By Anne Landman on January 13, 2011

High Road, Low Road signJack O'Dwyer, who publishes a newsletter that follows the public relations industry, reports that he and his staffers were blocked from entering an assembly of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). PRSA officials demanded O'Dwyer pay $3,825 in registration fees to enter and report on the conference, while journalists from similar organizations, like PR News and PR Newser, were let in free. Arthur Yann, PRSA's Vice President of Public Relations, said that O'Dwyer and his staffers had to pay because people from  O'Dwyer's newsletter "attended last year's conference but never wrote about it." But O'Dwyer did in fact write about the 2009 conference. O'Dwyer also reports other harassment while attempting to attend the conference, like getting an anonymous letter in which the writer threatened to beat him "to a pulp," and being set upon by a flash-mob while he was conducting an interview. O'Dwyer has criticized PRSA for withholding transcripts of their organizational assemblies over the last five years, concealing the names of their delegates and refusing to make available a PDF version of their members' directory. O'Dwyer has also exposed techniques now in wide use by big PR firms that violate PR ethics, like working through front groups and creating and disseminating fake news.

Comments

This is outrageous. All press should be treated the same. For PRSA to try to get O'Dwyer to pay for the conference is against the freedoms are country was built on. Even if a press organization didn't write an article about an event is not an excuse to prevent them entry or charge them a fee to attend future events. O'Dwyer did write about last year's conference and it was educational for many of us who read it. It is time for PRSA to realize some press will lik you and others won't. The best way to improve relations is to do the right thing and not the wrong thing. A sad example, especially for younger members of PRSA who learn from this example. It is not ok!

PRSA and Jack O'Dwyer find themselves in an interesting dilemma. PRSA feels Mr. O'Dwyer maligns it unfairly. Mr. O'Dwyer feels PRSA maligns him unfairly. Both are right in my opinion – and equally relative to their actions.
But both are wrong in how they have gone and go about their relationship -- warring, snubbing, insulting, castigating, and close to, if not dead on, libeling. It's a terrible situation, embarrassing to the PR profession and all who believe in public accountability and fairness.
PRSA obviously treats Mr. O’Dwyer and his staff as second-class citizens; e.g., other trade media cover PRSA conferences without paying admission from what I know, and PRSA steadfastly refuses to provide financial reports and related information to O’Dwyer and other media that as an association it is required to provide under the law.
O’Dwyer, on the other hand, obviously treats PRSA as the embodiment of evil in the way it manages itself and represents its members; his coverage is often filled with vitriolic advice and counsel on how it should run its affairs, and he keeps reminding us of a law suit he had against PRSA 25 years ago. He has become too much of an advocate in areas that as a journalist (and a fine one) he shouldn't go. And PRSA as a professional association has become too much of an adversary of one reporter, making a mockery of the historical relationship of the PR profession and the press.
Regrettably, nothing will ever bring the two sides together. They are like the worst kind of divorce; neither party wants or chooses to forgive and forget, neither wants to move on constructively for the sake of the family (in this case, the PR profession and PRSA members, among them hundreds, if not thousands, of O'Dwyer subscribers and customers).
Would that all of this could be settled in court once and for all, but it can’t be if for no other reason than the costs and time involved.
I watch sadly from a distance and wonder how things ever came to such a dismal point.
My considered opinion: peevishness and pique. Nothing profound. Just two sides of a heated debate refusing to respect each other’s authority in their respective spheres of interest and influence.
Regrettably, their antics are like meat to those who challenge professional public relations’ ethics and value. They make us all look bad.

In response to the above comment titled "O'Dwyer Ire" by Anonymous (above), Jack O'Dwyer submits the following:
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I thank PR Watch for opening this subject up to discussion.

The above writer wants there to be peace and writes as though this is some personal feud I have with the Society.

Far from it. The Society for 14 years until 1994 sold hundreds of thousands of copies of authors' articles without their knowledge or permission including this writer (at least 50,000 copies of O'Dwyer articles sold in packets priced at up to $55).

Twelve authors raised $6,000 and hired a law firm. The Society argued it was a non-profit library that only "loaned" articles in packets for a "loan fee." It wouldn't even talk to the authors but promised a knock-down, dragged out legal fight. Our lawyers said the Society's arguments held some water and a long fight would take place costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. The authors themselves would be counter-sued, our lawyers assured us.

Since three of the authors were college professors with little spare money or time, we all voted to give up legal recourse. But moral recourse continues. This remains a big blot on the reputation of the Society. The least it could have done for the authors was give them free ads for their books (entire chapters of which were copied and sold).

