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PRSA Drops the Ball - Again

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  • Ned Barnett
    Jonathan Bernstein very graciously invited me to write a column on the latest PRSA disaster (another PR disaster) surrounding the cancelation of their
    Message 1 of 2 , Nov 1, 2005
    • 0 Attachment
      Jonathan Bernstein very graciously invited me to write a column on the
      latest PRSA disaster (another PR disaster) surrounding the cancelation of
      their convention in Miami last month - this for his excellent (and free)
      e-zine newsletter on Crisis Management. You can see this column at my blog
      (http://barnettmarcom.blogspot.com/), or by reading down the page, or by
      going to Jonathan's website (http://www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com).

      Jonathan's newsletter is not only well-respected, it's well-read - Jack
      O'Dwyer has already contacted and interviewed me for his next issue ... CBS
      also contacted me, but just to comment on my column, not to use my material
      (sigh) ...






      PRSA Drops the PR Ball

      This article was written for, and first appeared in Jonathan Bernstein's
      excellent crisis manager e-zine newsletter, available at no cost (but worth
      a lot) from Jonathan by using the "subscribe to" box on the home page of
      Jonathan's site, http://www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com

      Now, the article, complete with Jonathan's introduction ...

      Editor's Note: Ned Barnett is very well known to PR-related listserv
      members as one of our industry's leading curmudgeons (a category I use to
      describe myself periodically). After seeing all of the comments about
      PRSA's conference debacle on my favorite PR listserv, PR Mindshare (hosted
      on Yahoo), I invited any member to submit an article, and Ned graciously
      accepted.

      When it comes to making bad PR moves, few organizations excel quite as
      blatantly as the Public Relations Society of America. This is exemplified
      by their remarkably inept handling of the last-minute cancellation of their
      national convention, thanks to the intrusion of Hurricane Wilma.

      In handling this eleventh-hour cancellation of their annual PRSA Conference
      - scheduled for October 22-25 in Miami - PRSA's staffers demonstrated, not
      for the first time, their apparent inability to practice sound PR
      principles themselves. You might think that PRSA should know that
      conference pre-planning must include crises pre-planning - particularly
      when scheduling a conference for the heart of "hurricane alley." If so,
      you'd be wrong.

      When it comes to practicing what PR professionals preach, PRSA's staff are
      the original "gang who couldn't shoot straight."

      There is at least one reason for this organization's continual failure to
      "do" PR, one related to the nature of member associations. From personal
      experience at one of those associations, I know most "outsiders" assume
      that staffers are experts in their association's field. When I was at the
      Tennessee Hospital Association, for instance, members just assumed that our
      professional staff understood hospitals - in fact, only two of 64 staff
      members had ever worked in a hospital. I was one of those two, and key
      execs often hunted me down for a reality-check. They weren't about to say
      something about hospitals that would make no sense - at least to hospital
      people.

      The same situation appears to be true at PRSA - except that, apparently,
      PRSA didn't seem to have ANY staffers who've ever had a real PR job - or if
      they do, those individuals are clearly not being consulted.

      This hurricane snafu is only the latest blunder in a series of
      ill-considered staff decisions that have cost PRSA dearly. For example,
      until earlier this year, PRSA hosted an Internet listserv - a highly
      professional virtual PR discussion group. Then, someone on staff decided
      that non-members were somehow "stealing" a benefit from PRSA, and with no
      notice, they abolished this highly-effective list, replacing it with a
      highly-moderated web-based bulletin board that was purely members-only. Not
      only did this exclusionary policy destroy something of real value to
      participants (for the most part, members), but they also closed the door on
      what should have also been a useful member-recruiting tool.

      Worst of all was the way they handled it - abruptly, with no advance
      notice, and with no opportunity for participating members to approve - or
      disapprove. This so angered the listserv's members that - overnight -
      several new, independent discussion groups formed, continuing that useful
      once-PRSA-sponsored forum. There, a regular topic for discussion is PRSA's
      inept public- and member-relations.

      Instead of serving members - which, after all, is an association's prime
      duty - PRSA further alienated both dues-paying members and potential
      members. In return, they got zero positive value from their decisive
      action. Zero.

      Which brings us to their current PR debacle. In handling the
      hurricane-forced convention cancellation, PRSA did several things wrong:

      1. First, PRSA scheduled a convention in Miami in the middle of hurricane
      season. This is not rocket science - they might as well have scheduled an
      outdoor tanning convention for Fargo in mid-January.

