A proposal for PRSA — and for all of us

This month marks my 25th year in PRSA, and likely my last. This isn’t news to regular readers, as I’ve vented my concerns here and here.

images.jpgI find little value in my PRSA membership at the national level these days. Locally the group remains important to me, but the society doesn’t allow chapter-only memberships. If I want the local benefit, I must support the national bureaucracy. My national dues are $225, my chapter dues $50.

So today I’m proposing that PRSA change its bylaws and allow chapter-only memberships. I’m not the first to raise this idea. It was part of a manifesto Jack O’Dwyer published last fall in his newsletter. (I can’t link to it, as you need a subscription, but you can see my comments about it here, in “Round 13.”)

Under my plan, chapter-only members could vote, serve on committees and hold local office. A chapter-only member would not be permitted to serve as a national delegate. Neither would chapter-only members enjoy subscriptions to PR Tactics and the Strategist, nor would they receive PRSA’s daily email alerts. Chapter members would be eligible to take the accreditation exam.

I’d opt for a chapter-only membership, and I suspect a lot of others would join me, since 95% of the benefit I receive from PRSA comes at the local level.

How can PRSA offer national services if not subsidized by the entire membership? Maybe it can’t. But maybe — just maybe — the chapter-only membership option would encourage our national leaders look more closely at the value they do offer and find a way to increase it.

Chapter-only membership would certainly be a boon to the local affiliates. Chapters would become more inclusive, as they could recruit from the 90% of PR pros who aren’t members now. More members would mean more income to chapters, and that would mean higher-quality programs.

Granted, a local member would miss out on the professional interest sections offered through PRSA along with national and district events. But those who need and want those benefits could simply maintain their national affiliation. No big deal.

I don’t expect PRSA to consider this proposal or even join in this conversation about it. But I hope you will. Maybe we can get a grassroots movement started.

There is an alternative

If you think my chapter-only membership impractical, here’s another approach. When I lived in Buffalo, back in the 80s, I belonged to a group called the Professional Communicators of Western New York. PCNY attracted PR pros who couldn’t afford memberships in PRSA or IABC, along with those who saw little benefit in a national affiliation.

Our PRSA chapter cooperated with PCNY and IABC on 3 joint programs each year. Our combined resources let us create professional development events comparable to those offered at national conferences. Everyone benefited.

So there is another way to create a “local” membership by simply forming parallel organizations that, in turn, form alliances with PRSA and IABC to do joint programming. It’s not as simple as my initial proposal, but it gets the job done.

vm_cr660317317_ss90_.jpgI know this proposal sounds like mutiny coming from a member of PRSA’s College of Fellows. Mutiny may be too strong a word, but it’s time we consider a little “insubordination” just to see if Captain Queeg is listening to the crew.

Sorry if you aren’t a Bogart fan. That’s your loss.


5 Responses to A proposal for PRSA — and for all of us

  1. Tim Roberts says:

    Actually, Bill, what you propose could very well strengthen PRSA as well as its local chapters. I believe PR pros who now balk at a $225 national fee, would gladly join a local chapter for $50 or $75. It should be noted that in these recessionary times, a lot of companies are cutting professional due payments for employees. I have no clue about PRSA’s membership trends, but I see your idea as as way to bolster membership and strengthen the organization as a whole, particularly on the local level.

    National PRSA could charge each chapter $25 a member for support, so it can contunue accreditation and its other “must” duties. Of course, national would have to cut back on some extras. For example, I don’t think they could pay big-time fees to nab such PR luminaries as Mia Farrow to keynote conferences. I know how much that would disappoint you, but I bet they could get Britney Spears cheap these days!

    In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m a former member of PRSA who decided not to reup mainly due to my location – the closest chapter was in Cleveland and I never could attend any events.

  2. Rob Jewell says:


    As usual you have focused on an important topic, one that warrants some consideration and conversation. I agree totally with your comments. But I’ll take a little different angle on it. Partly, the situation reflects how out of touch national PRSA is with its audience, particularly in an area like Northeast Ohio/Akron/Canton. Not too many years ago I bet that many members locally were employed by larger corporations or big PR firms. And the dues were paid for them. That certainly was the case with me at Goodrich. Now I’m on my own (well, like you I’m at Kent State which from the standpoint of PRSA dues is the same thing as being on your own) and the national dues are hard to swallow. I expect that is the case with many members or would be members locally. I’ve talked to many of our recent PRKent graduates who would join at $50 (or so) but can’t afford close to $300 a year. Can anyone really blame them?

    And Tim Roberts may be right. If you get more members — even at a reduced rate — it’s possible that national PRSA could receive the same or even more revenue.

    But I don’t think that idea is likely to fly in New York. Why? Too many expensive mouths to feed. How many PRSA members in Akron/Canton are making in excess of $200,000 a year? I’ll bet not many. But my understanding is that the top national PRSA executive makes that. (The fact that I have no idea who that is probably says something as well.)


  3. Lisa Wallner says:

    I agree that something needs to change to make PRSA less about the business of PRSA and more about serving the needs of the members. Even at a local level, I find I have a hard time getting any kind of value out of my membership for the type of PR that I do. I do mostly old-fashioned publicity, working with trade and b-to-b publications.
    Most local chapter programming is focused on community PR, working with mainstream media, nonprofit PR, etc. I attend maybe one event a year.

    In terms of educational and networking tools, PRSA nationals and my local chapter are light years behind the times. Most recently, I went looking for input from other professionals regarding media database services (looking at changing from Cision to Vocus), and copyright and clippings distribution (in light of Burrelles Luce’s new royalty fees). A discussion forum on either the national or local websites would have allowed me to post my questions and get some feedback, but we don’t have these tools. My own corporate intranet is better developed, with forums, blogs and soon, wikis. Unfortunately, no other outside PR pros to query in this venue. I see less and less value out of my membership every year.

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