Elizabeth Badinter, known in some French quarters as the country’s “most influential intellectual,” could serve as a role model for U.S. female PR pros who currently outnumber males but find themselves aced out of top positions, including those at their own industry association — PR Society of America.

Liberal-leaning Badinter, who inherited the controlling interest in Publicis from her father, Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet, who died in 1989, was the subject of an 11-page profile in the July 25 New Yorker.

Author of the article, titled “Against Nature,” is Jane Kramer, who has covered topics in Europe for the magazine since the 1970s.

PR Society chair Rosanna Fiske complained this month that while women now dominate in numbers in PR including PRS itself which is 70% female, “far too few women have senior leadership posts particularly at the agency level.”

Women have to assert themselves in PR and a good start would be in their own association, where 40 of the 50 biggest chapters are headed by women, giving those chapters control of the Assembly.

Badinter, author of "Conflict: The Woman and the Mother," to be published in the U.S. in January, took on all interviewers last year when her book was published in France.

She feels that women who want to combine motherhood and careers should resist pressure from those who say this is “unnatural” and a threat to their babies.

She favors the ban on burqas or other face coverings for women, favors gay marriage, and is against an enforced balance of males and females on electoral lists.

“Virtually every newspaper and magazine in France ran long interviews with Badinter and the radio station France Inter gave a day to the book,” noted the New Yorker.

The French magazine Marianne polled its readers and found they consider her France’s “most influential intellectual,” The dictionary definition of intellectual is someone who is “extremely rational,” avoiding emotions and prejudices in making judgments.

Where is PR’s Badinter?

Where is the Elizabeth Badinter in PR is our question?

Her staunch individualism and idealism are no doubt helped by the fact that she has been independently wealthy since birth.

She is married to Robert Badinter, president of the Constitutional Council and former justice minister under Franciois Mitterrand.

Publicis is the third largest ad/PR conglomerate after WPP and Omnicom with $7.7 billion in 2010 revenues. It recently surpassed Interpublic which had $6.5B in 2010 revenues.

It is heavily leveraged with longterm debt of $2.42 billion as of Dec. 31, 2010, up from $1.73B in 2007.

The PR wing of Publicis in the U.S. is MSLGroup.

Publicis clients include Procter & Gamble, maker of Pampers, and Nestle (powdered milk), products that make life easier for mothers although they are “unnatural.” However, there is no suggestion that such clients influence Badinter’s thinking.

She is “chair of the supervisory board” of Publicis while Maurice Levy is chairman and CEO.

Five Publicis staffers are members of the PR Society: Rosemary Abendroth, global healthcare communications director, New York; senior A/S Maureen Callahan, Indianapolis, and staffers Mansura Ghaffar, Mary Vail and Alicia Marie Hammonds.

Inequality, Subservience Opposed

Two cornerstones of the Badinter philosophy are opposition to inequality and any policies that limit human rights.

Burqas, already banned in French public schools, were outlawed in public places last year with only one dissenting vote being cast in both the Senate and National Assembly.

A current battle she is waging is against the intrusion of religious beliefs into a baby care center in the town of Chanteloup-les-Vignes, 20 miles from Paris.

Religious Muslims are demanding that boy and girl babies be separated, that women wear what Badinter calls “masks,” and that utensils that never touched meat be used. Some Muslims won’t let their children go to the public pool.

One Muslim refused to touch female babies and would not let women touch him. He demanded they not look at him when speaking to him.

There is a proposed ban against circumcision in California that might interest Badinter. Proponents say they are against the “mutilation” of sex organs of defenseless male or female babies and children, claiming the operations are medically unnecessary and motivated chiefly by religious beliefs.

APR Is the Religion at PR Society

APR has approached the status of a religion at the PR Society. The APRs cling to it with blind faith and are impervious to change.

The small minority (18%) of APRs not only blocks non-APRs from running for national office but has choked off the flow of information to members and the press in numerous ways.