      2. Second, when it became apparent that Wilma might target Miami, PRSA was
      painfully s-l-o-w to inform members of the cancellation. Based on
      performance, PRSA apparently had no on-call crisis PR plan waiting in the
      wings. They had no pre-existing mechanism for notifying members of the
      cancellation. And they made few - if any - efforts to reach out to the
      media to help spread the word. They even ignored in-house communications
      channels. Active accredited member Rich Barger commented that "PRSA didn't
      even bother to post anything about the cancellation in their own
      now-scantly-followed, draconianly moderated discussion forum."

      3. Finally, they intentionally made it very difficult for members to
      reclaim their pre-paid registration fees. At first, there was no mention at
      all of refunds. When pressure built, they finally decided to refund any
      member's fee - but only if that member asked - in writing. Probably
      notarized in blood.

      It would have been so easy to avoid this - first, by scheduling their
      convention outside hurricane alley, or for Miami before or after the
      hurricane season. Either option was available to PRSA.

      Next, they should have had a crisis PR plan in place. It's not like member
      associations haven't had to execute last-minute cancellations before. It
      was only six years ago that the National Rifle Association had to cancel a
      long-planned national convention, tragically scheduled for Denver just days
      after the Columbine shooting.

      If that wasn't close-to-home enough, the International Association of
      Business Communicators - PRSA's prime "competitor" - planned their 2003
      International Conference for Toronto, about the time SARS all but closed
      down that city. However, IABC had a crisis plan, and easily salvaged their
      convention. Those experiences were crisis-planning wake-up calls for every
      member association, but apparently, PRSA wasn't paying attention.

      Even without a plan, PRSA could still have sent e-mails to registered
      conventioneers (I presume that even PRSA now asks members for their e-mail
      addresses). This could have been buttressed by a PRNewswire press release
      that would have put the cancellation news on the Internet.

      Finally, PRSA could have offered a member-friendly refund policy, instead
      of making members pull hen's teeth to get their money back. One useful
      approach: offer members the opportunity to apply their payment to any
      future PRSA event - many members would likely have accepted, knowing they'd
      be helping PRSA's cash flow without losing anything.

      For those who preferred refunds, a simple web-page refund request form,
      promoted by e-mail, would have been a far more member-friendly approach.
      Instead, PRSA blundered once again, putting the needs of the organization
      (hold onto that cash!) ahead of their members' best interests.

      In short, PRSA had options. Which they ignored - in part because the staff
      is not made up of PR pros, but of career association bureaucrats - and in
      doing so, blundered every step of the way.

      No professional PRSA member would have made such monumentally
      PR-inappropriate decisions. This highlights the dangers of turning a PR
      association over to career "association executives" - instead of to PR
      professionals who also know how to run an association.

      ###

      In 1978, Ned Barnett became (to that time) the youngest person ever to have
      earned PRSA Accreditation. He then served in a variety of PRSA chapter
      offices for a decade. Ned has written nine published books on PR, and he's
      won a PRSA Silver Anvil. He owns Barnett Marketing Communications, Inc.,
      based in Las Vegas, Nevada; and although he's got years of experience in
      association management, he wants nothing to do with trying to salvage PRSA.
      Barnett can be found at http://www.barnettmarcom.com, or contacted at
      ned@....




      Ned Barnett, APR
      Marketing/PR Fellow, AHA

      Barnett Marketing Communications
      Exceptional Marcom Services for Exceptional Clients

      420 N. Nellis Blvd., A3 - 276 - Las Vegas, NV 89110
      Phone: 702-696-1200 * FAX: 702-696-1211
      ned@... - http://www.barnettmarcom.com

      Barnett on PR: http://barnettmarcom.blogspot.com/
      Barnett on Marketing: http://barnettonmarketing.blogspot.com/
      Barnett on Book Promotion/Marketing/Publishing:
      http://barnettonpublishing.blogspot.com/

      BMC - A Sound Investment in Exceptional Success

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • sonyagrig
      I found your article very interesting. I d often wondered if anyone else felt like the cobbler s children had no shoes. Your article didn t mention the
      Message 2 of 2 , Dec 1, 2005
      • 0 Attachment
        I found your article very interesting. I'd often wondered if anyone
        else felt like the "cobbler's children had no shoes."

        Your article didn't mention the recent crisis here in Los Angeles
        where a big agency is taking the heat, quite publicly, in regards to
        the way it handles its billing with a state government agency.

        PRSA LA's reaction? None.

        Why should I renew my membership? The organization is out of touch.




