The IBM PR department, faced with a mass of O’Dwyer data related to PR chief Jon Iwata and his being chair of the Arthur W. Page Society, a leader of (PR) Seminar, and receiving the 2011 Paladin Award from the PRS Foundation, has gone into information lockdown.

The IBM dept. last week received links to 1,570 O’Dwyer stories and items about Page; 1,140 on Seminar, and 2,930 on the PR Society that have been on and the O’Dwyer NL since Jan. 1, 2000. [A recently added Google search mechanism makes it possible to search 12 years of O’Dwyer stories in less than a second.]

Jon Iwata at the PRSA Foundation event in 2011. Photo: Jon Gurinsky
Although IBM is noted for handling information and Iwata himself bragged to the 2011 Paladin dinner that its “Watson” computer accessed 200 books in less than three seconds for a Jeopardy question, the data sent to Iwata and IBM PR elicited nothing but silence. It was like turning all the lights and appliances on in a poorly wired house resulting in a complete blackout.

IBM is by no means the only organization behaving this way in the face of massive amounts of information, some of it negative.

PR and particularly corporate/institutional PR has yet to learn how to cope with the Information Age. Large portions of PR are turning to social media as a way to escape the traditional press and web but citizens now have the same access to information as reporters.

Seminar, Page Have Dark Sides

Seminar and Page are ostensibly upstanding organizations that mostly serve their members by spreading knowledge and building skills. Both are secretive, tax-free groups that should also be serving the general PR public.

There is plenty of criticism of Seminar, the 60-year-old annual meeting of about 150 blue chip corporate PR execs that features editors of media such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, Financial Times, Bloomberg, the networks, etc.

Peter Sussman, who helped write the Ethics Code of the Society of Professional Journalists, in 2009 answered “Yes” to our question of whether Seminar shows that “Big Press is too cozy with Big PR.”

Sussman, who said many of his opinions were shared by others on the SPJ Ethics committee, said big press had failed “their readers, listeners and viewers” by not being keeping a close enough watch on the government and Wall Street.

Said Sussman: “During the recent mortgage/home price/debt securitization bubble, in the buildup to the Iraqi war and on many other occasions in recent years the news media have failed to ‘seek truth and report it’ (the first category in our Code of Ethics) because they have been too cozy with those powerful and rich enough to buy their camaraderie, their insider access and their good will.”
He then listed nine violations of the SPJ code by the journalists at Seminar including failure to avoid conflicts of interest, failure to disclose the existence of Seminar, and failure to resist blandishments of “advertisers and special interests.”

Iwata Led Move to Drop “PR”

Iwata, Seminar chair in 2007, headed the committee that removed “PR” from the name of the group. It was pointed out that only one of the 33 new members in 2007 had a title with PR in it.

That action should be taken at its face value. The members and their employers don’t want “relations with the public.” What they want is dissemination of corporate messages and the corporate viewpoint.

The Page Society, headed by Iwata this year, has its share of negatives.

It was chartered as a 501/c/3 “charity” in 1983 but to our view it bears little resemblance to other c/3s which include the Red Cross, United Way, etc. Rather, it closely resembles the PR Society which is a c/6.

The 501/c/3 category is for charities, arts organizations and other groups in the public interest, says the IRS.

C/3 status allows members and others to make tax-free contributions to it. Such contributions totaled $247,47 in 2010 helping Page to achieve cash/savings/investments of $880,183 as of Dec. 31, 2010. Even though this total is well over half of 2010 expenses of $1,282,400, Page is on a fund-raising “Friends of Page” drive that raised $37,000 from 35 donors in 2011.

Non-profits set high goals for their reserves and low standards for their financial reporting.

IBM reported its 2011 results on Jan. 19 but Page would not give us its bank balance as of Dec. 31, 2011.

IBM, by the way, on sales of $106 billion, has a debt of $31B. Were it an association, it would want to have reserves of $50B. IBM uses its funds to expand and serve the public.

Could Serve PR Public Better

Page could do a better job of serving the PR public.

It just moved out of offices it had shared with the Council of PR Firms at 317 Madison Ave. to another floor in the building. That building has 22 vacant offices renting at $45 a sq. ft.

What is desperately needed by the New York PR community is a Midtown place to meet and a library.

The New York chapter of PRS has to meet in various bars and at PR firms. Many PR firm CEOs don’t want their people going to other PR firms for anything.

New York PR pros have got the back of its hand from the out-of-town dominated PR Society for more than 30 years and it’s time this was rectified. Page/CPRF have plenty of funds to do this if they would stop thinking of only operating in their own silos.

PR Lists Secret but Not Press Lists

Another issue that should be addressed by Seminar/Page (half the people at Seminar are Page members) is the excessive secrecy of both groups.

Reporters and others are not allowed to see the memberships lists of either although editor contact points are a matter of public record.

Editor lists are available from numerous sources but not lists of PR people in convenient form.

The PR Society in the early 2000’s distributed 150 copies of its members’ directory to media to help build relationships. There needs to be a return to that sort of thinking.

The PRS Foundation gave Iwata its Paladin Award in 2011 although the company has not been a big supporter of the PR Society. Only six of IBM’s 440,885 employees are members. One is Brandi Boatner, who headed the PR Student Society in 2008.