Current PR Society members could learn a lot from the feisty 1985 Houston chapter which voted to withhold national dues until leaders coughed up more information.

$$ is about the only language national board and staff understand.

The Houston board asked members not to pay dues until h.q. came up with more answers on how their money would be spent.

National president Dave Ferguson met Jan. 13, 1985 with the board which was dissatisfied with his “evasive” answers to some questions.
Houston, headed by Dave Dodrill, demanded written answers.

The chapter, with 450 members, is currently the ninth biggest and was similarly ranked in 1985.

The ban was lifted in March when answers were obtained. Ferguson had also threatened to drop boycotters from the 1985 members’ directory.

Current chapter president is Stephanie Dedeaux, communications lead at Hess Corp.

What Would 1985 Houston Do?

We wonder what the 1985 chapter leaders would do about the current info freeze at Society h.q. which dwarfs anything seen back then.
Rank-and-file members currently are not allowed to see the national list of Assembly delegates, know how they vote, nor even know what they say while in session.

Transcripts and tapes of Assemblies have been withheld since 2005. Suggestions that the Assembly be audiocast are ignored.

Publication of the members’ directory was stopped in 2006 on the ground that it was too expensive and quickly out-of-date.

Members said a PDF of the directory would be up-to-date and not involve any printing or mailing by h.q. but leaders refuse to discuss this.

As of this year, members can’t see the names and contact points of the 55 h.q. staffers. Only seven names remain.

For the second year in a row, leaders withheld IRS Form 990 from the Assembly. It contains pay/benefits of the top eight staffers and other information not in the audit (such as legal costs which were a record $124K).

Current pay (2009-10) of COO Bill Murray is withheld. Pay/benefits and nontaxable benefits totaled $373K in 2009.

Houston Fought All Year

Houston/1985 fought all year long with national but we doubt current leaders will say anything at all.

The Society’s “Media Policy” says no volunteer leader or even rank-and-file member may speak with the media “as a representative of PRSA and/or on PRSA’s behalf” without the permission of VP-PR Arthur Yann or one of his staffers. Not even the elected chair can give permission for an interview.

Houston/PRSA in the 1980s complained that directors, district and section heads had no business being in the Assembly and thus voting on their own proposals.

The major issue in 1985 was the possible move of h.q. from New York to one of seven other cities whose chapters made extensive pitches for it—Houston, Dallas, Denver, Chicago, Indianapolis, Memphis and Atlanta.

Oddly, Washington, D.C., the most logical city for Society h.q. after New York, was not allowed to pitch.

paul forbes

National Capital chapter president Paul Forbes said no one at h.q. asked him for anything. He said he felt strongly that D.C. is the “only logical place” for the office and would be “amazed” if another city was chosen because it made the “best presentation.”

Most trade groups have either moved to D.C. or have a branch there, he noted. NCC currently has by far the largest number of members in its area—1,350+ or about double the 767 in the New York chapter.

Twenty-five Houston members including the entire board sent a petition in August 1985 to the national board demanding that any relocation decision be made by the Assembly.

The Society’s lease at 845 Third Ave. (52nd St.) was up in April 1987.

Staff Threatened to Quit

However, the board voted 7-5 at its meeting Aug. 16 to keep h.q. in New York. One factor was that virtually the entire staff of 40 said it would quit and it would cost $200k in fees to recruit new staff.

Houston Chapter president Margot Dimond, currently a principal in DoubleDimond PR of Houston, accused h.q. of “railroading” the issue and member Wellington Osterloh said the board’s action “without even waiting for discussion by the Assembly is an outrage and unprofessional.”

Dimond said the issue would be pressed at the Nov. 19 Assembly in Detroit.

The board told the Assembly it would reconsider its decision after a 126-20 vote to ask for such reconsideration.

The board not only stuck to its decision but chopped the rebellious Assembly in half—permanently cancelling the spring Assembly on the ground the Society couldn’t afford it.

One beef of Assembly delegates was that the board refused to come up with projected costs for staying in New York.

Payroll costs rose from $1,027,652 in 1987 to $5,368,206 in 2009. Occupancy costs rose from $160,741 in 1987 to $755,982 in 2009.

Anti-New Yorkers Got Their Way

Steaming mad Assembly delegates, all of them APR, miffed at their quest of dethroning New York as the Society h.q. city, did the next best thing—move the offices out of midtown to inconvenient midtown south (17th St.).

Ostensibly the reason was to save money but the APRs had plenty to spend on accreditation—losing $2,926,080 from 1986-2002 on a program that had almost no traction in New York. The losses on APR were $104,781 in 1987, $120,000 in 1988, and $150,410 in 1989.

But the APRs were just warming up. Such losses mounted to $205,771 in 1997, $329,235 in 1999, and $441,467 in 2000 which was more than the occupancy costs that year of $393,586.

Not satisfied that midtown south was far enough away from the New York PR/ad/media community, h.q. were shifted downtown for 13 years as of 2004 under a $5.6 million lease. The roomy new offices had 22,000 sq. ft. vs. 14,000 sq. ft. at 33 Irving Plaze.

PRSA/NY, after decades at h.q., was evicted in 1992 on the ground that the Society needed the space.

Whether Houston or any other chapter will take up the cause of demanding that the Society live up to its Code promise of “advancing the free flow of accurate and truthful information” remains to be seen.

The behavior of the 2010 Assembly, which rejected a roll call vote on allowing non-APRs on the board, cut off debate after 30 minutes, and then trounced the APR reform by nearly a two-to-one margin, indicates that reform will have to come from outside the Assembly.