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If You Don’t Vote/Participate…You’ve No Right To Complain

It’s no secret to many in the public relations field that I’m a supporter of the Public Relations Society of America. I’ve served the organization for many years as both a local chapter leader and a national Board member and officer. This year I’m serving as chair of PRSA’s College of Fellows. Because of the investment I’ve made in PRSA and the time I’ve spent as a volunteer I feel I’m qualified to speak out.

While I was on the PRSA national Board, and during my many years as a Leadership Assembly Delegate, I’ve seen the organization go through many changes and grow. I’ve reviewed many a member and non-member survey pointing to the needs of the membership. I’ve then watched both volunteers and our hard-working staff bend and change based on data from our members. And I don’t always agree with the changes we make. That’s because when you have 22,000 members (more than 30,000 if you include the student members) there are bound to be some people who don’t agree with everything we do. Especially in the past five years, I have been confident in PRSA’s changes and programs because they are ALWAYS based on research and data. The PRDefined project is no exception.

Three years ago, members asked for tools to help tell PR’s story to businesses and organizations. The Business Case for Public Relations was created by a broad-based group of industry leaders and is available to members and non-members alike. There are incredible resources there that I hope professionals are using. If you haven’t seen it, go look around and I’ll bet you find many useful items.

For as long as I can remember as a national leader, there has been discussion about redefining public relations. The definitions in use today are cumbersome and just not as relevant today as they were when they were created…by a committee. No one wanted to take on the challenge because it would be hard and likely controversial. In 2011, PRSA’s leadership decided the changes in the profession meant it was time to take on the challenge.

So, last September PRSA gathered a group of individuals from a broad spectrum of the industry, including groups outside the US, and put together a process to reach a definition. That process remained focused on research and data. Additionally, because of the complexity of the issue and the many facets of our industry, a representative committee was formed. Members and non-members were involved in the process and the committee set to work…on an impossible task.

Between late November and early December, professionals were asked to complete a form to create their definition. There was also an opportunity to comment, so professionals could discuss any concerns. It was hoped there would be consensus from the crowd-sourced definitions. As with all of the communications from the committee to professionals, there was an opportunity for comments. These were provided to the committee and I am confident they heard the comments that were sent to them.

Then, from January 11-23, the draft definitions were published for comment and discussion by anyone in the profession.

Earlier this week the results were sent out to vote as what was hoped would be the final step of a process. Unfortunately, the definition is…well…fairly cumbersome as one might expect from globally-sought research and a fairly broad profession. What I kept reminding myself, as I chose which option I preferred, is that this is a definition and not the explanation I use of what I do. My specialty is only one aspect of the profession.

What I was not prepared for, and I have to say I’m terribly disappointed in, is the plethora of professionals who’ve chosen to criticize the process using their own tools and mediums instead of talking directly to PRSA. I don’t believe the comments were sent to PRSA and I wonder if these individuals participated in the research process. None of the individuals who I’ve seen criticize the project has commented on PRSA’s blog on the subject.

If you are not happy with PRSA on this project, or another, please tell them. Please tell them directly. There are volunteer leaders you can talk with or you may direct your comments to COO Bill Murray. They need to hear from you on this issue and others. They do listen and they are doing as well as they can to represent the public relations field. It just really isn’t fair to take your concerns to other formats this late in the game. You should have been involved all along. And you should be okay that others’ views, as well as your own, have been taken into account.

I’ve thought about writing this post now for several days and the more I see those volunteers who worked so hard to get to this point being maligned, the more frustrated I get. This isn’t how we would counsel our clients to behave. In fact, it’s the exact behavior we often tell them is inappropriate. So, why are we doing it now.

I can guarantee you that PRSA has taken the time to listen to you. Please take the time to listen to them, learn about the process and color inside the lines. And, finally, if you don’t participate…you really have no right to complain.

 

10 comments
arthury
arthury

@Shonali I'm happy to answer some of your questions (and please know that you — or any member — can come to me at any time with questions such as these). PRSA typically doesn't post the names of its Committee or Task Force members, other than the Chair or Co-Chairs, simply to protect their privacy. The one exception is our Nominating Committee. The full list of Committees and Task Forces is here (http://bit.ly/zLdAuc), though I do see that the Public Relations Defined Task Force is not on this list. I can't immediately explain its omission, other than thinking it could be a clerical oversight, given that the Task Force originally wasn’t expected to continue its work in 2012. Your sense that the Task Force contained only "seasoned" professionals (thanks for being nice to the old folks like me) isn't really true. The members included three new professionals (corporate, agency and non-profit), five senior practitioners (corporate, agency and non-profit) and two academics (to ensure the definitions would be true to the research). Like the broader initiative itself, the composition was purposefully thought out to provide a range of opinions and input. Finally, I'm not sure where PRSA dropped the ball on your involvement on this Task Force. Of course we felt you important enough to participate, which is why we reached out to you initially. I hope you'll accept my apologies on behalf of the Task Force.

