Posts Tagged ‘PRSA’

As a former board member of the Public Relations Society of America (2008-09), and having been involved with PRSA for over 20 years, I am thrilled to see the rebuttal to Jack O’Dwyer from last Friday:     http://media.prsa.org/article_display.cfm?article_id=2181  and to see the rebuttal quoted in both Ad Age:   http://adage.com/article/agency-news/pr-group-accuses-writer-phone-hacking/228801/    and Ragan’s PR Daily:   http://prdaily.com/Main/Articles/8965.aspx      .  The beginning of PRSA’s rebuttal reads thus:

“Mr. O’Dwyer, while a free press is essential to our country, principles and profession, not everything—or everyone—wrapped in the mantle of “journalism” is right or ethical, as the News of the World scandal demonstrates. But then again, it would appear that your organization condones such practices, given that records from our teleconferencing vendor show that telephone numbers registered to the J.R. O’Dwyer Company connected to PRSA teleconference calls without PRSA’s permission five times between May 22, 2007, and May 12, 2009.

“You’ve now repeated the lie that PRSA’s auditors “quit” so often that you’ve clearly come to believe it’s true. Yet, when Gary McCormick and Bill Murray met with you last Spring, they answered this allegation. They explained to you that PRSA routinely seeks competitive bids for professional services, including audit services, to manage costs. They also explained that it’s common for organizations to change auditors periodically as a way of maintaining the auditor’s independence.

I well remember some of those phone calls.  We were asked several times if we knew of someone who was on the call but had not announced themselves; we were told that it was suspected that someone might have leaked information about confidential board discussions.  I don’t know that the latter ever actually happened — but it should come as no surprise to anyone that sometimes boards need to be able to discuss things in private.  Board members need to be free to examine any number of angles to any given topic or issue put in front of them.  Certainly personnel discussions have to be private, by law.   I had then, and still have now,  tremendous respect and admiration for my fellow board members. I didn’t suspect anyone, and didn’t want to have to suspect anyone.  Apparently – allegedly – it might have been Mr. O’Dwyer all along, a man (just using the generic term here) with a life-long compulsion to tear down PRSA.

Before I even took my position on the board, he called me to ask if I really knew what I was doing.  Later, he wrote that I must be more involved in advertising than public relations, because the name of my company was AdScripts – and that’s all he knew about my company.  He never asked me, nor did he do any homework, to find out that I’ve long specialized in public relations (and now teach it) but just never bothered to change the name of my company because it was too entrenched.

I was far from the only person contacted.    PRSA has kept a dignified silence about many of O’Dwyer’s activities, preferring to work behind the scenes to try to resolve things.

There is no resolving them.  We are simply dealing with someone who holds a lifetime grudge and makes money by doing so.  He is not the first person to make money in this way, but he certainly adds a whole new level of sleaze to the deal.

I’m glad that I’m no longer on the board in this instance, because it feels lovely to feel free to speak out in greater defense of PRSA.  Mr. O’Dwyer, you pander to the lowest levels of human thought and behavior; PRSA, on the other hand, not only follows the rules – as required by law – but works to bring out and develop the best in the 22,000 professionals it serves.   Quite a difference in focus, I’d say.

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I have a question: are we so involved in the minutia of our lives and others’ lives through the massive amounts of updating we’re doing on social media sites, that we’re losing sight of the big picture?  Do we even have the ability to stand back and look at the big picture anymore?  Isn’t there a massive disconnect going on here?

I ask because I’ve been privileged to spend the last 20 months serving on the national board for the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), and one of our favorite sayings as board members is “Don’t get down into the weeds.”  By that, we mean our role is to provide vision and leadership for the larger picture of the organization; we’re to be some of the thought leaders our profession needs.  Being on the board definitely takes  a commitment of time; but the real commitment is that of being willing and able to think through the issues and problems set before us.  What does this decision or this wording mean to our members?  What are the consequences if we do this?  What are the consequences if we don’t?  Who will be affected, and how?  What does this mean for the future of the organization?  How do we communicate this issue to our members?

Then I come home from New York – or from whatever city we’re in – and suddenly I’m immersed into details of lives and careers, into multiple conversations, and into the need to update my own information as I “join the conversation” too, and there are times when I, as with most people I know. feel overwhelmed with the need to have my voice count, to be able to contribute.

Then I have to step back and ask, “At what price?  When do I carve out time for more contemplative thinking?  When do I carve out time for genuine strategic analysis and for stepping back and seeing an issue, a client, or a cause through a much larger framework?”

