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.

The Barber Group

Gig Harbor, Washington


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