The 2008 PRSA Assembly Meeting adjourned promptly at 5 p.m. on Saturday, October 25th. That’s the bad news, in my opinion. Delegates seemingly more intent on making it to cocktail hour than serving the needs of the membership voted down a request to extend the meeting even though there were a number of additional important issues that ended up on the agenda scrap heap. I’ll come back to that in a moment.
Earlier, Assembly Delegates were outraged that minutes of last year’s meeting were delivered just three days prior to this year’s session and that financials were not made available until the day prior to the meeting. This made it almost impossible for Delegates to inform their local Chapter boards and seek the guidance of local Chapter leaders. The only motion from the floor during the session was to require the delivery of minutes at least three weeks in advance and financials at least two weeks in advance. The motion passed 85 percent of the vote. The board promised to make a draft of the minutes available for comment within 30 days of the meeting.
The good news is that this year’s Assembly Meeting took on a more open posture than in the past. Although still too cluttered with unnecessarily long reports and sparse on substantive discussion of member wants and needs, it is clear that the board and staff of PRSA are making progress in terms of member-focused process and policies.
Here are some of the issues addressed:
- The Assembly Delegates voted to loosen requirements on who can serve as an international delegate at large, removing the APR requirement. They had been challenged to identify qualified delegates.
- The Assembly Delegates also voted to dissolve the Oakland Chapter, which has not had a meeting in over a year. The San Francisco Chapter has stepped forward to accept the members who were formerly in the Oakland Chapter.
- The Society’s financials were presented, showing total current assets as of September 30 of $5.9 million, up from $5.3 million at the start of 2008. The organization’s total income in the first three quarters of the year was $8.9 million, up from $8.6 million in the same period last year. Expenses during the period totaled $8.3 million, which was up from about $8 million in the same period last year. Net income was $680,000, slightly higher than the same period last year.
- PRSA Foundation reported that it has $170,000 in unrestricted funds.
- PRSA membership has grown to 22,000. That’s up about 4,000 since 2003. PRSSA membership will exceed 10,000 by the end of 2008.
- The Assembly Delegates voted to keep the current dues unchanged. The last dues increase was in 2002. There are noises being made that there may need to be an increase in dues next year, which I think would be very unfortunate and would out of touch with what is going on “on the ground” in the lives and careers of the members. Due to the economic uncertainty, the national organization and the board should be taking action now to reduce expenses, make sure services are aligned with the needs of members and ancillary services are reduced. It’s not realistic to think that PRSA will somehow be insulated from the economic trauma that is happening through virtually every sector, so we need to act now to prevent budget problems that are sure to surface later.
- A comprehensive survey of members has been completed, finding that PRSA has some work to do to improve member satisfaction. Interestingly, even though member satisfaction is lagging, members are very likely to say they will renew and recommend the organization to peers. The analysts explained that many members consider PRSA the only game in town, suggesting they feel captive. On the flip side, that leaves the organization open to emerging competitors. Another reason that the organization should be concerned as we move into a period of employment contraction is that about one out of four members say they would not renew their membership if they had to pay for it themselves.
- National PRSA will be conducting another survey to examine opinions and perceptions at the Chapter level in the months to come in hopes of identifying and deploying best practices.
Assembly Delegates also heard about the progress toward refreshing the PRSA Bylaws. The gathering broke into dozens of small groups to discuss the attributes of the ideal PRSA governance system, the ideal board and the most productive assembly. Comments focused primarily on greater openness and transparency, along with increased flexibility. The current Bylaws focus on how the organization operates rather than serving to support the organization’s mission. That seems to be the focus of the initiative to rebuild the Bylaws from the ground up. Instead of focusing on the minutia of process and structure, the Bylaws should serve as a foundation document that enables the organization to be fluid and quickly evolve and adapt to capitalize on opportunities and deal with emerging threats.
Later in the day we broke into groups to discuss various approaches to dealing with poor PR practices that have cast a shadow on our profession. Five options were presented and discussed, including putting sanctions back into the Code of Ethics, pursuing licensure of PR, pursuing certification of PR, developing a set “practice standards” to encourage best practices, or maintaining the status quo. The Puerto Rico Chapter reported that they have instituted licensure of the practice of PR in Puerto Rico. As groups reported the outcomes of their discussions, it was clear that they felt that instead of considering new licensing or certification that more should be done to promote accreditation. I personally also liked the suggestion of having a Better Business Bureau-style complaint/resolution database available on the PRSA Web site, which would enable clients and companies to look at whether a PR provider has any unresolved complaints. This would encourage best practices and remove the threat of lawsuits, which is why sanctions were removed from the Code of Ethics.
Repeatedly through these breakouts and the discussions that followed, we heard a resounding call repeated: PRSA must do more to build understanding of, support for and appreciation of accreditation. HR leaders should understand the APR and make it part of their hiring assessment. Client organizations should demand that their accounts be managed by accredited PR professionals. And on and on.
That’s why it was so disappointing that the Assembly Delegates voted down the motion to extend the meeting – doing so meant that we did not get to hear the report from the Universal Accreditation Board regarding progress being made in marketing the APR.
Dan Keeney, APR
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