Wednesday, October 17, 2007

PRSA who? Erase PRS and start over...says Jack O'Dwyer

Jack O'Dwyer
Oct. 16, 2007


This is our last editorial before the once-a-year meeting of the Assembly of the PR Society.

This body, which meets Saturday in Philadelphia, is supposed to represent the interests of the members.

We don't think it does. It represents the interests of the leaders and h.q. staff.

We would like this to be a serious meeting that takes up serious topics like local-only chapter membership, sending Tactics and Strategist by e-mail (saving at least $400,000), moving most of h.q. to a city far from New York thus saving more money (like the AICPA and others have done), returning to members their beloved Blue Book of members which was their phone book and which contained lots of other materials, to name a few topics.

But the Assembly will be delirious if the 250 chapter delegates let themselves be hornswoggled into discussing the "Strategic Plan" for an hour and a half (with monitors patrolling the aisles to make sure they don't discuss anything else).

The current SP is a cloud of soaring aspirations and goals with about as much substance as a real cloud.

It can easily be shown that it has failed in its main goals so why craft another one?

Leaders want to shift the attention of the delegates to the future and away from the painful truths of the present. Another such dodge this year is the threat to re-write the entire bylaws. Delegates will have to worry about that one, too. We recall the adage: "The future is the playground of fools." PR people should not practice bad PR on each other.

Old Strategic Plan Was a Failure

For openers, the 2004-07 SP said that PRS is a "member-driven organization" when it emphatically is not. Members are typically kept in the dark about big decisions like killing the directory, the code, and signing a 13-year lease downtown.

There is no PRS blog for members and they're barred from seeing what their "elected" delegates say in a private e-mail group. As it turns out very little is being said in this e-group. Most of the participants are leaders.

What participants have learned is that they're not getting the third quarter financials until the day of the Assembly. They're ready but the board, which meets this Thursday, has to see them first. We don't think the board is more important than the Assembly.

A chief goal of the SP was making PRS "the profession's leading voice on important industry, societal and global issues." We haven't seen a single speech all year from either CEO Rhoda Weiss or COO Bill Murray, both of whom have ducked all but three of the 15 biggest chapters. How can leaders have a voice when they're in hiding?!

Weiss has only spoken to two of the top 15 chapters and none of the five largest.

Foundation Is Much Smaller than IPR

Another big goal was to "identify the PRS Foundation as the leader in research and education that advances the profession."

This is preposterous because the Institute for PR, which broke away from PRS in 1989 over the APR issue, had revenues of $845,485 in 2006 vs. the Foundation's $259,840 in 2006. IPR is three times as big as the Foundation and we don't see the latter catching up. Actually, it should never have been created. PRS should have accepted an independent foundation back in 1989.

Leadership Development Failed

Another unrealized 2004-07 SP goal was to "create a leadership institute to develop promising mid-careerists to service the Society…"

What a laugh! On the Oct. 9 delegate teleconference, S.E. district chair Blake Lewis bemoaned the failure of even one acceptable candidate to show up for a district board position. One had to be recruited by petition. "No organization should have to go through that," he complained. Obviously this SP initiative failed. Only nine candidates showed up for seven board and officer positions this year. Chapters also have difficulty in attracting volunteers.

APR Is in the Doldrums

Another goal, equally laughable, was "increase the number of accredited members through a targeted marketing plan." New PRS APRs have been at an all-time low for three years running-totaling 391 in three years or an average of 130 yearly. This program, which attracts only a trace of the 18,000+ eligibles, would be very difficult to revive after being in a moribund state for so long.

Leaders have to accept this and other unpleasant facts instead of feeding themselves fluff.

Gold Anvil Winners Absent

Yet another main objective of the SP was "gain recognition" for PRS leaders such as Gold Anvil winners. Where are Debra Miller, 2006 Gold winner, and all the other Gold winners? Are there any speeches or leadership activities coming from them? No.

What have they got to say about the secret e-mail group of the delegates, the false financials that understate conference payroll costs, the lack of a blog on the PRS website, etc.? Nothing. Equally silent are the past presidents, who self-mockingly call themselves "The Dead Presidents Society."

Plan Was Meaningful in 1999

The Strategic Plan was more meaningful when it was created in 1999 as a "check and balance" against rule by the board.

It was meant to gather the opinions of a broad spectrum of members.

The 1999 SP demanded that APR be removed as a qualification for national office or the Assembly or membership on the nominating committee. What happened was that the board removed the SP of its independence. The 1999 board led by Sam Waltz rejected the APR advice in the strongest terms and said it would fight any such changes in the bylaws.

The board now dominates the SP. The SP is no longer a "check and balance" on the board and neither are the Ethics Board, which refuses to make any criticisms of the national board; the audit committee, which rubber stamps the audit by Sobel & Co.; the College of Fellows, which is silent; the ex-presidents, also silent, and the Gold Anvil winners, even more silent. All these possible "checks and balances" are no match for the board and its arsenal of lawyers, accountants and association executives. The Assembly is the last possible "check and balance" but its overwhelming rejection of the Central Michigan proposal last year (which would have made the Assembly the chief policy-making body of the Society) shows the board is in almost complete control of it.

SP Loaded with Positive Spin

The SP is loaded with positive words like "strategy," "critical," "vision," "ethical," "strengths," etc. How many zeros make one? If the delegates spend one minute on creating a new string of superlatives for PRS, they will show how politicized they have become.

If they want to win a lot of brownie points with the national leadership, that is the way to do it. The Assembly is the one day in the year when PRS volunteers and staff must operate in the open. It is too big to be hidden. Its actions will be duly recorded for all to see.

What is needed is for the chapters to create their own governing body, at last providing some balance to the out-of-control national board and staff that has abandoned the democratic principles on which the U.S. is founded.

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Arnie Huberman (10/16):
The only way to save PRSA is to destroy it, and start from scratch. PRSA membership is of ZERO value to me if it is on your resume.APR even worse. Like a phoenix, a new organiztion that represents the members and not the self-serving intersts of the staff should arise. And I would give the job to Richard Edelman to organize!

MAYO PR - "We don't guarantee media, we just get it!"