The outburst of terrorism at year’s end, including the massacres in Paris Nov. 13 and San Bernadino Dec. 2, plus threats of continued incidents in the future, dominated media coverage and defined the year.

rampageA late December New York Times/CBS poll found 44% of those surveyed fear a terror attack in the next few months.

Politicians as well as companies and institutions are taking into account the increased public anxiety over safety issues. Los Angeles, responding to a threat, kept 640,000 children out of schools on Dec. 15. New York City, receiving the same threat, decided it was a hoax and kept schools open.

Immigration has percolated to the top of public issues since the arrival of tens of thousands of newcomers appears to present a security threat. Checking the “papers” of the arrivals is problematic since many are coming from countries where paperwork is either non-existent or can be forged.

The main trends that we saw in 2015 include the continued decline of the influence of mainstream media due to tightened ad budgets and numerous free information/news sources; corporate “PR” departments that are under control of legal, marketing and financial, and continued growth in the agency side of PR where about a dozen specialized areas like healthcare, tech and financial are growing. O’Dwyer’s magazine, focusing on such practices, published 692 pages in 2015 that included hundreds of profiles of the practices and trends in those practice areas.

Eighteen of the 25 largest O’Dwyer-ranked PR firms had double-digit growth in 2014 and indications are that this trend has continued in 2015. Companies have mostly shifted press relations to outside counsel. Queries put in “question boxes” on corporate websites generate replies from PR firms.

Readers can search stories on odwyerpr.com by 49 topics from beauty/fashion and book reviews to travel PR and Wikipedia by accessing the section “Look up O’Dwyer stories by category” at the top of the site.

“Good-Bye to Hello” headlined an article in the April 2015 Vanity Fair that said people rarely talk on the phone any more, relying instead on texting.

PR is growing as mainstream media decline because technology allows companies and institutions to contact customers and potential customers directly via emails, corporate websites, digitized company publications and social media.

More media are carrying corporate-generated editorial-type copy as “native advertising.” Agencies are becoming more skilled at creating “stories” that contain client messages.

Two dubious trends continued--the near disappearance of trials by jury and press conferences. 

2015 Generated Shocks, Major Stories

There were many major, even shocking developments in the PR/media arena.

cision--Biggest story in the services sector was the December purchase for $841 million of UBM’s PR Newswire by Cision, owned by private equity firm GTCR. Also under the same ownership are Vocus and Gorkana. Cision, headed by Peter Granat, adds a legacy news dissemination service to its tech-based offerings which include low-cost PRWeb, “World’s No. 1 news release service.”

--The sale of Newsday, Cablevision and news12.com to French-owned Altice for $17.7 billion was a shock to those in Eastern Long Island where we have spent half the year for 30 years. Local media are weak enough without being under foreign ownership. Certain stories are skipped because they are “politically incorrect.”

--The dismissal of PRSA VP-PR Stephanie Cegielski when she came for work on Monday, July 27 was a shock. She had been there three years and was promoted to VP after the sudden death of Arthur Yann on July 13, 2013. We think she has a case vs. the Society because she got the duties of Yann but only about half his pay of $191k. What did she do that was wrong? The Society is now searching for a VP-PR.

--The $127K in bonuses PRSA CEO Bill Murray received for 2013-2014 was a shock because 2014 Society revenues of $11.1M were lower than the $11.4M in revenues in 2006, the year before he came. The Society withheld this info from us until Nov. 25, ten days after the legal deadline for providing IRS Form 990 to requesters. Auditors had the info back in April when the audit was published.

--Another shock from the belated 990 was that staff CPA Philip Bonaventura got a 13.7% raise to a total of $286,635. Base went to $232,773 from $212.291. Joining the list of the top seven paid staffers was controller Wai Chung who had total pay of $158,354. Members are paying $444,989 for substandard, misleading accounting that delays publication of the 990 until the last possible moment and withholding it from the Assembly and press. The Society, legally but in violation of accepted norms, counts dues income as cash when it should be booked over the course of a year. This inflates “net assets.”

Also a shock from the Society’s 990 is $63,225 in legal expenses, bringing the ten-year total to $710,058 or an average of $71,00 yearly. Venable of Washington, D.C., is the Society’s counsel. Staff accountants, administrators and lawyers are well paid at the Society while PR is short-changed. Its last press conference was in 1993 at the annual conference in Orlando.

Delaney Report Sues Meredith

--Thomas Delaney, a graduate of The Gallagher Report, Madison avenue’s feisty investigative NL that folded in 1989, shocked us by suing Meredith Corp. (Better Homes & Gardens) Dec. 16 on charges of copyright violation of The Delaney Report, a weekly NL based in Tryon, N.C.

The 15-page suit, filed in New York’s U.S. District Court, recalls copyright charges against PRSA made by 12 authors in 1994 but never brought to court. Crain’s, New York Times, Prentice-Hall, Wylie and other major publishers whose works were copied and sold refused to join the authors in a legal action. Going up against the Society on their own was far beyond the means of the authors.

