Bill Murray, “president” and COO of the PR Society of America, was in Minneapolis yesterday but drew only 19 of the 337 chapter members to a free breakfast at 7:30 a.m. at Padilla Speer Beardsley.

It was a cordial if awkward PRSA event, with chapter members and guests standing for an hour in an open third floor area of the firm, juggling coffee cups, fruit and pastries while chatting with Murray.

It was more like a cocktail party except with coffee and fruit juices.

The slim turnout is evidence that members regard Murray as anything but a president.

He’s not. He’s a hired hand and a highly overpaid one at that.

The 2006 search committee headed by Debra Miller was looking for a “charismatic leader,” someone with a “vision” for PR, and an “accomplished public speaker.” Instead they got Murray, an accomplished bureaucrat who likes to operate behind the scenes and who plays APR politics to the hilt.

Minn/PRS is a stronghold of the APRs, requiring APR for all board posts. The anti-democratic APRs, comprising only 18% of the Society's membership, have a stranglehold on the national board, the nominating committee, the Ethics Board and the Assembly, where they have three-quarters of the seats.

[I refer to the Society as PRS, after a mention or two of “PRSA” to insure pickup by Google and the other “spiders” because PRS doesn’t deserve use of the term “America.”]

America stands for open, vigorous debate and that is not what happens at PRS.

Leaders/staff are now seeking a $630,000 dues increase but there is no opportunity for members to face leaders/staff in open session with reporters present.

Instead there is an oh-so-polite interchange among a handful of Assembly delegates in a private area of the Society website.

Delegates are also discussing this in a private delegate e-group. Participants in these groups are under a four-page legal warning that they face prosecution under federal and state laws if they forward any of these e-mails or make more than one copy of them.

How this squares with the PRS Code promise to foster the “free flow of information” is something I don’t know.

Bust Murray, Cut Pay

What rank-and-file members should insist on is busting Murray down to COO and shifting the president’s title back to where it belongs--to the top elected member. Presidents are elected, not hired.

Murray’s pay, should he get a new contract, which appears likely, should be cut to $150K or less.

He’s not worth the $400K or so that he is probably getting. He brazenly refuses to tell members his compensation, last seen at a total of $373K in 2009. There was no one at the breakfast yesterday with the guts to demand he reveal his pay, a requirement under federal law (which can be ducked for nearly two years).

So $250K of the needed $630K could come right out of Murray’s pocket.

Murray has blackballed O'Dwyer's.
Another nearly $150K could come from cancelling the June New York picnic for up to 137 chapter, district and section leaders. Each gets $550 cash and five free meals. It’s a “rally” of cronies and insiders at the expense of the rank-and-file who never hear a word of what goes on.
Converting Tactics and Strategist to online-only would save a half million.

The sky-high costs of keeping h.q. in New York when h.q. staff has almost nothing to do with the local PR/press community must be addressed.

Staff pay/fringes were $5.5M in 2010, up 3%, and went up 8% in Q1 to $1,390,314 or 57% of revenues, belying claims of a “freeze.”

Members don’t even know who is on the staff anymore since 45 of the 52 or so names were removed from the website last year. Turnover can’t be tracked.

The sky-high occupancy costs of $755K (2009 figure) must be addressed.

This is $34 per sq. ft. when prime space in downtown Minneapolis is as low as $12 psf.

Murray Is Strangely Passive

Murray, who spent a half hour circulating among attendees yesterday morning, then spoke for 15 minutes and then took a few polite questions for 15 minutes, showed the passive view he takes of his job.

He said yesterday he has spoken recently to members in Ohio, California and some other states.

I don’t know if he means open chapter lunches or meetings or just closeting with a few of the leaders. Neither his schedule nor that of chair Rosanna Fiske is on the PRS website.

He told Minn/PRS he would “go anywhere that I am invited.”

One chapter that has not invited him is New York. Its leaders have told me so.

It should have from Day One but the chapter has not had a general luncheon for its 700 or so members in decades.

The leaders don’t have the clout to get the big agencies and companies to take tables as in previous years.

But Murray should have taken the initiative -- called on all the big PR shops and corporate PR departments and said, “Look, I’m the new president of the world’s largest PR organization which has just given me a three-year contract. I want you to meet me, hear my vision for PR and ask me anything you want.”

Instead, he has been mostly holed up in PRS h.q. downtown.

During his reign and even before that, information-withholding practices of the Society have proliferated.

Members lost their beloved printed membership book in 2006 without any discussion in the Assembly or vote by the membership (easily taken via a free service operated by Cornell).

Leaders and staff refuse to discuss a cheap and easy alternative—a PDF of the data.

The move downtown, robbing New Yorkers of a PR library and a meeting place, was never run by the Assembly.

Removed since 2005 is a list of Assembly delegates that members can see. Also lost that year was a transcript of the Assembly.

Rank-and-file members don’t know who is in the Assembly, what the delegates say, or how they vote.

Staff/leaders know how the delegates vote since all votes are electronically recorded on numbered devices.

Democratic principles are ignored not only at the national level but in the 110 chapters.

No chapter last year took a vote on whether non-APRs could run for the national board. The 82% non-APR majority would have passed that overwhelmingly in any chapter.

Rank-and-file members, given all the financial facts about PRS and how their money is spent at h.q., would block any dues increase this year if given the vote.

Murray Doesn’t Know Media Relations

Murray, who came to my office on March 19, 2010 to tell me he wouldn’t deal with me any more (delivering a classic “blackball”) does not know that “media relations” is really “fact relations.”

Individual reporters can be ducked but the facts remain and must be faced sooner or later.

Since the Society is on its high ethical horse these days, it must examine its unethical practice of barring reporters from seeing its audit and quarterly financial reports.

Oddly, Murray yesterday condemned blackballing, the very practice he engaged in.

He said that PR pro Jim Redner of L.A. had violated PR ethics by threatening to blacklist a medium that criticized the “Duke Nukem Forever” web

“That is just unethical and we told him so,” said Murray, adding that “actions like this undermine the credibility of the profession,”

It was also unethical, not to say illogical, to give this reporter credentials to the 2010 Assembly but then deny credentials to the national conference that began the next day.