Diversity leads PRSA's list of New Year's resolutions

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

said.



The PRSA also corrected problems with its iMIS member database, allowing

its 117 chapters to retrieve up-to-date information about their

members.



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

expectations.



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

president-elect.



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