The fight over mandatory APR for PRSA board service, called "decoupling," has been waged since it was first proposed in 1999.

The Society’s first Strategic Planning Committee, headed by president-elect Steve Pisinski, unanimously recommended that APR be removed as a requirement for any national board or committee service.

This included not only the national board but the nominating committee and Ethics Board.

Sam Waltz, 1999 president, who has posted numerous e-mails in recent days against any change in the APR rule, announced immediately that the board would fight the recommendation.

Waltz instituted the first boycott against the O'Dwyer Co. in 1999. No claims were made of inaccuracies in O’Dwyer stories. Instead, Waltz claimed our questions were taking "too much time" of staffers.

There were at least a half dozen hot issues that year that leaders did not want to discuss. These included:

• Revelation of a three-year PRSA-funded poll of 2,500 Americans that ranked “PR specialist” 43rd in believability on a list of 45 types of public figures.

• A two-year study by the College of Fellows of 16 PR recruiters that found APR had little impact in the job market.

• Widely publicized charges that treasurer Lee Duffey’s firm had use “front groups” in attacking the EIFS form of construction. This led to the nomcom skipping Duffey as chair-elect and giving the nomination to non-board member Kathy Lewton, a first.

• A ten-year study of Society financial reports by the O’Dwyer Co. found numerous irregularities and questionable practices. These included the way deferred dues were handled and skyrocketing “travel/meals/hotels” costs (from $161,859 in 1987 or 4% of revenues, to $665, 692 in 1990 or 12.6% of revenues).

• A member filed a grievance against the entire board, saying it broke five articles of the Code of Ethics in instituting a press boycott.

• Faced with the prospect of hauling not only Duffey but the board before “judicial panels,” Ethics Board chair Bob Frause declared the EB inoperable, “powerless and unable to do justice to the spirit of the Society Code.” The board suspended enforcement of the Code and spent $196,000 and two years writing a code with no enforcement clauses.

Waltz sent this statement to O'Dwyer's today:

"As PRSA’s president in 1999, I didn’t start out with some kind of policy outcome in mind, and I never announced – using your words – that PRSA’s Board would fight the Pisinski group’s recommendation. Steve Pisinski was my closest advisor on the Board during my tenure, and I respected his counsel enormously.

Rather, as a president, I simply helped bring Steve’s proposal before the Board, where the Board members of the day looked at it, discussed it, debated and deliberated on it.

Most Boards have benefitted from the presence of 1 or 2 Board members grounded deeply in the UAB / APR process, and my 1999 Board was no exception, and my guess is that a lot of the leadership and discussion on the issue was led by them, although I don’t recall the details now more than a decade later.

But, it’s patently false for you to claim – as you do – that I ever would have announced a Board intent to fight it, because that simply never happened, and I’ll ask Art Stevens to corroborate that, since he was there."

Hinckley Headed PR Study

The $150,000 believability study was conducted by a team headed by Ronald Hinckley, Ph.D., former research head of the U.S. Information Agency. Members included Robert Shapiro, Ph.D., political science professor at Columbia, and Jonathan Bargh, New York University psychologist.

Eighty-four percent of members agree that "any member" should be able to run for the board of PRSA.
Funds came from the Society Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, which took part when a segment on views of minorities was included.
The top six most believable public figures, according to the study, were a Supreme Court justice, teachers, “national experts,” members of the armed forces, “local business owner,” and “ordinary citizen.”

At the bottom three were “PR specialist,” “famous entertainer,” and “TV or radio talk show host.”

The Society Foundation was so embarrassed by the results that it released them just before the Fourth of July holiday without benefit of a press conference. The results were announced at Rockefeller Foundation offices at RF’s regular quarterly board meeting. This reporter was not invited.

The Society’s PR Tactics gave the study brief mention on an inside page that failed to carry the table or even report the low standing of PR specialists. Neither PR Newswire nor Business Wire was used to announce the results.

Duffey fought for chair-elect but lost and Joann Killeen defeated non-board member Michael McDermott who had been nominated for treasurer.
Killeen, who found taxes were not being paid properly on unrelated business income, led the Society in reporting a $1.1 million loss for 2000-2001 to “clean up the books.”

PR Execs Denounced the Boycott

The board’s vote to boycott the O'Dwyer Co. was said to violate Code Article 1 ("act in accord with the public interest"); 3 (deal "fairly" with the public and "give due respect to the ideal of free inquiry and the opinions of others”); 6 (do not “corrupt the integrity of the channels of communication"); 15 (report Code violations "promptly," and 17, "sever relationships" with any organization if such relationships require conduct contrary to the Code.")

The Waltz board refused comment on the charges.

Numerous PR executives denounced the boycott.

Stan Sauerhaft, vice chairman of Burson-Marsteller and a Society Fellow, said it is "wrong to boycott an uncomfortable media investigation" or "cower behind closed doors." He called on the College of Fellows to make a strong statement but chair Joan Capelin refused.

Al Croft's "Management Strategies for PR Firms" said: "Published and individual outcry against this dumb move has been heavy … PR pros don't advise clients to boycott critical editors and for the PR profession's elected leaders to commit such a half-witted move sets a horrendous example."

The 2000 board, headed by Pisinski, lifted the O’Dwyer boycott at its first meeting. Pisinski allowed this reporter to sit in the front row of the 2000 Assembly.

O'Dwyer in Roped-Off Area at Assembly

This followed a year when the Waltz board placed this reporter in a small roped off area at the rear of the Assembly with a guard standing nearby who had orders to eject us for the rest of the day if we dared move outside the rope.

Several members joined us in the roped-off area including 1978 president Frank Wylie and 1997 president Debra Miller.

The Waltz board refused to publish the names of the Assembly delegates in advance of the meeting. Only delegates are allowed to see the 2010 Assembly membership.

Waltz Attacks Those Who Reject Test

Waltz, in more than a half dozen postings in the Society e-group, has been attacking those who want the APR removed.

He said, "It's my impression that the class of candidates for which a case is being made is a class that made a conscious decision not to submit to the APR exam and earn the credential that has been earned by thousands of PR professionals."

He says "It appears that it’s an affirmative statement to reject the PRSA National Volunteer Leadership Historic Community Standard that exists around APR as a worthwhile credential for national volunteer service at PRSA’s highest levels."

He says he is unable to understand why “an accomplished professional and leader” is avoiding the exam.

"It would be easy enough for him/her to simply complete the APR requirements in a day or two days," he wrote. "Why that prospective leadership candidate would simply not agree to participate in the APR Community Standard is beyond me."

A senior PR executive gave this website the answer that Waltz is looking for:

"I’m not going to humiliate myself by telling a Readiness Review panel what I do for my clients, much of which is confidential, and I’m certainly not going to sit in front of a machine for three and a half hours and mark little boxes to answer questions on PR methodology, wasting $385 on this bootless exercise."