I’m of the Baby Boom generation, so I like to think I still know how to do this, even though my time seems filled up these days. But the younger generations – the Xs, Ys, and the Millenianals – are immersed in this “talk all the time in multiple venues” mode.  A report that came out today said that when these folks are multi-tasking, they’re really not doing any one thing that well, because they have trouble managing their time and sorting out their priorities; and it takes them a long time to change tasks.  It’s no wonder.  How do we emphasize the need for quiet thought?  How do we help them learn how to prioritize?  How do we teach them time management under these circumstances?

Sounds likewe need to bring back the corporate retreat but on a number of different levels; and that we should demand that people be unplugged. No cell phone, no BlackBerry, no laptops, no ipods, etc. etc.  My kids are going to laugh when they read this, because I’m the worst BlackBerry addict they know.  But I am perfectly capable of walking for long hours in the woods or on the beach, in blissful solitude and quiet; and it’s amazing how, when I do, all the chattering inside my head quiets down and certain things float to the top.  Those things which surface often surface with suggested solutions, too. 

Contemplative thought is good for a lot more than problem solving, though.  It’s also great for those of us working in creative professions.  If you need the great tag line for a business; the best ad, a great radio or TV commerical, or something witty to say online – then get up and walk away from your desk and out of the building if need be.  Let your brain go into other areas.  You’ve already programmed it for the  task at hand; now let your subconscous work for you. It will.

A lot of people know this principle, and understand it’s why great ideas can come in the shower, in your sleep, on a walk – your brain has been working for you the whole time.  

But if you’re always plugged in; if, even when you wake briefly in the middle if the night, your BlackBerry is blinking next to you, and so is your clock radio, then you’re not really getting a break.  Your brain isn’t being allowed to relax into its best, most creative, most strategic state.

And if this is all you know, and you’ve never learned to manage your time or set your priorities – you’re going to have nothing but trouble going to school or focusing on the job.  Maybe we need to create two new professional positions – one for the person who knows how to “get down into the weeds” and handle it; and the other for the person who’s going to arrange the quiet, contemplative retreat for everyone else!

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The original reason I joined PRSA way back in the early 90’s somewhere — and one of the chief benefits I still get out of being a member — is the ability to guage my own abilities and insights against those of my colleagues across the country.  Now that I’m passing on what I know to people interested in exploring public relations as a career, that benefit is more valuable than ever.  Listening to Edelman Public Relations President & CEO Matt Harrington in New York last week confirmed even more.  The young generation now graduating from college is bright, full of self-confidence, educated, definitely not shy.  However, they have unrealistic expectations of the work world, and don’t completely understand the work ethic needed in today’s marketplace – particularly in a time when everyone is being asked to do more with less.  Early in your career is normally when you learn to do more with less; you learn to do whatever it takes to establish a foothold out there.  Later in your career is when you can work a lot smarter, and thus a lot faster; and when you don’t have to start everything from scratch because somewhere in years past, you’ve encountered this problem before.  It’s lovely to reach that point in your career where you recognize the problem confronting you as well as what avenues are available for resolving that problem.  But how disillusioning it would be to assume you didn’t have to gain that hard-won experience early in your career; to think that life as a young professional would be easier than it really is.  What a letdown, if you’ve been highly praised growing up and now must face the prospect of closed doors in the business world.  Far better to be taught to expect less and to work hard, understanding that given a certain skill level (study hard, everyone), attitude makes all the difference. 

For those of us Baby Boomers who may be hiring this newly graduated generation, perhaps a further on-site training course is needed in the work ethic we expect.  At the same time, the X, Y, and Millenial generations can be teaching us more about social media and where it’s headed.   It gets tougher to adapt to change as we grow older, but it’s imperative that we stay open and flexible if we are to show the way into a profession we love.  By the same token, it’s tough for the younger generations to get started, particularly in this economy; they need some specific instructions and expectations set down before them so that they’ll understand they’re now moving into a world very different from the one they’re leaving behind.  Everybody can get there; and it will benefit all of us.

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This comes from The Ethical Optimist blog at: http://ethicaloptimist.com

“One thing I have noted via Counselor’s Academy, however, is the positive change I see in the organization under Bill Murray’s leadership. The organization has done some significant research on both membership and association governance that I think is pushing it in a positive direction. Moreover, I see the beginnings of a more cohesive strategic plan that will benefit the membership in the long term.

“I also have to give kudos to Jeff Julin and the board. While I’ve been known to critique some of their efforts, the bottom line is that these folks volunteer a great deal of time and deserve credit for doing so.”