        --- In prbytes@yahoogroups.com, Ned Barnett <ned@b...> wrote:
        >
        > Jonathan Bernstein very graciously invited me to write a column on
        the
        > latest PRSA disaster (another PR disaster) surrounding the
        cancelation of
        > their convention in Miami last month - this for his excellent (and
        free)
        > e-zine newsletter on Crisis Management. You can see this column at
        my blog
        > (http://barnettmarcom.blogspot.com/), or by reading down the page,
        or by
        > going to Jonathan's website
        (http://www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com).
        >
        > Jonathan's newsletter is not only well-respected, it's well-read -
        Jack
        > O'Dwyer has already contacted and interviewed me for his next
        issue ... CBS
        > also contacted me, but just to comment on my column, not to use my
        material
        > (sigh) ...
        >
        >
        >
        >
        >
        >
        > PRSA Drops the PR Ball
        >
        > This article was written for, and first appeared in Jonathan
        Bernstein's
        > excellent crisis manager e-zine newsletter, available at no cost
        (but worth
        > a lot) from Jonathan by using the "subscribe to" box on the home
        page of
        > Jonathan's site, http://www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com
        >
        > Now, the article, complete with Jonathan's introduction ...
        >
        > Editor's Note: Ned Barnett is very well known to PR-related
        listserv
        > members as one of our industry's leading curmudgeons (a category I
        use to
        > describe myself periodically). After seeing all of the comments
        about
        > PRSA's conference debacle on my favorite PR listserv, PR Mindshare
        (hosted
        > on Yahoo), I invited any member to submit an article, and Ned
        graciously
        > accepted.
        >
        > When it comes to making bad PR moves, few organizations excel quite
        as
        > blatantly as the Public Relations Society of America. This is
        exemplified
        > by their remarkably inept handling of the last-minute cancellation
        of their
        > national convention, thanks to the intrusion of Hurricane Wilma.
        >
        > In handling this eleventh-hour cancellation of their annual PRSA
        Conference
        > - scheduled for October 22-25 in Miami - PRSA's staffers
        demonstrated, not
        > for the first time, their apparent inability to practice sound PR
        > principles themselves. You might think that PRSA should know that
        > conference pre-planning must include crises pre-planning -
        particularly
        > when scheduling a conference for the heart of "hurricane alley." If
        so,
        > you'd be wrong.
        >
        > When it comes to practicing what PR professionals preach, PRSA's
        staff are
        > the original "gang who couldn't shoot straight."
        >
        > There is at least one reason for this organization's continual
        failure to
        > "do" PR, one related to the nature of member associations. From
        personal
        > experience at one of those associations, I know most "outsiders"
        assume
        > that staffers are experts in their association's field. When I was
        at the
        > Tennessee Hospital Association, for instance, members just assumed
        that our
        > professional staff understood hospitals - in fact, only two of 64
        staff
        > members had ever worked in a hospital. I was one of those two, and
        key
        > execs often hunted me down for a reality-check. They weren't about
        to say
        > something about hospitals that would make no sense - at least to
        hospital
        > people.
        >
        > The same situation appears to be true at PRSA - except that,
        apparently,
        > PRSA didn't seem to have ANY staffers who've ever had a real PR
        job - or if
        > they do, those individuals are clearly not being consulted.
        >
        > This hurricane snafu is only the latest blunder in a series of
        > ill-considered staff decisions that have cost PRSA dearly. For
        example,
        > until earlier this year, PRSA hosted an Internet listserv - a
        highly
        > professional virtual PR discussion group. Then, someone on staff
        decided
        > that non-members were somehow "stealing" a benefit from PRSA, and
        with no
        > notice, they abolished this highly-effective list, replacing it
        with a
        > highly-moderated web-based bulletin board that was purely members-
        only. Not
        > only did this exclusionary policy destroy something of real value
        to
        > participants (for the most part, members), but they also closed the
        door on
        > what should have also been a useful member-recruiting tool.
        >
        > Worst of all was the way they handled it - abruptly, with no
        advance
        > notice, and with no opportunity for participating members to
        approve - or
        > disapprove. This so angered the listserv's members that -
        overnight -
        > several new, independent discussion groups formed, continuing that
        useful
        > once-PRSA-sponsored forum. There, a regular topic for discussion is
        PRSA's
        > inept public- and member-relations.
        >
        > Instead of serving members - which, after all, is an association's
        prime
        > duty - PRSA further alienated both dues-paying members and
        potential
        > members. In return, they got zero positive value from their
        decisive
        > action. Zero.
        >
        > Which brings us to their current PR debacle. In handling the