Packet volume was 3,800 a year resulting in net profits of about $60,000 yearly to the Society according to its own financial reports which I have. The Society should appoint a committee to view the box of evidence I have in my office. Instead, it treats me and the O'Dwyer Co. as if we have done something wrong--classic spin.

I don't criticize the Society. I point out abuses such as failure to defer dues (booking dues a cash when just about every assn. books the dues one month at a time as services are rendered). It cites Robert's Rules as its official guide but tramples on the most basic of these Rules including the ban against proxy voting.

No one from the Society ever challenges any of the abuses I document.

Snub and smear is their response. They only make generalizations such as we're "too negative" without ever going into any specifics.

The truth is bound to come out one way or another.

The Society's treatment of me at the 2010 Assembly deserves condemnation by every journalist group in the country.

I thought PRSA ethics committee handled this type of challenge within the society. Wouldn't it be more appropriate for its member(s) to investigate what happen, who did what to who, instead of the back and forth he said, she said? The real question is who threaten who with bodily harm during a public
meeting of an organization representing public relations nationwide. What the publics right to know violated in coverage of a meeting nonAPR or APR, doesn't matter. If we have an violent person representing PR members, its needs immediate attention by the ethics committee, the so called watchdog of the organization, correct?

“Awful PR,” “blocked” access, “withholding” information and “anonymous” threats all make for sensational headlines and undoubtedly generate page views. However, we invite Ms. Landman and the commenters here and elsewhere to examine the facts more closely, especially in light of published comments Mr. O’Dwyer has made on repeated occasions that raise legitimate questions concerning his credibility and objectivity toward PRSA. To wit:

“I am mad at [PRSA] ... I am never going to forgive them any more than the victims of the Nazis in World War II gave up on reparations. It took them 50 years to get them, but I’m never gonna let [PRSA] off the hook on that.”

(Source: 39:25 of “FIR Interview: Jack O’Dwyer,” Jan. 21, 2009. Available at http://bit.ly/fhKtFe.)

PRSA was indeed incorrect in saying that Mr. O’Dwyer did not cover PRSA’s 2009 International Conference; he published a single item on one of the four-day Conference’s keynote addresses. That statement – which Mr. O’Dwyer somehow obtained from a private email sent to a third party –was not the only reason why Mr. O’Dwyer was not granted International Conference press credentials, however.

When deciding to whom press credentials will be granted, PRSA takes into consideration a variety of factors, such as the nature of the event; the editorial focus, influence and reach of the publication; the subject(s) and extent of the planned coverage; and the degree to which media attendance will impact event operations and/or the experience and participation of event attendees. Our media policy (http://bit.ly/cN4K6t) is not substantially different from the media policies of any organizations that engage frequently with the press.

Every day, companies large and small choose the media with which they will interact, whether via invitations to press events, exclusive rights to news announcements, embargoes or, in extreme circumstances, denial of access to information. The fact is that more than 20 traditional and social media reporters and bloggers attended our 2010 International Conference; you might ask them about PRSA’s views on access and transparency. You might also ask the Center for Media and Democracy’s own Judith Siers-Poisson, to whom press credentials to our 2008 International Conference were granted (Ms. Siers-Poisson ultimately was unable to attend).

It does bear noting, however, that Mr. O’Dwyer has never been denied press credentials to attend PRSA’s National Assembly, which is a working meeting of elected PRSA Delegates that takes place each year immediately prior to our International Conference. Mr. O’Dwyer returned the courtesy this past year by breaching four stated press policies for that day: by attempting to photograph and record the proceedings, by conducting an interview during the meeting and by attempting to gain access to the Delegate luncheon. (While we do not permit recording or photography, we will willingly supply photographs to members of the media upon request.)

As far as making the list of our Assembly Delegates available, we would ask, “for what benefit?” Transparency, when the identity of our Assembly Delegates already is well known to the Chapters, Sections, Districts and Committees they represent? To mount a campaign for or against a certain issue pending before the Assembly, when our national bylaws prohibit such activities?

We would also ask the same question about making a transcript of our National Assembly available. The meeting is open to any member who would like to attend, as well as to credentialed media. Further, Roberts Rules, which PRSA follows except in specific cases where our National Bylaws supersede Roberts’ guidance, state that the minutes of the meeting are preferable to a transcript for the purposes of maintaining an “official record.” Of course, we make the minutes available to our members.

Finally, we would ask the same question of the reasons for making a PDF version of our member directory available. It would be nice for those who want to spam our members with unwanted product and service offerings, but of little value when we have an easily searchable online Member database for our Members to use. Or, try searching LinkedIn for “PRSA,” which generates more than 14,000 results.

