You’d think that a society which promotes public relations would know how to deal with the press. Not in the case of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). The society has antagonized a major American publication on public relations, O’Dwyer’s. This newsletter is, according to The New York Times, “the bible of PR”.
The PRSA has now even banned O’Dwyer’s journalists from any of its events.
Many of the PRSA’s acts seem petty. The organization previously wrote to Jack O’Dwyer, the Editor-in-Chief of O’Dwyer’s, telling him that could attend a conference with a press pass, but, as he was a reporter, was not allowed to eat the lunch provided to delegates.
The PRSA also reportedly charged the J. R. O’Dwyer Company $1,275 (£789) for each reporter the publisher sent to cover their conferences, while giving free passes to other journalists.
Why is the PRSA treating the most important newsletter in its sector like this? Well, I can see where they are coming from: the O’Dwyer’s newsletter is consistently critical of how it is run. For example, it has campaigned to end the PRSA’s undemocratic elections, in which 82 per cent of the members are ineligible to stand.
This is far from an unfair criticism: Richard Edelman, the boss of America’s most successful public affairs group, has also campaigned for the change.
Now I’ll admit that there are times when it is not worth engaging with particular reporters or media outlets. But this is one where openness and kindness would work better. The PRSA has crossed the acceptable line of complaining about unfavourable coverage, and behaved in a way that can easily be reported as unreasonable and unfair. As such, the PRSA has enflamed the relationship, turning criticism into a toxic PR disaster.
Let’s face it, O’Dwyer’s is a more important, higher profile voice of the American PR industry than the PRSA. The society is naive if they think they can protect their reputation by banning the newsletter from reporting on their activities. There are plenty of PRSA members, after all, who will supply the newsletter with details.
It is time for the PRSA to be big enough say they got it wrong, say sorry, and reverse its ban.