The headline “Awful PR for the PR Society of America” on Jan. 13 brought a reply from VP-PR Art Yann Jan. 21 that shows he doesn’t understand journalism.

Companies “choose the media with which they will interact,” says the posting on PRW, as though journalists have to get permission from the people or subjects they cover.

Reporters cover abuses in government, business and institutions regardless of whether these entities want to be covered.

The Yann posting, carried in full at the end of this blog, strikes a bossy, unyielding tone that is the opposite of the traditional conciliatory nature of PR.

Some statements are absurd such as the Assembly “is open to any member who would like to attend.” How could 21,000 members fit into the Assembly meeting room?

The members could actually “attend” by listening to an audiocast or getting a transcript of the Assembly. The Society refuses to do either.

Yann says “The minutes of the meeting are preferable to a transcript for the purposes of maintaining an official record.”

This is also absurd. The minutes are only a record of actions and votes taken. Missing from the 2010 “minutes” are the three hours of discussion on where PR is and where it is headed. Members should have that.

Also, Robert's Rules calls for any tabulated votes to be in the minutes. PRSA ignores this.

There were dozens of votes in the 2009 Assembly that were flashed on screens but only one vote appeared in the minutes—the final vote passing the new bylaws.

Another Yann statement is that the full national list of delegates is not made available to members because someone might use it “to mount a campaign for or against a certain issue pending before the Assembly when our national bylaws prohibit such activities.”

There is no such bylaw. The Society’s Code, in fact, says members “respect all opinions and support the right of free expression.”

Members of the Committee for a Democratic PRSA campaigned for six months last year in support of non-APRs being able to run for national office for the first time in 35 years.

Chapter, section and district members may know their own delegates, but this is not the national list which was available for many years. The current list is incomplete in any case because delegates are not required to post their names there. Delegates have to sign a form to get access to this list.

Proxies Are an Abomination

Yann, in reply to our criticism that the Society cites Robert’s Rules as its “parliamentary authority” but violates them, says the Society follows RR “except in specific cases where our National Bylaws supersede Robert’s Guidance.”

PRSA is violating too many bedrock principles of RR to continue citing it as any kind of authority.
Few things are stated more emphatically in RR than the ban on proxies since they defeat the purpose of a legislative body.

PRSA used 56 proxies to vote in the use of proxies in 2009.

Equally important is RR’s assertion that the board of any association is “subordinate” to its assembly, which is the governance followed by lawyers, doctors, CPAs, psychologists, and many other groups.

The PRSA board runs things with an iron hand.

Society lawyers are quick to warn any delegate that no orders are ever to be directed to the board.

A move in 2006 to model PRS governance after that of the ABA, AMA, etc., was defeated with only one chapter supporting it (Central Michigan, which originated it). The board waged a strong campaign against it.

Society leaders force delegates on the floor to address the chair of the Society who sits on a stage looking down on the delegates.

This is wrong. The delegates should have their own officers and should be conducting their own meetings, holding the feet of directors to the fire. They should be addressing each other “through the board” and should speak from the stage.

Yann Mentions PDF of Members’ Directory

Especially galling about the Yann letter is that he sees no need for members having a PDF of the members’ directory. He’s afraid there are those “who want to spam our members with unwanted product and service offerings.”

Has he forgotten that his members deluge media with pitches by every known print and electronic means? In other words, the members can dish it out but can’t take it.

Members lost their beloved membership book in 2005 without it ever being discussed by the Assembly.

Cost of printing and mailing was cited and also that the print directory was out-of-date on the day it was published (yes, about one percent of entries were inaccurate).

But a PDF would be cheap and easy and 100% accurate.

Society leaders refuse to let members vote on this or anything for that matter.

Gary McCormick, 2010 chair, last year dismissed the possibility of direct votes by members, saying it was too complicated and involved too much legal work.

He said this although the 2009 bylaws re-write committee sought all during 2009 a bylaw permitting direct voting by the entire membership.

In another inconsistency in the Yann posting, he says this writer was credentialed as a reporter for the 2010 Assembly but not for the conference itself. This is absurd. I’m the same person.

Supposedly I only wrote a “single item” about the 2009 conference. That is false. I wrote a lengthy piece for (link, sub req'd) on the discussion between Arianna Huffington and Wendell Potter, which drew lengthy comments from readers. The fact that I concentrated on Huffington/Potter was my news judgment.

This is Open Letter to Board

The 17-member national board of the Society, including a record seven new members, will receive a copy of this blog by mail.

They are Joseph Cohen of MWW; Geri Ann Evans, Longwood, Fla.; Kirk Hazlett, Curry College; Stephen Iseman, Ohio Northern Univ.; Debra Peterson, CenturyLink; Marisa Vallbona, La Jolla, and Susan Walton, Brigham Young Univ.

