Violations of New York State Antitrust Law by PR Society of America, including interference with competition and enforcing press boycotts, have been brought to the attention of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
The AG’s website says business people and others who have evidence of competition restricting activities and boycotts should “immediately contact” the AG.
Stephanie Cegielski, VP-PR of the Society, e-mailed this reporter Aug. 11 that “PRSA,” apparently meaning the board, “has rejected your request for a booth” at the annual conference Oct. 11-14 in Washington, D.C., and that Cegielski herself “will not be granting you press credentials.”
This would make the fourth year in a row that O’Dwyer staffers have been banned from the exhibit hall and all programs at the convention with the exception of attendance that was allowed at the 2010 Assembly in D.C. Competing news media including PR Week/US, PR News and Bulldog Reporter are regularly given credentials.
The 2010 Assembly, showing its anti-competitive colors, voted down in 20 minutes a proposal by the Committee for a Democratic PRSA that would have allowed non-Accredited members to run for national office for the first time since the 1970s.
A “flash mob” of about 20 delegates attacked this reporter at the Assembly while we were trying to interview New York delegate Art Stevens on the defeat of the proposal. Pens were thrust into our hands to signify we were mentally deranged by delegates who then ran away.
Reform-minded members have been trying since 1999 to erase the APR rule that blocks more than 80% of the members from running for national office. The Assembly, which is about 70% APR, easily defeats efforts to open competition.
Booth Sought for Six O’Dwyer Products
An exhibit hall booth, costing $2,700, would have placed before the expected attendance of 3,000 (including 1,000 students) the six O’Dwyer news and informational products—website; weekly online and printed NL; monthly magazine; Directory of PR Firms; PR Buyer’s Guide and O’Dwyer’s PR Library both physical and online.
No reason for rejection of the O’Dwyer Co.’s request for a booth was supplied by Cegielski.
The O’Dwyer Co. competes for ads and sponsorships with Society’s Tactics and Strategist publications.
Competitors such as PR Week/US and PR News have taken booths at the conference. Sponsors this year include Cision, whose services include coverage of news; Associated Press; BusinessWire; Gorkana; Vocus, and PR Newswire.
All are “Gold” ($20,000) sponsors of the 2014 conference and are engaged in the dissemination of news and information.
Society Has Anti-Competitive History
Besides blocking more than 80% of members from national office for 40 years, the Society from 1954 to 1977 had two anti-competitive articles in its “Code of Ethics” that were forcibly removed by the Federal Trade Commission.
Two staffers of the FTC went to Society h.q. in the fall of 1976 and said the articles, barring pitches to accounts already handled by members and barring contingency fees, should be removed. Leaders bucked the request to the 1976 Assembly which debated it for two hours and tabled it, saying “open warfare” would result if members could pitch each other’s accounts. It was O.K. to pitch non-members’ accounts.
The Society was then forced to sign a consent decree directing that the articles be removed and was forced to publicize the decision nationally. Supposedly it agreed to refrain from any anti-competitive behavior in the future.
NPC, Senator Krueger Scold PRSA
The National Press Club and New York State Senator Liz Krueger have asked the Society to stop boycotting the O’Dwyer Co. but they have been ignored.
AG Schneiderman takes a strong stand against any activities that limit competition in the state. His office believes that “vigorous enforcement of antitrust laws assures businesses of the ability to compete in an open marketplace…”
The AG website provides complaint forms, including a specific form for the Antitrust Bureau. Complaints can be made by phone, fax, e-mail and the AG’s website. The New York office is at 120 Broadway.
As part of an investigation into the Society, including whether it is living up to its state charter that says it’s supposed to represent the entire industry, and not just members, and is supposed to reflect well on the industry it represents, the AG’s office should look into Society policies that slight New York.
It has had only one national conference in New York since 1992 (2004) and there are no plans to hold such conferences in the city in the future even though the PR, media, advertising and other audiences in the city far exceed such audiences in other cities.
The Society is returning to D.C. this year although it just had the conference there in 2010. Leaders say NYC is expensive but so is D.C. An unnecessary expense for the nearly 300 Assembly delegates is having the Assembly on a Saturday morning, requiring two extra hotel days for the delegates. It should be on the Monday afternoon, copying the policy of the Int’l Assn. of Business Communicators.
NY Chapter Bars Reporters
The AG’s office should also look at the New York chapter of the Society which is conducting an “ethics” program Sept. 8 but has barred reporters from attending.
Chapter president Henry Feintuch says reporters can view the session via the web. Any reporters who try to attend will be turned away by “security,” he said.
Reporters were also banned from a “Career Day” at New York University April 2, 2013 although coverage of similar events at two other colleges, hosted by the Council of PR Firms, was allowed. National VP-PR Arthur Yann stationed himself at the door of the NYU building make sure no reporters entered.
If an AG staff member can come to O’Dwyer offices, we can supply documentation of the Society’s many anti-competitive policies and practices.