Even intellectuals can’t operate if they don’t have the facts. Key lists removed include the full membership list which should be in convenient, inexpensive PDF form; list of Assembly delegates; single list of chapter presidents; list of h.q. staffers (except for seven names), and list of committees and task forces and their members. Transcripts of the Assembly have been withheld since 2005.

Reporters are barred from joining PRS or having access to the annual audit and quarterly reports. They can get IRS Form 990 on the web about two years after the year in question. They are threatened with arrest for eavesdropping if they listen to a PRS teleconference. Members themselves are threatened with legal action if they forward a PRS e-group posting or make more than one copy of it.

The last two Assemblies did not get to see the 990. The 990 for 2010, initially due May 15, has yet to be filed. PRS ignores the question of when it will be filed.

Adherence to FASB, Sarbanes-Oxley, Robert’s Rules and New York State law is promised but not practiced. Proxies are used in the Assembly although adoption of RR satisfies any state demand for a rule against proxies.

APR Is Key Fact

Far more important than male/female status to the leadership of the Society is APR, the final test for which involves neither writing or creativity (a 3.5 hour multiple-choice test).

The board and all officers have been APR since the mid-1970s and the Assembly remains three-quarters APR.

Twelve of the presidents of the 25 biggest chapters are APR including six of the top ten.

Leaders refuse to face chapter members in person on any issue including the current proposal for a $30 dues hike, hiding behind an electronic screen of e-mails and teleconferences.

Independent Committee Needed

A group like last year’s “Committee for a Democratic PRSA” (only with a lot more clout) is needed to look into the three-year contract just given to “Blackball” Bill Murray and the dominance of Southern members in the Society.

Four of the five members of the executive committee, which traditionally has made the decision on retaining COOs, are Southerners—chair Rosanna Fiske (Miami); immediate past chair Gary McCormick (Knoxville); treasurer Phil Tate (Charlotte), and secretary Kathy Barbour (Jacksonville).

Four other members of the board are from the South or Southwest—Geri Evans, Longwood, Fla.; Mickey Nall, Atlanta; Steven Grant, Washington, D.C., and Blake Lewis (Dallas).

Other key posts are also held by Southerners including Ethics Board chair Tom Eppes of Charlotte and audit chair Cheryl Ball, Knoxville.
Co-chairs of the PRS-dominated Universal Accreditation Board are John Forde of Mississippi State and Jay Rayburn of Florida State. Last year’s chair was Felicia Blow of Chesapeake, Va. Five of the seven 2011 new appointees are from the South.

Society Takes on $3M Obligation

Since PRS is asking members to cough up more for dues, the spotlight is on how the Society is spending its money. APRs lost $2.9 million from 1986-2002 on the program.

The three-year contract with Murray involves an obligation of about $3 million since he no doubt will keep his two chief hires, CFO Phil Bonaventura and VP-PR Art Yann, and PRS normally pays a year’s severance to departing executives.

In Murray, PRS has a highly paid “president” who does not act that way. He is not out pitching the Society’s “Business Case for PR” and in fact rarely makes appearances to chapters or elsewhere. He blackballed the O’Dwyer Co. last year, saying the Society had no obligation to deal with it and has chosen not to.

The 2006 search committee, headed by Debra Miller, had trouble finding anyone interested in the COO post at PRS (link, sub req'd). It was then decided to dangle the title of president in order to attract candidates.

Miller’s committee asked if the new COO should be “visionary,” “charismatic” and “an accomplished public speaker.” It did not propose such guidelines.

The job went to Murray, who was in his own firm after losing his job at the Motion Picture Assn., which had gone through management changes after the death of longtime leader Jack Valenti.

The PRS committee knew from the beginning that Murray had a speech problem, since diagnosed as spasmodic dysphonia. They knew it could impact his role as a spokesperson for the Society but ignored this.

Everyone is for hiring a handicapped person but not if the handicap interferes with performance of duties, as it does in this case.

There should be a thorough examination of the hiring and role of Murray and the dominant role of Southerners in the governance of the Society.

Intellectuals do not fear the facts.