Shonali
Shonali

But Mary, you would also tell your clients to not discount the negative comments and to deal with them gracefully, wouldn't you? You know that I only joined PRSA as a member last year, though I've been getting more involved with the association from the PD point of view. I've never commented/taken sides on the APR issue, because I wasn't a member, let alone an APR, and I didn't feel it was my place. As far as the definition goes, though, this DOES affect people who take the practice of PR seriously. Will it change what we do? No. But if they're not going to listen to all sides of the argument, why bother? I was asked to participate in this process early on; my understanding was that this was as a member of what eventually became the Task Force. After an initial conversation, I heard nothing from PRSA leadership. No matter... perhaps I wasn't important enough. By the time the options for the new definition rolled around, I was just over the whole definition discussion (I'd much rather just get on with it and do the work). Another feeling I get from some of the negative reaction, and some of the PRSA responses I've seen, particularly on ginidietrich 's blog, was that the Task Force, or whatever it was called, that was initially created by PRSA was comprised of... how shall I put it... "seasoned" professionals who are not necessarily adept at the terminology we use these days. That was certainly the impression I got from some of the comments, as well as the words that the Task Force came up with. I tried to find a list of who these people were, but despite clicking through to PRSA's site, MyPRSA, etc., I couldn't find it - every time I thought I found a link that was going to a Task Force listing, I got either a 404 error message or one saying the page had been removed. As far as commenting in other places and not on PRSA's blog/posts, you know as well as I do that we can't force people to comment in one particular place. Sometimes people might not be comfortable commenting on the original site, sometimes they might want to write more on their own blog... who knows? The point is that any organization has to do a good enough job of listening and, if people aren't talking to them on their own platforms, go and talk to them on the platforms they ARE using to converse. I will say that in my opinion, PRSA typically does a pretty good job of this.

Shonali
Shonali

@arthury No need to apologize at all, my friend. I honestly didn't take it amiss, but it felt pertinent to mention here. Re: "seasoned professionals" - thanks for clarifying. As I said in my comment, I don't know the actual make-up of the Task Force, but that was the sense I got from what I saw as the three options. It does sound like you had a good mix of people; I guess I'd ask if the academics were on the "newer" or "senior" side. Because I think when one puts together teams like this, looking at them not just in terms of experience and range, but also how the demo/psychographics play out across industries/careers can be very helpful as well. Perhaps you already did that, it's just a thought. I do give PRSA full marks for responding regularly; that is something I've noticed (and applauded) about the association for a long time. I felt the tenor of some of the earlier responses on this particular topic was slightly defensive, and I don't blame PRSA for that, with the criticism being thrown your way. But you (PRSA) and you specifically DO a great job of responding, so kudos for that.

arthury
arthury

@Shonali I'm happy to answer some of your questions (and please know that you — or any member — can come to me at any time with questions such as these). PRSA typically doesn't post the names of its Committee or Task Force members, other than the Chair or Co-Chairs, simply to protect their privacy. The one exception is our Nominating Committee. The full list of Committees and Task Forces is here (http://bit.ly/zLdAuc), though I do see that the Public Relations Defined Task Force is not on this list. I can't immediately explain its omission, other than thinking it could be a clerical oversight, given that the Task Force originally wasn’t expected to continue its work in 2012. Your sense that the Task Force contained only "seasoned" professionals (thanks for being nice to the old folks like me) isn't really true. The members included three new professionals (corporate, agency and non-profit), five senior practitioners (corporate, agency and non-profit) and two academics (to ensure the definitions would be true to the research). Like the broader initiative itself, the composition was purposefully thought out to provide a range of opinions and input. Finally, I'm not sure where PRSA dropped the ball on your involvement on this Task Force. Of course we felt you important enough to participate, which is why we reached out to you initially. I hope you'll accept my apologies on behalf of the Task Force.

arthury
arthury

@Shonali I'm happy to answer some of your questions (and please know that you — or any member — can come to me at any time with questions such as these). PRSA typically doesn't post the names of its Committee or Task Force members, other than the Chair or Co-Chairs, simply to protect their privacy. The one exception is our Nominating Committee. The full list of Committees and Task Forces is here (http://bit.ly/zLdAuc), though I do see that the Public Relations Defined Task Force is not on this list. I can't immediately explain its omission, other than thinking it could be a clerical oversight, given that the Task Force originally wasn’t expected to continue its work in 2012. Your sense that the Task Force contained only "seasoned" professionals (thanks for being nice to the old folks like me) isn't really true. The members included three new professionals (corporate, agency and non-profit), five senior practitioners (corporate, agency and non-profit) and two academics (to ensure the definitions would be true to the research). Like the broader initiative itself, the composition was purposefully thought out to provide a range of opinions and input. Finally, I'm not sure where PRSA dropped the ball on your involvement on this Task Force, following Rosanna's initial outreach. Of course we felt you important enough to participate, which is why we reached out to you initially. I hope you'll accept my apologies on behalf of the Task Force.

