Twenty silent PRSA delegates, marching to cellphone commands, harassed this writer at the 2010 Assembly as we tried to interview a delegate. They were like the “zombies” created by cellphones in the 2016 movie “Cell,” based on the Stephen King novel.

Cell by Stephen King

The harassment came as we talked to New York delegate Art Stevens who had led a failed move to break the monopoly that accredited members have on national board seats. This assault on the “holy of holies” of the Society had riled the delegates who voted down the bid 172-104 after 20 minutes of discussion.

Our support of the bid, also led by Richard Edelman and Dave Rickey, had annoyed the delegates, one of whom later told us that our role reached a “flash point” that “went viral on twitter” and was then rocketed throughout the Society’s membership via cellphones.

The delegates planned to interrupt our interview with Stevens by pressing hotel pens into our hands and then for all 2,000+ attendees to do the same whenever they saw us in the hotel halls. This was supposed to tell us that we were schizophrenic like Princeton Prof. John Nash as played by Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind.”

Fellow professors had presented pens to Nash in the movie as gesture of support although there was no such tradition at Princeton.

Cellphones Turn People into Zombies

Having just seen the “Cell” movie and read the book, we recalled the silent delegates marching on us and trying to present pens. We took one but refused the others when no one would provide an explanation.

In the book, anyone who uses a cellphone loses his or her mind and may attack anyone nearby, killing or dismembering them. After an initial series of such attacks, the mindless zombies act like schooling fish or flocks of birds and coordinate their movements, still under control of some unknown alien source.

Millions of minds are co-opted this way. Only a few escape this plague because they were lucky enough to have phones that didn’t work for one reason or another.

The silent Assembly delegates reminded us of the speechless zombies in “Cell” who only communicate with each other. They are incapable of communicating with unaffected people.

Delegate Threatened a “Beating”

Having pens pressed into our hands was a mild experience compared to what happened outside the Hilton Hotel in 2010 as we waited for a ride.

A delegate rushed up close to us screaming obscenities in our face and saying, “I will beat you to a pulp” as a group of Society leaders and staff watched through the hotel window. He retreated when we asked a hotel attendant to call the police.

The same threat, accompanied by more profanities, came to us in the mail Dec. 18, 2010. Society leaders know who did this but have never taken any action.

APR Remains Strong as Ever

The tight grip of the APRs on the governance of the Society, kept there by the academic community which dominates the Society, remains as strong as ever, six years later. It’s significant that the chair-elect for 2018 is Anthony D’Angelo, PR professor at Syracuse University. He will succeed solo practitioner Jane Dvorak of Colorado.

Sixteen of the 17 national board members for 2017 are APR when only four at most should be since only 18% of members are APR. That includes a number who are retired or otherwise ineligible for the board. Only two blue chips are represented on the board—Robert Hastings of the Bell Helicopter unit of Textron and Andrew McCaskill of Neilsen Holdings.

Consultant Laura Freebairn-Smith, Hamden, Conn., and her staff, who interviewed 750 members and non-members and conducted other research, told the 2013 Assembly that the APR program is invalid because it is self-administered.

“Employers are not using it as a guide,” she said. The research project, made in conjunction 50th anniversary of APR, cost upwards of $200K since professional fees ballooned 70% to $497,000 in the first nine months of 2013.

She said the Universal Accreditation Board is dominated by the Society and not “independent.” She asked members numerous questions but was not allowed to ask whether the program should be closed.

Mickey Nall, 2013 chair, told Freebairn-Smith that “abandoning APR is not an option.”

Maintenance Weak, Ethics Not Addressed

Other Freebairn-Smith criticisms were that the “maintenance requirements are not stringent enough”; the UAB website is “dated and does not convey an image of a robust, successful credential,” and “concerns of ethical violations” are not addressed. “Monitoring and enforcement of ethical standards are weak,” said one of the slides she presented to the Assembly.

Although Freebairn-Smith’s office is only about 1.5 hours by train from O’Dwyer offices and we have research on APR dating back to 1968, she refused to visit us or talk to us on the telephone.

In another incident at a national conference, guards swarmed us in the lobby of the San Francisco Marriott Marquis Oct. 15, 2012 and forced us to leave the hotel and stand across the street. Our offense was that we had talked to someone in the lobby.

Guards have blocked this reporter from entering the exhibit hall for the past ten years. The O’Dwyer Co. has been barred from exhibiting its five news and informational products in the hall since the 1990s.

Big Players Hike to Other Groups

The dominance of the academic-led APRs in Society affairs has led to numerous governance and informational abuses, 20 of which are in this link.

The Society’s 2015 audit showed revenues rose 0.15% to $11.6 million from $11.4M in 2006, a miniscule gain in nine years. Membership of 22,000 is about 1,500 more than it was in 2000. The non-profit Foundation, formed in 1990 after the previous Foundation broke away to form the Institute for PR, had revenues of $312,466. IPR had revenues of $620,794 and lost $137,705.

IPR president Tina McCorkindale lives in Seattle, a jarring note. Both the president and IPR offices should be in New York.

Major corporate and agency money and executives have gone to the other PR and related groups.

Arthur W. Page Society had revenues of $3,508,943 in 2015; PR Council, $1,477,056; National Investor Relations Institute, $5,189,688; Committee to Protect Journalists. $5,281,111. Seminar, known as PR Seminar until 2007, spends about $1 million annually on its four-day meeting at golf and tennis resorts.

Zombie-like Silence Pervades PRSA

The 55 or so member staff of the Society, which took home a record pay of $5.76 million in 2015, runs the organization with an iron hand. The complacent, submissive membership, led by the APR-worshiping academic contingent, has allowed the CEO title to be taken by the staff, led by Joseph Truncale, who spent most of his career in the printing/mailing business.

Since the O’Dwyer website now has 16 years of PR, media and related areas, searchable in a nano-second, it might be expected PR educators would flock to the site themselves and urge their students to experience it. Board members of the PRSA Educators Academy, currently headed by Hilary Sisco, Ph.D., associate professor at Quinnipiac University, North Haven, Conn., have never responded to any of our emails or phone calls. Also in lockdown are all those connected with the 10,000-members Student Society of PRSA.

It’s about time this section of the PR industry opened its eyes and ears and got a dose of reality and stopped behaving like the automatons depicted by King in Cell. The plot is science fiction but King is telling readers how modern technology can be used for mind control. The book should be required reading for PRSA leaders, members and staff.