This is a recap of news and databases related to the proposed $30 dues hike of PRSA which will be debated Saturday in Orlando.

We hope that presidents of chapters and/or chapter members will forward this to fellow members so they will be fully informed.

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PRSA Assembly
Based on the limited number of members participating in this debate on the Society website, including no more than two dozen in the delegate e-mail group and only 19 comments on the original announcement since June 6, we estimate that more than 90% of members don’t even know there is a proposed hike.

It has never been on the first web page of the Society website but has been buried in the PRSAY section.

If leaders/staff wanted all members to know about the hike, they would have sent a blast e-mail about it to the entire membership (minus the few opt-outs) since they already send two blast e-mails a day to that list.

News and databases about the hike have been arranged below in approximate order of importance.

1. Information blockage is at record levels. Only delegates are allowed access to the national list of delegates. Rank-and-file members don’t know who the delegates are, what they say, or how they vote. Transcripts were halted as of 2005. About 45 staff names and contact points were removed from the website in 2010, leaving seven. The single list of chapter presidents was also removed, impeding contact among the presidents. It has been compiled by this website which visited 105 chapters and is in this link.

2. National leaders, facing heavy opposition to the dues hike, first offered free webinars worth $150 monthly or $1,800 yearly. When opposition continued, they threatened cancellation of the in-person Assembly in 2012 and the June “Leadership Rally” for chapter presidents-elect, district and section leaders. Each gets a $550 stipend and five free meals. Total cost is $140,000. Former national chair Kathy Lewton asked for examples of 4-5 hour meetings being run by teleconference. “How does the presiding officer handle over 200 people wanting to talk at once?” she asked. Former New York president Art Stevens said delegates must “absolutely” have a face-to-face meeting. He called the threat to suspend in-person Assembly meetings “extortion” used to push the dues increase. Audra Heagney of Venable, Society law firm, said a teleconference Assembly is permissible under New York State law which over-rides anything in the bylaws.

3. A major issue is the pay/benefits of h.q. staffers which totaled $5,529,699 in 2010, up 3% from 2009 (in spite of claims of a “pay freeze”) and more than half of income of $10.5M. That’s from the 2010 audit published in April. But where is IRS Form 990, a public document due initially on May 15 and which makes the Society a “public association?” The 990, withheld from the 2009-10 Assemblies, has the pay/benefits of the top eight staffers. Average pay of the 50 or so staffers is more than $100,000. After removing the top eight, it’s still nearly $90,000 for the remaining staffers.

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Fiske, Murray
4. What are the terms of COO Bill Murray’s new three-year contract starting in January 2012? The last figure seen was his 2009 pay/benefits which totaled $373K. The new contract is probably worth $400K or so for a “president” who almost never appears in public when he should be preaching the Society’s “Business Case for PR.” He has never staged a press conference, the signature activity of PR. He has spoken to only two chapter memberships that we know of in four years and nine months (National Capital and Minnesota).

5. The reclusiveness of Murray is matched by that of 2011 chair Rosanna Fiske who has only addressed two chapter memberships in nine months—her own Miami chapter and Georgia. As of July 28, she stopped delegates from questioning her directly on teleconferences, putting them in a “listen-only” mode for the first time in the Society’s history. That edict came after a delegate asked her about the salaries/benefits of the top staffers.

6. Cost/benefit of chapter vs. national is major topic related to the dues hike. Delegates say they get more than 90% of benefits from their chapters but send most of their dues money to national. The actual figures, taken from the “chapter dues page,” are that average dues of the 116 chapters listed are $55.70.

Forty-eight have dues of $50-$60; 28 from $30-$40, and 18, below $30. Highest dues are in the 120-member Arkansas chapter ($252) and the 280-member Richmond chapter ($175). Three chapters have dues of $25—Spokane, N.W. Pennsylvania, and Central Illinois. If dues go to $255, members on average will be paying nearly five times as much to national as to their chapters. Three chapters will be paying ten times.

7. Members are not “incredibly satisfied” or “unequivocal” in their appreciation of the Society, nor has membership satisfaction “improved” since 2008 as claimed by Fiske in quoting the 2011 “Membership Satisfaction Survey.” Member Robert Conrad, Ph.D., said Fiske could not make any generalizations because only 5% of the 21,000 members polled by e-mail responded, far too small a sampling. The American Assn. for Public Opinion Research labels as SLOP any survey with inadequate returns (“Self-Selected Listener Opinion Poll”).

8. Members should be aware of the cost in millions of policies that serve special interests such as those of accredited members and those who want the national conference go from city to city each year. The loss on APR from 1986-2002 was $2.9 million. After more than 45 years of promoting APR, only 18% of members are APR. National conferences in New York generate the biggest revenues (record 4,000 attendance in 2004) and save on travel/hotel costs for the 25-35 staffers who attend a conference. Only one New York conference in 23 years has been scheduled. The Society cancelled the exhibit hall from 1995-99 after exhibitors asked for better positioning at the conference and more conferences in New York. This lost hundreds of thousands in revenue.

9. Women, by sheer numbers, have the power to eliminate governance and informational abuses including using proxies in the Assembly (forbidden by Robert’s Rules) and booking dues as cash, positioning them as an asset when they are a liability). Women comprise 70% of the membership, by the Society’s own count. They are presidents of nine of the ten largest chapters, 40 of the 50 largest, and 78 of the 105 chapters in this list (74%).

Presidents of the ten largest chapters, which have nearly 70 votes in the Assembly are Brigitte Johnson, National Capital; Karla Harvill, Georgia; Sandra Fathi, New York, Amy Littleton, Chicago; Brian O’Connor, Los Angeles (only male); Meredith Bagnulo, Colorado; Susan Ferraro, Detroit; Brooke Worden, Minnesota; Michelle McCormick, Houston, and Kathryn Reith, Puget Sound.

Elizabeth Badinter, a leading French intellectual who is the owner of Publicis, has called on women to be thinkers and leaders and not succumb to political correctness.

10. Delegates have said that because of the shaking economy it’s no time to raise dues and that doing so will drive members to other PR groups, cause chapters to split from national, or result in lower total dues income because of member drop-outs.