As for the threat made against Mr. O’Dwyer, PRSA does not accept or excuse any threat made against any company or individual. An important footnote to this aspect of the story, however, is that neither the authenticity or source of the fax allegedly sent to Mr. O’Dwyer is known. What’s more, the contents of the alleged threat are mischaracterized here.

Principled stances like these may not be palatable to everyone, or facilitate the pursuit of their personal agendas. However, they are the reason why PRSA has existed since 1947, and why more than 32,000 professional and student members, as well as countless industry suppliers, academic institutions and major corporations around the world, are proud to associate with us.

Arthur Yann is PRSA’s vice president of public relations.

"Our media policy (http://bit.ly/cN4K6t) is not substantially different from the media policies of any organizations that engage frequently with the press."

Only one problem with that, Art: PRSA does not engage with the press frequently. Or at all, for that matter, unless you count bloggers and Tweetheads. In fact, for an organization that claims to represent an entire profession with nearly a quarter of a million practitioners, PRSA engages with the press amazingly little.

Nor does PRSA engage with its members, especially those who disagree with its policies. In fact, it is not an organization that is operated for the benefit of its members, but for the benefit of its board and staff.

Mr. Huey,

Thank you for sharing your opinions toward our organization. In the future, I hope that you will label them as such, rather than stating them as "facts."

You can see evidence of our more high-profile press interactions in PRSA's Newsroom (http://bit.ly/i7trQs). While you're there, I encourage you to subscribe to our RSS feed. Our help desk can assist you with that process.

Regarding your point about engagement, PRSA regularly surveys its members regarding their satisfaction with our organization. Most telling is the fact that fully 80 percent of PRSA members "are likely to recommend" PRSA membership to a colleague, which is a pretty telling statistic indicative of their satisfaction. I'm sure you also know how important that is in light of recent trends that show people are increasingly making purchase decisions based on information such as the recommendations of friends and new media sources, such as blogs and Twitter (to your other point), rather than what they see or hear in traditional media.

Arthur Yann is vice president of public relations at PRSA.

So I visited the PRSA Web site as Mr. Yann suggested, and here is one of the more salient things I found:

"January 18, 2011
PRSA Objects to The Economist's Derisive Viewpoint of Public Relations' Value
PRSA submitted a letter to the editor of The Economist in response to a Dec. 16, 2010, article examining the growth of the public relations industry. PRSA strongly objected to The Economist's derisive viewpoint of public relations' value, and rebutted several points in the article that were either outdated or misinformed.

The letter to the editor was co-signed by John Paluszek, APR, Fellow PRSA, former PRSA chair and CEO, and current chair of the Global Alliance. ... Read More"

Which only serves to make my point about SIGNIFICANT media engagement.
Significant media engagement means that The Economist calls you when writing the story instead of talking to some 40-watt academic from Leeds and you write a three-paragraph "had you sought a more comprehensive viewpoint" letter that appears a month later and nobody reads.

The Economist never heard of PRSA and therefore never calls to get "a more comprehensive viewpoint." You have failed 32,000 members and an entire industry that began on these shores and propped up your sorry organization for more than 50 years.

I should not have to point this out to a VP of Public Relations, but Mr. Yann's cheeky reponse compels me to do so.

Dear Mr./Ms. “Anonymous”:

I appreciate your quaint assertion that only traditional media counts – and only "significant" (defined, how, I wonder) traditional media counts at that. But the 60s are over, Edward R. Murrow has passed, daily newspapers are closing and trust in traditional authorities and institutions is waning (not to ruin your morning).

I’m uncertain as to why a letter to the editor of The Economist that did not appear in print would offend any public relations professional’s sensibilities. That letter was posted on economist.com the same day the article was published and soon after featured on Ragan's PRDaily and commpro.biz. It also generated a high volume of traffic on Twitter, and it made for one of the most heavily read entries in our blog’s history.

Do you honestly continue to believe that social media like blogs and Twitter are inconsequential today?

I'm also unsure as to why you ignored the PRSA letter published in The Sunday New York Times Magazine (surely that was noteworthy?), or any of the other placements in our newsroom that, say, a VP of public relations might find significant.

In closing, faceless sir (or ma’am), I’m pleased to say that PRSA's 2011 Chair, Rosanna Fiske, has two in-person interviews this very morning (Jan. 28), with The Economist and with the Financial Times. It’s part of our ongoing engagement with those publications, so I guess they’ve heard of our sorry organization after all.

Cheekily yours,

Arthur Yann

Arthur Yann is VP of public relations for PRSA

Can anyone tell me what happened to my earlier comment? I clicked "Save" and received a message that the comment was in line for moderation, but it seems to have disappeared.

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