The board is shaping up as the weakest in history—not even allowed to have its own organizational meeting in January. Such a meeting was mandatory under the old bylaws but the new bylaws don’t call for any in-person board meetings. Teleconferences can fill the bill.

This is the ultimate weakening of the board. It’s not even a rubber stamp. At least rubber stamps are used.

Rosanna Fiske
Rosanna Fiske
We hope the new board will show some gumption and assert itself. The burden for this is on chair and CEO Rosanna Fiske of Florida International University. She has made her fourth trip to the board and knows the culture of the Society. It needs to change. Governance has fallen out of bed.

PRSA Responds (on PR Watch)

Submitted by Arthur Yann on January 21, 2011 - 5:14pm.

“Awful PR,” “blocked” access, “withholding” information and “anonymous” threats all make for sensational headlines and undoubtedly generate page views. However, we invite Ms. Landman and the commenters here and elsewhere to examine the facts more closely, especially in light of published comments Mr. O’Dwyer has made on repeated occasions that raise legitimate questions concerning his credibility and objectivity toward PRSA. To wit:

“I am mad at [PRSA] ... I am never going to forgive them any more than the victims of the Nazis in World War II gave up on reparations. It took them 50 years to get them, but I’m never gonna let [PRSA] off the hook on that.”
(Source: 39:25 of “FIR Interview: Jack O’Dwyer,” Jan. 21, 2009. Available at

PRSA was indeed incorrect in saying that Mr. O’Dwyer did not cover PRSA’s 2009 International Conference; he published a single item on one of the four-day Conference’s keynote addresses. That statement – which Mr. O’Dwyer somehow obtained from a private email sent to a third party –was not the only reason why Mr. O’Dwyer was not granted International Conference press credentials, however.

When deciding to whom press credentials will be granted, PRSA takes into consideration a variety of factors, such as the nature of the event; the editorial focus, influence and reach of the publication; the subject(s) and extent of the planned coverage; and the degree to which media attendance will impact event operations and/or the experience and participation of event attendees. Our media policy ( is not substantially different from the media policies of any organizations that engage frequently with the press.

Every day, companies large and small choose the media with which they will interact, whether via invitations to press events, exclusive rights to news announcements, embargoes or, in extreme circumstances, denial of access to information. The fact is that more than 20 traditional and social media reporters and bloggers attended our 2010 International Conference; you might ask them about PRSA’s views on access and transparency. You might also ask the Center for Media and Democracy’s own Judith Siers-Poisson, to whom press credentials to our 2008 International Conference were granted (Ms. Siers-Poisson ultimately was unable to attend).

It does bear noting, however, that Mr. O’Dwyer has never been denied press credentials to attend PRSA’s National Assembly, which is a working meeting of elected PRSA Delegates that takes place each year immediately prior to our International Conference. Mr. O’Dwyer returned the courtesy this past year by breaching four stated press policies for that day: by attempting to photograph and record the proceedings, by conducting an interview during the meeting and by attempting to gain access to the Delegate luncheon. (While we do not permit recording or photography, we will willingly supply photographs to members of the media upon request.)

As far as making the list of our Assembly Delegates available, we would ask, “for what benefit?” Transparency, when the identity of our Assembly Delegates already is well known to the Chapters, Sections, Districts and Committees they represent? To mount a campaign for or against a certain issue pending before the Assembly, when our national bylaws prohibit such activities?

We would also ask the same question about making a transcript of our National Assembly available. The meeting is open to any member who would like to attend, as well as to credentialed media. Further, Roberts Rules, which PRSA follows except in specific cases where our National Bylaws supersede Roberts’ guidance, state that the minutes of the meeting are preferable to a transcript for the purposes of maintaining an “official record.” Of course, we make the minutes available to our members.

Finally, we would ask the same question of the reasons for making a PDF version of our member directory available. It would be nice for those who want to spam our members with unwanted product and service offerings, but of little value when we have an easily searchable online Member database for our Members to use. Or, try searching LinkedIn for “PRSA,” which generates more than 14,000 results.

As for the threat made against Mr. O’Dwyer, PRSA does not accept or excuse any threat made against any company or individual. An important footnote to this aspect of the story, however, is that neither the authenticity or source of the fax allegedly sent to Mr. O’Dwyer is known. What’s more, the contents of the alleged threat are mischaracterized here.

Principled stances like these may not be palatable to everyone, or facilitate the pursuit of their personal agendas. However, they are the reason why PRSA has existed since 1947, and why more than 32,000 professional and student members, as well as countless industry suppliers, academic institutions and major corporations around the world, are proud to associ
ate with us.