau chief, heading bureaus in Kuala Lumpur, New Delhi, London and Tokyo.
Society Sponsors Being Contacted
Other sponsors of the 2014 Society conference as announced on its website include other Gold sponsors BusinessWire, Cision, PR Newswire, Vocus and IMC.
Silver sponsors thus far include Johns Hopkins University, Ball State University, News Generation, Quinnipiac University, Weber Shandwick and West Virginia University. Support is being sought from all of them.
Institutions Slow to Change
As indicated by the 10-year struggle of NOW and other women’s groups to break the anti-female rules of the Augusta Golf Club, getting institutions to change their ways is a long and often arduous path but it must be pursued if the goal is to be obtained.
Standing on the sidelines for all those years was the PGA itself, CBS, IBM, General Motors and other major companies.