I’m embarrassed by the totally unprofessional, unethical and childish behavior this week of the so-called leaders of my profession, the board and staff of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).
I’ve been a PRSA member for many years and have paid dues and event fees for employees who’ve wanted to participate (something that most large agencies don’t do any more – score another point for PR boutiques). This week
PRSA is holding its annual convention, and the organization has been all over the industry news - not due to the program, but because of its discrimination against one industry journalist, Jack O’Dwyer, publisher and editor-in-chief of the eponymous Jack O’Dwyers Newsletter.
O’Dwyer has been in a nearly 20-year-long vendetta with PRSA’s national staff and board. He scrutinizes PRSA’s finances every year and has been a thorn in the organization’s side by making extremely negative editorial comments about its expenses, staff and board. As a result, PRSA has singled O’Dwyer out for special treatment: last year he was charged full attendance fees at the convention while other journalists were invited free of charge. This year he was barred from attending altogether.
Here’s the thing: O’Dwyer is entirely right about PRSA’s expenses (and the behavior of the staff and board have proven him right about them, too). PRSA national has lost over $850K in the first nine months of this year. The association’s operating income vs. expenses barely broke even for 2010, and showed a loss of close to half a million in 2009. Meanwhile, I’m paying a total of $500 in annual dues. Of that, PRSA national gets $225 for general membership, and Counselors Academy, a PRSA special section, gets $195. The chapter gets only $80. Yet the chapter’s frequent and widely varied programming is every bit as good as what the national organization provides. Most of the PRSA services provided in the NYC metro area come from the chapter, not PRSA national. Yet PRSA forces people to be national members in order to be chapter members.
I served on the board and as an officer of PRSA’s New York chapter for many years. I’ve visited PRSA’s national headquarters in downtown Manhattan on several occasions. There’s a ton of office space and a large staff down there. However, it’s volunteers who do all the program development. It’s not as if the money we members pay in dues is being well-spent on developing a positive image of the profession. It’s apparent to everyone that this industry association has done a miserably poor job of PR for PR for as long as anyone can remember. So where’s the value for our money?
I feel an obligation to support the local chapter with my membership dues because of the important service it provides to the entire NYC PR community. I’ve also received value from PRSA’s Counselors Academy. Yet it galls me to pay those national dues every year.
No matter what PRSA’s national board and staff think of Jack O’Dwyer’s editorial coverage, their discrimination against one journalist is an embarrassment – not just to me, but to the entire public relations profession.