The 21,000 members of PR Society of America are facing a $30 dues hike to $255 at a time of continued recession but are being denied a direct voice in this matter when they could easily have one.

Dozens of companies offer e-mail voting systems at low cost and one of the oldest and most popular services is free.

Condorcet Internet Voting Service, operated by Andrew Myers at the Cornell Computer Science Dept., has a secure system that has been used by more than 60,000 organizations since 2003. Voting is by secure e-mails with the identity of the voter only known to the election supervisor and individual voter.

No one in the PRSA leadership would know how anyone votes. This would probably not sit well with the leaders who are accustomed to having sole possession of the electronic voting records of the Assembly delegates each year.

The last (and only) published list of Assembly votes occurred in 2004, when delegate Paul Wetzel of Boston asked for a roll call vote on allowing non-APRs in the Assembly.

Leaders and staff thus have sole possession of priceless political information—which chapters follow national leadership goals and which ones do not.

Among commercial e-voting companies, BigPulse provided a quote of $4,130 for helping PRSA to conduct a secure vote of its national officers and board last year.

Board Ignored Assembly Request

Although the 2009 Assembly directed the board to report on the feasibility of direct elections to the 2010 Assembly, the board declared the matter closed in mid-2010, saying it was too costly and technically difficult.

E-voting has been around since the 1990s. Security concerns are addressed by a national group formed in 2000, the Internet Voting Technology Alliance.

The Society has a habit of ignoring the wishes of rank-and-file members. Its polls have shown that members want national offices to be open to any dues-paying member and not just APRs. But this is ignored.

Only 3,898 (18.4%) of the 21,140 members are APR.

The national board only wants to be guided by the Assembly where three-quarters of the delegates are APR and chapters are under tight control. Only two of the 110 chapters publicly supported the move last year to let non-APRs run for the board—New York and Los Angeles.

While national leaders are seeking a dues hike, there is no provision for either leaders or staff ever facing a live audience of members on this issue.

Unavailable COO Murray Typifies Leadership

President and COO William Murray, heading staff since Jan. 22, 2007, has never had a press conference and has spoken to only two chapters in that period, according to available records.

During that time and even before that, info-blocking practices have proliferated.

Members, after 50 years, lost their annual printed directory of members. It’s now only in online form, 50 names at a time. A PDF would be cheap and easy to create but leaders refuse to discuss this.

PR professors told me this was a big loss to students who were often given use of it. A group of professors asked PRSA leaders for a PDF of the directory several years ago but were ignored.

Withheld since 2005 are not only the annual list of Assembly delegates but the transcripts and audiotapes of the Assembly. Leaders refuse to discuss broadcasting the meeting live or taping it for replay.

PRSA is probably the only group in the world with a secret legislature.

Removed last year was the list with the contact points of the 110 chapter presidents. A chapter president who wants to interface with his or her counterparts must pull down the info by visiting 109 chapter websites.

This year the addresses, e-mails and phone numbers were removed from the list of the 17 national directors on the Society website. At-large and district directors are not identified.

PR trade press trying to cover PRSA can visit the “newsroom” and there is a link to “financials” but it turns out that “member codes” are needed.

Reporters are not allowed access to the audit and quarterly reports. They are also not allowed to join the Society.

Although the PRSA Code champions the “free flow of information,” members have been hit with four pages of legal threats that they can be prosecuted under federal and New York state laws if they forward any e-mails from MyPRSA or Society e-groups or make more than one copy of an e-mail in a discussion group.

VP-PR Blocks Media Interviews

The “newsroom” also has the PRS “Media Policy” that says all members of the Society must first consult either VP-PR Arthur Yann or a PR staffer before responding to a press call. This includes officers and board members.

Members are forbidden to talk for or about the Society without the permission of the Society’s PR staff.

Murray will speak to the Minneapolis chapter Thursday at 7:30 a.m. at Padilla Speer Beardsley.

The chapter, whose meetings are normally open to the press and prospective members, thus far is barring the press and non-members.

brooke worden
I haven’t been able to reach chapter president Brooke Worden of Weber Shandwick because she has been on a cruise.

I hope she will act “presidential” and put a stop to this embargo. Murray needs to be questioned about the dues hike and his refusal to reveal his 2010-2011 contract terms. He makes members wait for two years until such terms are revealed, using a loophole in the law that allows IRS Form 990 to be delayed until Nov. 15 of the following year. The spirit of the law is that members should know what the executives of their trade associations are earning.

He needs to be questioned about the 8% rise in staff pay/fringes in the first quarter to $1,390,314 (57% of revenues) despite leader claims that $1.5 million has been cut in operating costs. Staff pay/fringes gained 3% in 2010 to $5,529,699 or 52.5% of revenues.

Groups with revenues of around $10M have payroll costs of between 35-40% of revenues.

Murray should address the high price of keeping h.q. in New York where occupancy costs were $755,982 in 2009, latest figure available.

'War' Conducted vs. NY Chapter

PRSA/h.q. relations with the NY chapter are not only at a minimum but outwardly hostile.

No national leader has addressed the chapter in more than 20 years. PRSA/NY’s offices were evicted from h.q. in 1992. The national h.q. was moved downtown in 2004 resulting in loss of meeting rooms and a library for chapter members. The nearly one hour round-trip to 33 Maiden lane, a Federal Reserve building with airport-level security, makes it unusable for New Yorkers.

When dozens of PR suppliers formed the “PR Services Council” in the early 1990s in a bid to win more visibility and conduct classes at the annual conference, plus lobby for more of the conferences in New York, the Society retaliated by cancelling the exhibit hall for four years starting in 1995. This resulted in the dissolution of the PR Services Council.

News of Murray’s appearance in Minneapolis has been sent to many of the city’s media including Nancy Barnes, editor of the Star-Tribune
; Chris Clonts and Ann Harrington of the Pioneer Press; Doug Iverson and Casey Selix of Finance and Commerce; Brad Allen of; Kevin Hoffman and Matt Smith of, and other local media.

A director of Minn/PRS is Pat Effenberger of the Pioneer Press.

All chapter directors, as provided by the chapter bylaws, are APR. Twenty-one of the 110 staffers of PSB are APR.

I have e-mailed the editors that the president of the world’s largest organization of PR professionals is in town when the Society is seeking a dues increase in the face of a recession and Murray’s contract is up for renewal.

Members have yet to be told the terms of his 2010-11 contract.

I have also told the editors that the chapter is “circling the wagons” for Murray thus far so he will be spared any questions from the press.

Only members can attend the breakfast and it is not yet known whether they will be sworn to secrecy.