A pleasant shock came from attending Fair Media Council’s annual “Connection Day” Oct. 23 at Briarcliffe College, Bethpage, L.I. Attendance of 500+ included more than 50 reporters and editors, many from major New York City media such as NBC, CBS and Fox News. PR pros and media figures heard 100 speakers and rubbed elbows in a friendly atmosphere such as used to be the case in New York. FMC CEO Jaci Clement said the day “once again proved that PR people and reporters want to build personal relationships."

Another L.I. group that welcomes media is PR Professionals of Long Island, a 150-member group headed by Kali Chan,  director of media relations, Adelphi University. The group was the L.I. chapter of PRSA until it broke away in 1989. “We did not get enough from national to be worth the $175 dues,” said Gene Seraphine, chapter president. PRPLI has a full schedule of activities.

Editors Jump to PR

A shock not only to us but journalism is the flow of reporters to the PR side. Gawker reporter Gabrielle Bluestone found two Pulitzer Prize winners who had gone to PR—Rob Kuznia of the Daily Breeze, Torrance, Calif., joining the USC Shoah Foundation, and Natalie Caula Hauff of the Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C., to media relations at the county government.

Solomon
Deborah Solomon

Six journalists who moved to PR were interviewed by New York Observer reporters Michael Kaminer and John Bonazzo who asked what it was like to be in PR. All were positive about their new jobs, stressing the creativity required and better working conditions. Among those interviewed were Deborah Solomon, ex-Wall Street Journal and Pulitzer Prize winner now with Finsbury; William Goss, ex-NY Times real estate editor now at Rubenstein Assocs., and Joe Checkler, ex-WSJ, now at Peppercomm. Kristin Boehm, who went from people.com to DKC, said her biggest surprise was “Eating Lunch. At a restaurant! It’s lovely.”

Gorkana, a subsidiary of Cision, has a regular feature on journalists switching to PR called “Moving to the Dark Side.” 

Michael Kinsley, writing in the May 2014 Vanity Fair on the decline of news jobs, described a “content farm” in Maryland as “Dozens of recent college grads—paid 75 cents an hour—who sat chained to their computers grinding out blog items while editors stood above them with whips, shouting ‘Blog, you worthless scum.’” He admits this was an exaggeration but likens the “farm” to the 19th century factories that minimized labor costs. Bloomberg in September cut 90 editorial staffers in New York, Washington, D.C., and overseas.

NYT Cut Ad, Bridge, Chess Columns

A shock was the NYT ditching the advertising, bridge and chess columns. Variety doubted the ad column, a staple since 1935, would come back after Stuart Elliott’s departure after a 23-year run. It was right. This reporter wrote a daily ad column for eight years for the New York Journal-American and Chicago Tribune and found that some big Madison ave. players did not like daily attention paid to the vicissitudes of the industry.

The bridge column “took too much time because the day’s game had to be played to check it out,”  said NYT in dropping a fixture of the paper for 80 years. The chess column had run for 52 years.

IPR Compromises Its Mission

mccorkindaleMcCorkindale

A shock was the appointment of Prof. Tina McCorkindale of Appalachian State University as CEO of the Institute for PR.  This turned the clock back on IPR’s 26-year quest to be independent of PR Society of America. McCorkindale, a director of the Society-controlled Universal Accreditation Board, chaired its Educators Academy in 2013. IPR broke away from PRSA in 1989 because it rejected demands that all directors be APR. The Society then started another non-profit Foundation. Neither has gone far in 26 years. Foundation income was $250,526 in 2013 and IPR brought in $674,012 in 2014 not counting donations of service.

Lawyer Shouting at Us Was a Shock

We were shocked at the Westhampton Beach trustees’ meeting Sept. 3 when a lawyer for the trustees kept shouting at us, “Address the board, address the board” when our eyes veered to the residents in the room or the camera that was recording the event. We had been limited to five minutes of speaking when we wanted to rebut a lawyer for the board who had been allowed to speak for 45 minutes. The trustees had refused to put us on the agenda which would have allowed more than five minutes. So much for free speech in WHB.

The Westhampton Library board got a shock when 65 residents showed up at its Oct. 30 meeting with most of them demanding the resignation of library president Joan Levan, which they got. Three of the four other trustees also resigned. Residents want an elected board for the first time since the library’s founding in 1896. A union was formed for the first time on Aug. 21 by a 31-3 vote. A shock was the appointment of Tom Moore, husband of WHB Mayor Maria Moore, as library president. That destroyed the independence of the library board. 

Final Release for PR Notables

More than 40 PR and media figures died in 2015, their obits carried on odwyerpr.com.

They include, in alphabetical order, Alan Caruba, 77, New Jersey counselor and blogger; Gordon Conley, 92, JWT veteran; Al Croft, 87, author and adviser to PR firms; Jay DeBow, 81, New York counselor; Jack Felton, 84, PRSA, Institute for PR leader; Larry Foster, 88, Johnson & Johnson; George Goodwin, Atlanta counselor; Bob Gray, adviser to President Reagan, D.C. counselor; Bernie Ilson, New  York; Ted Levine, 88, founder of DCI, New York; Joe Mansi, 77, partner in KCSA; Edward Ney, Young & Rubicam; Wes Pedersen, D.C. counselor; Dan Roher, 88, New York counselor; Leonard Saffir, Porter Novelli; Ernie Sando, 64, Georgeson & Co., and Charlotte Kelly Veal, 83, Hearst PR.