Chris Sorek, who graduated from Michigan State and worked for Ogilvy & Mather in Taiwan and Singapore and Cohn & Wolfe in New York, and who has spent the last 11 years in PR jobs in the U.K. and Switzerland, has joined the Int’l Assn. of Business Communicators as executive director.

Sorek will find that the PR community in the U.S. is pretty much like that in the U.K.—frightened of traditional media and confused about the role of social media and how to use the technological advances available to communicators.

“Clients ... are too scared to say anything” that might get picked up by the media, Richard Moss, director of the U.K.’s Good Relations, told Content has become “too vanilla to matter,” he added.

Daney Parker, who authored the U.K. blog post, quotes Henry Griffiths of Little Red Rooster as urging PR people to set up face-to-face meetings with reporters, who complain they are seeing less and less of PR staffers.

The situation sounds just like the U.S. where PR/press lunches are a distant memory and ditto even for phone conversations. Corporate/institutional PR staffers are under tight control and mostly limited to e-mails with reporters that are vetted by legal.

New York Times columnist David Carr on Jan. 29 rapped corporate PR as staffed by “underlings” who dish out “slop.” The Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten on May 10 said it’s a “ludicrous lie” that PR people are “tight with the media.”

IR/PR exec Tim Cost phrased it nicely some years ago when he said “Corporate PR experiences a press call as a drive-by shooting.”

Sorek Promises Openness

Sorek, in an interview with Ed Lallo of and brief comments with this reporter, described himself as an ex-reporter and ardent fan of being open and available to the press. He said he was “kind of a 24/7/365-type person.”

We certainly hope so. This reporter had maybe one phone conversation with Julie Freeman in her ten years as president of IABC.

The association has done a major right in removing the president’s title from a staffer. “President” implies choice by an election process and it also means the CEO of an organization. A staffer cannot be CEO.

Also, if you’re going to have the title of president you should act presidential. In the U.S., this means being open and responsive to constituents and the press.

The three major professional groups, American Medical Assn., American Bar Assn. and American Institute of CPAs, all have volunteer presidents who are elected by the memberships. The executive directors are drawn from each profession.

The PR Society and Arthur W. Page Society have staff “presidents” who serve as bulwarks against press and member contact with the elected chairs.

Page Blew $$ on Ill-fated Paid President

The Page Society has just gone through an expensive and unfortunate experience in having its first paid president -- Julia Hood.

The former editor of PR Week/U.S. came in with trumpets blaring, promising a commitment to Page. She was supposed to have performed a “spokesperson” role for Page and the industry but we never saw any signs of that.

We never met her or talked to her on the phone in her 18 months on the job that cost Page $394,910, according to the 2010 and 2011 IRS Form 990s. Current Page president Roger Bolton says the true figure is $338,803 but we await a further explanation.

Paid president Bill Murray at the PR Society is one of the most reclusive executives we have ever encountered. He has never addressed any New York group that we know of and that includes the local chapter. He has only spoken to two chapter memberships in 5.5 years -- National Capital and Minnesota -- as far as we can determine.

Paige Wesley, IABC VP of marketing and communications, said the executive director title “better aligns with the responsibilities of the position.”

Suit by Ex-COO Allan Embarrassed

IABC no doubt wanted a lower profile after being in the news for several years due to its flirtation with creating a website called “TalkingBusinessNow” that cost it at least $1 million and nearly bankrupted it.

On top of that, IABC and 2001 interim president Lou Williams were sued by former president Elizabeth Allan (link, sub req'd) on charges of defamation after Williams made some remarks about Allan and TBN at an IABC meeting.

The voluminous court filings were public and picked up by the PR trade press including O’Dwyer’s.

Existence of the suit had been withheld from the members and many of the leaders. It was “outed” when this website noted reference to a “lawsuit” in the IABC annual report. IABC staffers refused to say what it was. It was only determined after a search of California court records.

IABC’s “MemberSpeak” function was besieged with questions and comments that totaled 624 by July 22, 2004. Williams reported receiving more than 8,000 e-mails from members.

IABC brought itself back from the economic brink partly by offering lifetime $500 memberships to those who made such payments.

Membership Is 14,028

Membership as of May 2012 was 14,028 regular members and 806 student members. The peak was reached in December 2008 when there were 15,323 regular members and 866 student members.
As of July 2, there were 7,878 U.S. members; 5,170 in Canada; 656 in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and 813 in Asia/Pacific Rim.

The membership is 39% corporate; 14% PR counselors; 12% non-profit; 8% government/military, and 6% educational.

A low point of 11,353/871 was hit in 2002 in the wake of the abortive TBN website.

It was supposed to be “a comprehensive, interactive business initiative that is fully functional, customizable and online.” It was to have offered services and information to any business professional in search of solutions and in obtaining business objectives.” Because of cost problems, it was never launched.

Revenues at $6 million

Revenues in the year ended Dec. 31, 2011 were $6,096,886, a slight gain from $6,039,673 in the previous year. Expenses were $5,946,762 v. $5,577,718.

Cash/savings were $903,500 vs. $904,571 in the previous year and restricted cash totaled $282,918 in each year. There were no investments.

IABC’s IRS Form 990s for several years report revenues of $1.6M to $1.8M which are about $4M less than the revenues being reported to members.

An explanation for this large discrepancy is being sought.

IABC, unlike the PR Society, defers about half of its dues income on the ground that it is unearned. Deferred revenue was $1,714,987. The latest 990 shows no spending at all on “legal” although PRS has spent $400K on that in the five latest available years.

IABC dues are more than those charged by PRS. Regular dues are $249 plus mandatory chapter dues of $65 and regional dues of $10, a total of $324.

PRS dues are $255. Chapters charge an average of about $55 but members are not required to join.

PRS and IABC had lengthy merger talks in the 1980s but they were broken off by IABC on the ground that PRS would have been too dominant in any merger.

Sorek’s last post was CEO of Drinkaware, London, a non-profit devoted to prudent use of alcohol, which he founded.

Elected Head Keeps Chair Title

The elected head of IABC is keeping the title of chair, leaving no one in the title of president. Installed as chair in June was Kerby Meyers, who heads The Communications Refinery in Denver.

Meyers, a former reporter, has written that he is in favor of “old school journalistic principles.”

Vice chair is Robin McCasland, who heads Brain Biscuits Strategic Communication, Dallas.

Sorek Should Face NYC PR Press

Sorek and Meyers can demonstrate openness by having a press conference with the PR press based in New York—the O’Dwyer Co., PR Week/U.S., PR News, Bulldog Reporter and PR Newser.

The last press conference of the PR Society was conducted in 1993 in Orlando by PRS president Hal Warner.

This year’s PRS candidates have given new meaning to the word “seclusion” by refusing to answer questions of the press, members or non-members.

Joe Cohen of MWW Group will probably get nomination for chair because nomination of opponent Kathy Barbour of Jacksonville, Fla., would mean four of the last five chairs would be from the South -- Mickey Nall of Atlanta in 2013, Fiske of Miami in 2011, and Gary McCormick of Knoxville in 2010.

They might as well call it the PR Society of the South.

New York members refuse to serve on the all-APR board of APR die-hards. Sole candidate for Tri-State this year is Anita Saunders from Berlin (Conn.), outside of Hartford.

There is no evidence that 2012 chair Gerry Corbett has spoken to any chapters.

Four of the ten districts of PRS are staging their own revolt by refusing to send anyone to the board—Southeast, Southwest, North Pacific and this year, Northeast.

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