arthury
arthury

@Shonali I'm happy to answer some of your questions (and please know that you — or any member — can come to me at any time with questions such as these). PRSA typically doesn't post the names of its Committee or Task Force members, other than the Chair or Co-Chairs, simply to protect their privacy. The one exception is our Nominating Committee. The full list of Committees and Task Forces is here (http://bit.ly/zLdAuc), though I do see that the Public Relations Defined Task Force is not on this list. I can't immediately explain its omission, other than thinking it could be a clerical oversight, given that the Task Force originally wasn’t expected to continue its work in 2012. Your sense that the Task Force contained only "seasoned" professionals (thanks for being nice to the old folks like me) isn't really true. The members included three new professionals (corporate, agency and non-profit), five senior practitioners (corporate, agency and non-profit) and two academics (to ensure the definitions would be true to the research). Like the broader initiative itself, the composition was purposefully thought out to provide a range of opinions and input. Finally, I'm not sure where PRSA dropped the ball on your involvement on this Task Force. Of course we felt you important enough to participate, which is why we reached out to you initially. I hope you'll accept my apologies on behalf of the Task Force.

arthury
arthury

@Shonali I'm happy to answer some of your questions (and please know that you — or any member — can come to me at any time with questions such as these). PRSA typically doesn't post the names of its Committee or Task Force members, other than the Chair or Co-Chairs, simply to protect their privacy. The one exception is our Nominating Committee. The full list of Committees and Task Forces is here (http://bit.ly/zLdAuc), though I do see that the Public Relations Defined Task Force is not on this list. I can't immediately explain its omission, other than thinking it could be a clerical oversight, given that the Task Force originally wasn’t expected to continue its work in 2012. Your sense that the Task Force contained only "seasoned" professionals (thanks for being nice to the old folks like me) isn't really true. The members included three new professionals (corporate, agency and non-profit), five senior practitioners (corporate, agency and non-profit) and two academics (to ensure the definitions would be true to the research). Like the broader initiative itself, the composition was purposefully thought out to provide a range of opinions and input. Finally, I'm not sure where PRSA dropped the ball on your involvement on this Task Force. Of course we felt you important enough to participate, which is why we reached out to you initially. I hope you'll accept my apologies on behalf of the Task Force.

mdbarber
mdbarber

@Shonali I agree the definition does affect everyone and that's why representatives of multiple organizations from around the world were involved; that's why a variety of professional specialties were included on the committee; why a crowd source method was used in the initial phase; why comments were requested on each phase of the process; why a variety of traditional and social media tools were used to solicit input; why comments were read/reviewed and considered from a variety of sources; and why this was a no-win proposition from the beginning. We work in a very complex profession. What I do is different from you and is different from lots of other people. At its core is strategic thinking, messaging, relationships, etc. I don't have a list of task force members but I've asked PRSA to provide it. The people I know on the task force may not be "young" (whatever that means anymore) but they are quite well versed in today's profession. As far as posting on PRSA's blog/posts, you are correct we can't FORCE people to post there but if you put together a process for your clients you want to ENCOURAGE people to do so. You wan to try to corral the conversation in as few locations as possible so it keeps the conversation centralized. And I think if we want our positions to be heard by those involved in a project, we DO want to provide feedback where we know they're going to see it. Actually I think PRSA has done a fairly good job of listening during this process. They haven't written a definition that satisfies folks. I think that's why it's an ongoing process. I think that's why we all will take the "master" definition and turn it into something that works for each of us in our particular practice and in conversations.My point here really is that I wish people would take part in a process instead of just shooting the messenger. I wish they would take some time to discover what has happened and why. In my opinion, it's very unproductive to do otherwise but it must work for some people.

Shonali
Shonali

@mdbarber If it was a no-win proposition from the beginning... why bother? I think you know that I wasn't trying to be ageist in my comment (young v. old). You know from personal experience (of me!) that I'm the last person to do that. There is, however, a difference in being well-versed from a theoretical point of view and well-versed from a practice point of view, and the latter is most often where one gets conversant with terminology... since this is basically a debate about terminology. I also didn't come over here to argue with you (or anyone). I thought you laid out your viewpoint terrifically well. The one thing that I will say, particularly in terms of participating in the process - with which, fundamentally I am in agreement - is that sometimes the options one is given just aren't exciting/compelling enough to make people *want* to participate. Perhaps that is what happened here, perhaps it was some people feeling "why bother? what's going to change?"... I don't know. But there is that aspect to it as well. I did see @arthury 's note over at Spin Sucks about how this conversation doesn't end here, and inviting more participation, which I thought was terrific. For those of us who are not happy with the current options, that's pretty much all we wanted... at least, that's all I'd hoped to see. And I have. Which just makes PRSA go even higher in my esteem.