Claims that PRSA members are “incredibly satisfied,” that they are “unequivocal” in their appreciation of the Society, and that 79% of current members would renew are unjustified, say researchers.

Chair Rosanna Fiske made such statements in announcing the results of the annual member survey but researchers say the percentage of return is too small for anything but use as “anecdotes.”

The Society e-mailed its 21,000 members and got back 1,126 completed forms or about 5%.

Researchers commenting on the website hosted by Bob Conrad, Ph.D., say that return rates of up to 70% are needed to generate reliable statistics.

Ketchum worked with Braun Research of Princeton, N.J., on the project.

Fiske, contacted by Conrad, retreated from the words “incredibly satisfied” to “quite satisfied.”

Working with Statistical Assn.

The Society announced this month that it has “partnered” with the American Statistical Assn. to create a “best practices guide” for the use of statistics in PR campaigns.

E-mail results were also obtained from 202 lapsed members and 584 communications people who were never members. Total e-mails sent out was not revealed for either group.

One finding was the four out of five lapsed members said they would not renew.

Said Conrad: “What’s troubling is the Society’s adherence to a perspective that seeks only to bolster its image at a time—it’s ethics month—when the Society is pushing for ethical practice and is rightfully calling on the carpet other organizations that suffer from ethical lapses including Ketchum, that was contracted to do the survey. The Society makes great effort to diminish, ignore and divert attention away from its own transgressions.”

Conrad noted that Society VP-PR Arthur Yann accused him of providing a “selective interpretation” of the data.

Conrad responded that “more than one interpretation (of survey results) can be made…I post my analysis to provide a perspective I believe is lacking in the Society’s versions of the results.”

Sierra Nevada Chapter Nixes Hike

The Sierra Nevada chapter of the Society, which has about 100 members, said the board proposes to vote no on the dues increase.

Annie McFarland, president, said the recession “has hit Nevada hardest of any state” and that one county in Northern Nevada has nearly 20% unemployment.

She said member growth has been slow in recent years despite promotions and incentives from national.

“A fee increase would likely lead to a decrease in membership,” she wrote on the chapter website.

Chapter members say the value of membership is mostly at the local leval. Dues are $45.

A list of chapter dues on the Society website shows that 48 have dues in the $50-$60 bracket; 28 in the $30-$40 bracket, and seven below $30.

If the dues go to $255, about three-quarters of the chapters will be sending about five times the amount of dues money to national that they send to their own chapters.

Members are asking if national is five times as valuable as their local chapters.

Ketchum Responds on Survey Issue

David Rockland, partner and managing director, global research, Ketchum, responded at noon today as follows:

PRSA’s release of the results of the 2011 Membership Satisfaction Study has generated some questions from members, particularly regarding methodology and data interpretation. Ketchum was pleased to manage the research for PRSA’s 2008 Membership Satisfaction Study, the Society’s 2009 Chapter Survey and the current study of PRSA’s members. As the person at Ketchum responsible for the research, I wanted to share a bit about the methodology and what we found.

First, the technical details:

• Sample size — 1,126 current members, 202 lapsed members and 584 people who have never been a member. To put that into perspective, most surveys you see in the news have a sample size of 1,000 for the entire American public. Results of this study are projectable to the overall populations within the respective margins of error at the 95-percent confidence level.

• Margin of error — Ninety-five (95) percent of the time if you were to repeat this same study 100 times, you would get answers within +/- 2.2 percent for members, +/- 6.9 percent for lapsed members, and +/- 4.0 percent for “never members.”

• Weighting — Responses were weighted to the overall profile of the PRSA membership in terms of tenure in the PR industry. This is to ensure results approximate the membership as closely as possible, and is a standard practice in survey research.
Second, how confident are we in the data? The short answer is very, particularly as it relates to making comparisons with the 2008 survey. With every survey you do, there can be bias. An example in a membership survey would be where those with stronger positive or negative feelings toward the organization are more likely to respond. Those should net each other out, but you do sometimes miss as many in the “swing voter” category as a result. However, this bias would be as much the case in the study we did in 2008 as it would this year, so in terms of looking at changes, we are fine.

What is the good news? What should PRSA continue doing?

• Pretty much all key metrics are up significantly over 2008. The organization is healthier from a member satisfaction, renewal, understanding and image perspective.
• There is a very high level of likely renewal and likelihood to recommend PRSA to a friend.
• Chapters are key to how members participate in, and view, PRSA.
• Professional development is a key area for the organization.
• The overall image of PRSA (if you were to think of it like the reputation of a corporation) is on par with very strong companies in the Fortune 500.

Are there opportunities for improvement? Yes. These include:

• Satisfaction is lower than likelihood to renew. The PRSA 2011 Membership Satisfaction Study did not explore the reason behind this finding. Further research should be conducted to understand the relationship between the two in greater detail.
• Loyalty among younger members. We did a very robust segmentation analysis of PRSA members. One finding from that analysis is those who are least connected to the organization tend to be the younger segments. While this is a very simplistic summary of what we found from the segmentation, there is a need to bring in the new generations of PRSA members.
• Value for the money is an important area of focus. PRSA, like many organizations, should continue to focus on providing as much value to its members as possible.

Every survey has its strengths and weaknesses. However, the work on the PRSA membership survey has statistical robustness, consistency over time and is a solid piece of work on which to drive the organization forward. No matter how you slice the data, or quibble with one number or another, the overall finding of “significant improvement over 2008 and high current levels of member engagement” holds true.

Of course, there are plenty of things to do to drive the organization and PR industry forward. From my personal perspective, the worst thing one can do is spend time trying to find what could be right or wrong in the data, versus taking action in continuing to move PRSA in the positive direction it is going.