Journalist Jack O’Dwyer loves to criticize the Public Relations Society of America. In fact, he’s been so tough on them in recent times that PRSA forbids staff and national officers from talking with him. A letter to members (pdf) presents PRSA’s position on this media relations nightmare.
The standoff with O’Dwyer means little to the average PR person, but it’s important because Jack is the only high-profile critic PRSA has. Sometimes he gets it right, and yesterday’s editorial is one of those times.
The latest bruhaha
Point: O’Dwyer’s opinion piece of 11/18 (see complete text, bottom of this post) calls out PRSA for withholding the transcripts of its National Assembly meeting held last month in Detroit. O’Dwyer believes the document should be posted for review by PRSA members and made available to news media. Since the Assembly serves as official governing body of PRSA, publishing the proceedings would seem the “transparent” thing to do, and as it turns out, the laws of New York state appear to call for it as well. (Details in the editorial)
Counterpoint: Why produce a transcript and not post it? PRSA says the document ensures accurate minutes of the annual meeting and that it’s not intended for public consumption. But that wasn’t always the case, as the society released transcripts from 2002-04 as a matter of course. I’m told the society stopped posting transcripts to protect its delegates from unfair attacks by O’Dwyer. Delegates’ fear of being ostracized, PRSA says, might inhibit discussion and debate.
Who will read the Assembly transcript? Hell, I’d rather watch nuns recite the rosary on EWTN. But what about PRSA members who aspire to leadership in the society? Might they learn from the transcripts? Could students use the transcripts to research issues in public relations?
It matters not, since posting the transcripts is the right thing to do. Period.
Since PRSA spent membership dues to produce the transcripts, it should share the contents with all 22,000+ members. Sharing the information with news media is also the right thing to do — unless we have something to hide, and I doubt that.
So let’s rise above suspicion. Let’s open the door, and let the sun shine in already.
As for PRSA’s concern about protecting its members from criticism, sorry, I don’t buy it. Delegates (and I’ve been one 4 or 5 times) should know that the business of the Assembly is the business of all members. If you can’t handle a little criticism, then you shouldn’t run for a leadership position.
WWJD? What will Jack do with the transcript when he eventually gets his hands on it? Most likely, he’ll dissect each paragraph and find a dozen additional reasons to question PRSA’s judgment and policies. Journalists do that when you piss them off; we all know that. Some of Jack’s criticism will strike PRSA leaders as unfair. But Jack will also raise legitimate issues that PRSA should address, as he so often does.
PRSA’s relationship with O’Dwyer may be too far gone to salvage. Both sides have dug in for a long fight, and it’s a safe bet that Jack won’t run out of ammo any time soon. PRSA is seeing to that.
Are PRSA’s leaders so sensitive to criticism from one journalist that they close the door to everyone? That’s the way it looks from where I sit.
Disclosure: Regular readers know I’ve been critical of PRSA at times (here and here). But you should also know that PRSA was vital to my career growth as a practitioner and it remains an important network for my graduates. Despite what I said here, I intend to renew my membership for a 27th year. I am an accredited member of the society and was elected to the College of Fellows in 1996. I have way too much invested to just walk away and shut up.
Here is Jack O’Dwyer’s editorial published published yesterday. He have given me permission to repost it here. In case you’re wondering, Jack refers to PRSA as simply “PRS,” saying the society too frequently violates American democratic values. Like I said, these two don’t like each other much.
PRS Members Have Right to Books/Records
PR Society members have the right to see its “complete books and records” and can petition NYC Supreme Court if denied this right, says Section 621, NYS corporate law. PRS thus far is refusing to provide the transcript of the 2008 Assembly.
Tues., Nov. 18
MEMBERS HAVE “RIGHT OF INSPECTION”
New York State not-for-profit corporation law (Article 6, Section 621) says members have the right to see the “correct and complete books and records of account and minutes of the proceedings of its members, board and executive committee.”
PRS members who have been denied the right to see the 136-page transcript of the 2008 Assembly Oct. 25 in Detroit researched the law after PRS VP-PR Arthur Yann said earlier this month that the 2008 transcript would not be released to the press or members.
Transcripts of the 2002, 2003 and 2004 Assemblies were given to this website and presumably to any member who asked for it.
Lawyers who were consulted on this issue said it is conceivable that the verbatim transcript of the 2008 Assembly could be construed as complying with the “complete” reference in Section 621.They also said the Society itself set a precedent for providing the transcripts when they gave them out for the 2002, 2003 and 2004 Assemblies.
May Petition NYC Supreme Court
Says Section 621:
“(d) Upon refusal by the corporation or by an officer or agent of the corporation to permit an inspection of the minutes of the proceedings of its members or of the list or record of members, as herein provided, the person making the demand for inspection may apply to the Supreme Court in the Judicial District where the office of the corporation is located, upon such notice as the court may direct, for an order directing the corporation, its officer or agent to show cause why an order should not be granted permitting such inspection by the applicant.
”Upon the return day of the order to show cause, the court shall hear the parties summarily, by affidavit or otherwise, and if it appears that the applicant is qualified and entitled to such inspection, the court shall grant an order compelling such inspection and awarding such further relief as to the court may seem just and proper.”
Lawyers said an individual may petition to obtain the transcript without hiring a lawyer. A corporation would be required to hire a lawyer.
The New York City Supreme Court is at 60 Centre St., New York, NY 10007.
Yann Opposes “Rehashing”
Yann, in an e-mail to odwyerpr.com earlier this month, said the transcript is used to “prepare accurate minutes” and is not to be used “to track or to rehash what was said by whom, which may be taken or reported out of context.”
Delegates had complained at the 2008 Assembly that minutes of the 2007 Assembly were not given to them until the day of the 2008 Assembly.
A resolution was passed in the final minutes of the Assembly ordering the board to produce the minutes of the 2008 Assembly within 30 days after the meeting.
Another resolution asked that a complete agenda be sent to delegates at least three weeks before the Assembly. The final agenda was not given to delegates until the day of the Assembly.
A delegate also asked that the financial report be given as many days as possible in advance of the Assembly and not on the day of the Assembly, as happened this year.
The delegate was told that the Assembly could not see the financial report this year until the finance committee had approved it.