As a member of the PRSA Board of Directors, it’s sometimes difficult to know if our efforts are seen and heard, and if they are peceived as credible.  During the conference in Detroit this past week, I noted to Jeff Julin that our major, overall task as Board members was not to attend meetings, review reports, or any of the myriad things one might think that Board members do.  Our major job all year has been to think and to analyze.  Every issue that has been put before us this year has received intense scrutiny.  We have examined issues from every viewpoint imaginable, and have sliced them analytically until it would seem there is no more slicing and no more analysis to be done – and then someone comes up with yet another angle.  That’s been the really difficult work of the Board, that intellectual approach and the need to analyze, to figure out what’s best for the Society.  Are we setting a precedent with this decision?  Is this other decision in line with what our membership survey shows that members want?  Does this action fit in with our strategic plan?  If so, what goals and objectives does it fulfill?  Do we have the staff and resources necessary to implement this other decision if we vote yes?  If we turn this down, what are the possible repercussions?  Do we have any examples from the past that can guide us in this discussion?  Does this new language open up whole new issues that we should address now?

I’ve also told a colleague that, for all the conspiracy theorists out there who feel the Board is up to something – we simply don’t have the time to be up to something.  There is so very much that is put in front of us at every meeting and every conference call, that it’s all we can do to get through those things.

More importantly, however, this year on the Board has been one of the best years for me in being involved with any Board of Directors in the past 30 years.  I haven’t seen personal agendas rammed through.  We disagree a lot, but we work toward compromise, and when we leave the room, or hang up from the conference call, I have no sense that feathers are ruffled or that anyone is holding a grudge.  We somehow know that everybone brings something important to the table, and we listen – and for this, I give credit to recent changes in PRSA national and agree that Bill Murray and Jeff Julin have made an enormous difference – so has Phil Bonaventura.  We have a superb staff in New York.  None of this has happened by accident, but by the careful deliberations of many people who came before us.  PRSA needed to change, and those changes are underway.  For this particular Board member, it’s a pleasure and a privilege to serve.

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I’m just about to start home after a two-day board meeting with the Public Relations Society of America; I’m in my first six months of a two-year term serving on the PRSA Board of Directors.

For many, many years I was involved with non-profit boards of directors in one capacity or another, either serving on a board or reporting to a board as the person in charge of public relations and marketing.  Over the years, I began to see that people all have their own reasons and motivations for serving on a board; and that some people have their own personal agendas that they want to see fulfilled.  Some boards were very divisive as a result; some were very contentious; some didn’t get much done.

To my absolute delight, this PRSA board is different.  Our members may disagree with each other – and we do, often – but it’s with civility and congeniality.  There are no personal agendas that I’ve seen to date; if there are, people aren’t letting them interfere with the work of the board.  There doesn’t seem to be any grandstanding; people use manners; discussions are intelligent and far-reaching.

And no, I haven’t been drinking the Kool-Aid, as the saying goes.  I resisted running for national office in PRSA for quite a long time – about 6 years, to be precise. Last year, the timing seemed right, and the atmosphere seemed right.  Our fearless leader, Jeff Julin, is indeed a leader.  Among our members, some people are quiet, some are boisterous; some drill down into the details, others are big-picture visionaries; we all have expertise and strengths in various areas.  For those of us who are new to the board and still on a learning curve, there is a great deal of time and patience granted to help us get up to speed.

I’m really proud to be part of this group.  This is a forward-thinking group, genuinely doing all it can to further the cause of our profression and of PRSA.  I’m sure we’ll occassionally make decisions that people don’t agree with; I’m sure there are times when we won’t have explained ourselves as clearly as we should; I’m sure there are probably future difficulties awaiting us in various areas.  All I can say is that this is a group that works really hard on getting through an enormous amount of information, research, decision-making and outlining future directions; and that things are not falling through the cracks, but are being dealt with in every way possible.  It’s a pleasure to work with everyone.  I come away feeling energized for the future, which is exactly how I should be feeling.

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The following note which PRSA Chair/CEO Jeff Julin sent to NBC last night is beautifully expressed:

Dear Mr.  Capus,

The leaders of PRSA are deeply saddened to hear of Tim Russert’s passing. We extend our sincerest condolences to the Russert family and to his extended family at NBC and in households across the nation.  

During the 2007 PRSA International Conference, he shared his unique wisdom and insight into political discourse, the nation and our responsibility as citizens. It was a high point of Conference history, and an experience all will treasure.

Tim Russert was a standard bearer of communications excellence and integrity, as well as a great man who clearly loved his family, his country and his craft. He was a trusted source and interpreter of current events who embodied the best traditions of journalism. He became a symbol of all that American news can be by demonstrating his sincerity, honesty, professionalism and wit. Sunday mornings will never be the same.

With sympathy,

Jeffrey Julin, APR

Chair & CEO

Public Relations Society of America


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We are all poorer for Tim Russert’s untimely death today.  He was pure gold as a reporter, enough to turn around the most cynical person who didn’t think you could take a person’s word for anything.  You could take his word for it; you could depend on his knowledge; and he’d have you laughing before it was over.

But it’s over for him, and there won’t be another like him.  We were priviledged to hear him at last year’s PRSA International Conference – such a memory; the best of the best.

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