NEW YORK: The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), which has
rebounded from the financial and organizational problems that plagued it
for much of last year, has outlined its plans for 2002 to PRWeek: to
focus on diversity, leadership, and the value of membership.
The PRSA reported a financial loss of more than $650,000 in 2000,
which then-CEO and president Kathleen Lewton attributed to "problems
with policy, software that doesn't work, and poor judgment calls."
But strict enforcement of policies and procedures, in addition to
greater staff accountability, means that the PRSA will meet its
financial goal by returning $200,000 of revenues to its reserve
account. Membership is currently holding steady at about 17,000.
"I guess the word I would use to describe how I feel about it is
'proud,'" said Catherine Bolton, the PRSA's COO and executive director,
"because we've overcome so many of the problems and challenges that put
us in the red in the first place."
An internal reorganization of the 50 national office staff was designed
to do away with "silo communications," and establish greater clarity of
responsibility throughout the organization.
New hires have also contributed to the PRSA's about-face, Bolton said,
including Linda Burnett as chief administrative officer, CFO John
Colletti, Libby Roberge as PR director, and John Robinson as director of
marketing and sales. "We had some very good existing talent, but there
were areas where we didn't have the type of background needed," Bolton
The PRSA also corrected problems with its iMIS member database, allowing
its 117 chapters to retrieve up-to-date information about their
A highlight of the year was the society's October 27-30 international
conference held in Atlanta amid concerns over the wisdom of staging such
a large-scale event after the September 11 tragedies. The conference
attracted 1,589 practitioners and 1,100 students, exceeding
Coverage of the event extended to Stuart Elliott's column in The New
York Times, which looked at how PR will adapt to post-September 11
changes, as well as the PRSA's leadership role.
Lewton was also invited to address the Economic Club of Detroit on the
subject of corporate reputation.
Increasing the diversity throughout PR is a top priority for the society
in 2002, Lewton confirmed. "It's hard to be a profession that says, 'We
understand all of our audiences' when we are all white," she said.
Lewton is also gratified to see that the PR ethics debate is now being
taken up on the grassroots level of the industry. "It has become a
program for the members, rather than that strange old punitive thing
that nobody understood."
Bolton said the PRSA's challenge in 2002 will be to focus on the value
of membership and assessing the program needs across the industry. The
PRSA's 2002 executive committee includes Joann Killeen as president and
CEO; Lewton becomes immediate past president, and Reed Byrum was named