PR Society Assembly delegates are getting conflicting messages from those who are running the “open” discussions that are planned for 1:30 to 4:30 Oct. 13 in San Francisco.

On the one hand they are being told to come up with their own topics but on the other they are being told that “growing the organization” is the topic of the day.

Discussion leader Diane Gage-Lofgren, a PRS board member and also a member of the Arthur W. Page Society, has told the delegates that the three-hour afternoon session will be “an unconference” that will feature “open discussion.”

But both she and assistant leader Laura Dunn, as well as chair Gerry Corbett, have told the delegates that the “theme” will be building the Society.

Corbett told a 14-minute teleconference yesterday that the “assembled brainpower” of the delegates will be used to discuss “growing the organization, adding member value, and retaining members.”

Gage-Lofgren, SVP and CCO brand strategy, communications & PR for the Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, at first told the delegates that they will be picking their own topics but later added that her team “has already hosted a handful of meetings to bring together a list of Assembly objectives and themes that we’d like the unconference participants to have in mind…”

Leaders Push Certain “Themes”

These include “growing and retaining Society membership, uncovering membership and growth development issues, and finding ways national can support membership,” she said. Proposed themes include “advocacy, membership, advancing the profession, diversity and value proposition.”

Dunn told the teleconference yesterday that there will be no set agenda for the delegates but also added that the theme of the discussions is supposed to be “improving membership.”
Gage-Lofgren says her goal is to “really discuss and explore topics.”

What is needed, she added in a posting on the Society website, is participants with “great first-hand knowledge to share, interesting and engaging questions to explore, and some even with expert knowledge that can shed some light on the topics.”

The Saturday afternoon format, says Gage-Lofgren, “opens participants to new ways of thinking and fresh ideas, spawns creativity, ignites passion, defines problems and taps into people’s problem-solving skills.”

That Sounds Like Jack O’Dwyer!

I am going to be there the day of the Assembly as well as for the rest of the conference and the paragraph above sounds just like me! Who else has spent 44 years covering PRS practically day-by-day and written tens of thousands of words on it?

I have seen it when the biggest companies and PR firms in the U.S. took part in its leadership.

As for ideas about “growing the Society,” I have plenty.

They want “passion” and “fresh ideas”? I have them.

The way to grow PRS is to open it up to chapter-only membership.

No. 2 on my list would be eliminating any connection between office-holding and APR.

Dues could be lowered to $95 or less by sending Tactics and Strategist only as PDFs and having the annual conference in New York every year (tapping the huge New York communications market and saving the cost of sending 30 and more staffers to distant cities each year).

Working PR people should replace any staffers who leave.

PRS should let journalists join. There are many “two-hatters” these days since making a living on journalism alone has become very difficult. The National Press Club has enrolled hundreds of PR people but PRS keeps its doors closed to anyone who smacks of journalism. This is unrealistic in today’s fast-changing market place.

PRS can burnish its reputation by reporting its finances fully and openly on its website early in the year and opening this section of its website to the press.

Does PRS “Really” Want to Grow?

There’s a big doubt in my mind as to whether the leaders of PRS really want a bigger Society. Chair Gerry Corbett has noted that PRS only has about 8% of the 270,000 PR population.

The dynamic that is going on here is that PRS members feel they are the “elite” of the industry and the fewer of them, the more valuable is PRS membership. They can note to potential employers and clients that they are among the very few who belong to the largest and oldest PR group in the U.S.

That is a questionable claim because there are online PR communities that claim memberships of 100,000+ including “Social Media Marketing” (195,000 members); “PR and Communications Professionals” (46,685 members), and “Innovative Marketing, PR, Sales” by Gerald Haman (150,897 members). These and more than 50 other PR and related groups can be found on LinkedIn.

The 18% of members who are APR have a double whammy to lay on employers and clients.

If leaders wanted a dramatic jump in membership, they would do all or most of the things mentioned above.

I hope Gage-Lofgren invites me to the Assembly. If I’m blocked from the entrance by guards like I was last year, I will station myself there and say hello to the delegates as they go in and out.

Terms of Web Use Need Examination

The odious “Terms of Use” of the PRS website, a 13-page document dated June 2012, deserves discussion.

It gives PRS the right to terminate a user where violations “are suspected” and is too one-sided to qualify as a “contract.” It is not enforceable, lawyers tell us, because there has been no offer, no acceptance by the other parties, and no consideration.

It contains the phrase “at our (PRS’s) sole discretion” five times, indicating a unilateral approach which is anathema to a legal agreement.

Members, by checking they accept this bogus agreement, give PRS the right to sell their names, addresses, and titles for one-time mailings by “third parties” with no limit on the number of such sales.

Delegates need to discuss the huge legal bills that the Society has been paying totally $405,571 in the five latest years to Venable, 500-lawyer Washington, D.C., firm. PRS is refusing to divulge its 2011 IRS Form 990 that would give the 2011 legal total.

Gage-Lofgren Has Special Burden

Gage-Lofgren, as a member of the Arthur W. Page Society, whose first principles are “Tell the Truth” and “Prove it with action,” has a special burden since she is a national director of PRS and leading the supposedly open-ended discussion Oct. 13.

PRS is not telling the truth to prospective new members because there is no statement in promotional offers that new members do not have the right to run for national office until they pay another $410 and submit to the accreditation process.

Prospective new members should know that participation in the APR program in the latest nine years is less than half of what it was in the previous ten years and even then it involved less than 2% of members.

Newsroomink has an excellent discussion by Ed Lallo of both the PRS APR program and a similar program at the International Assn. of Business Communicators (ABC) which has been suspended. So far this year only 45 new ABCs have been created vs. 106 last year. The $500 process has been passed by 1,010 of the current 14,000 members. Only 583 have become ABC in the past five years.

IABC as of Sept. 1 stopped taking ABC applications until the test can be modernized. Goal is to do this by next summer.

IABC does not require officers or board members to be ABC.

The concept of PRS and IABC performing their own “accreditation” testing needs to be examined and particularly whether this has any worth in the marketplace.