        > hurricane-forced convention cancellation, PRSA did several things
        wrong:
        >
        > 1. First, PRSA scheduled a convention in Miami in the middle of
        hurricane
        > season. This is not rocket science - they might as well have
        scheduled an
        > outdoor tanning convention for Fargo in mid-January.
        >
        > 2. Second, when it became apparent that Wilma might target Miami,
        PRSA was
        > painfully s-l-o-w to inform members of the cancellation. Based on
        > performance, PRSA apparently had no on-call crisis PR plan waiting
        in the
        > wings. They had no pre-existing mechanism for notifying members of
        the
        > cancellation. And they made few - if any - efforts to reach out to
        the
        > media to help spread the word. They even ignored in-house
        communications
        > channels. Active accredited member Rich Barger commented that "PRSA
        didn't
        > even bother to post anything about the cancellation in their own
        > now-scantly-followed, draconianly moderated discussion forum."
        >
        > 3. Finally, they intentionally made it very difficult for members
        to
        > reclaim their pre-paid registration fees. At first, there was no
        mention at
        > all of refunds. When pressure built, they finally decided to refund
        any
        > member's fee - but only if that member asked - in writing. Probably
        > notarized in blood.
        >
        > It would have been so easy to avoid this - first, by scheduling
        their
        > convention outside hurricane alley, or for Miami before or after
        the
        > hurricane season. Either option was available to PRSA.
        >
        > Next, they should have had a crisis PR plan in place. It's not like
        member
        > associations haven't had to execute last-minute cancellations
        before. It
        > was only six years ago that the National Rifle Association had to
        cancel a
        > long-planned national convention, tragically scheduled for Denver
        just days
        > after the Columbine shooting.
        >
        > If that wasn't close-to-home enough, the International Association
        of
        > Business Communicators - PRSA's prime "competitor" - planned their
        2003
        > International Conference for Toronto, about the time SARS all but
        closed
        > down that city. However, IABC had a crisis plan, and easily
        salvaged their
        > convention. Those experiences were crisis-planning wake-up calls
        for every
        > member association, but apparently, PRSA wasn't paying attention.
        >
        > Even without a plan, PRSA could still have sent e-mails to
        registered
        > conventioneers (I presume that even PRSA now asks members for their
        e-mail
        > addresses). This could have been buttressed by a PRNewswire press
        release
        > that would have put the cancellation news on the Internet.
        >
        > Finally, PRSA could have offered a member-friendly refund policy,
        instead
        > of making members pull hen's teeth to get their money back. One
        useful
        > approach: offer members the opportunity to apply their payment to
        any
        > future PRSA event - many members would likely have accepted,
        knowing they'd
        > be helping PRSA's cash flow without losing anything.
        >
        > For those who preferred refunds, a simple web-page refund request
        form,
        > promoted by e-mail, would have been a far more member-friendly
        approach.
        > Instead, PRSA blundered once again, putting the needs of the
        organization
        > (hold onto that cash!) ahead of their members' best interests.
        >
        > In short, PRSA had options. Which they ignored - in part because
        the staff
        > is not made up of PR pros, but of career association bureaucrats -
        and in
        > doing so, blundered every step of the way.
        >
        > No professional PRSA member would have made such monumentally
        > PR-inappropriate decisions. This highlights the dangers of turning
        a PR
        > association over to career "association executives" - instead of to
        PR
        > professionals who also know how to run an association.
        >
        > ###
        >
        > In 1978, Ned Barnett became (to that time) the youngest person ever
        to have
        > earned PRSA Accreditation. He then served in a variety of PRSA
        chapter
        > offices for a decade. Ned has written nine published books on PR,
        and he's
        > won a PRSA Silver Anvil. He owns Barnett Marketing Communications,
        Inc.,
        > based in Las Vegas, Nevada; and although he's got years of
        experience in
        > association management, he wants nothing to do with trying to
        salvage PRSA.
        > Barnett can be found at http://www.barnettmarcom.com, or contacted
        at
        > ned@b...
        >
        >
        >
        >
        > Ned Barnett, APR
        > Marketing/PR Fellow, AHA
        >
        > Barnett Marketing Communications
        > Exceptional Marcom Services for Exceptional Clients
        >
        > 420 N. Nellis Blvd., A3 - 276 - Las Vegas, NV 89110
        > Phone: 702-696-1200 * FAX: 702-696-1211
        > ned@b... - http://www.barnettmarcom.com
        >
        > Barnett on PR: http://barnettmarcom.blogspot.com/
        > Barnett on Marketing: http://barnettonmarketing.blogspot.com/
        > Barnett on Book Promotion/Marketing/Publishing:
        > http://barnettonpublishing.blogspot.com/
        >
        > BMC - A Sound Investment in Exceptional Success
        >
        > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
        >
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