Editorial: Why the PRSA needs a new CEO

It's not altogether surprising that Ray Gaulke has been moved to one side at the PRSA (see p1). The ousted president and COO was popular with his staff and respected by many for his vision, passion, energy and fundraising skills.

It's not altogether surprising that Ray Gaulke has been moved to one side at the PRSA (see p1). The ousted president and COO was popular with his staff and respected by many for his vision, passion, energy and fundraising skills.

It's not altogether surprising that Ray Gaulke has been moved to one side at the PRSA (see p1). The ousted president and COO was popular with his staff and respected by many for his vision, passion, energy and fundraising skills.

But for some time, he hasn't had the support of the board, and the knives have been sharpening. So while the PRSA's recent financial problems are more an accounting anomaly than financial mismanagement, the bad press gave the board the excuse they needed. He has become the fall guy.

It's a sad and humiliating end for Gaulke, not least because in his eight years, he has served the PRSA well. Membership grew from 14,000 to over 20,000. He revitalized the annual conference and the Silver Anvils, and he introduced the Bateman Competition to recapture the student audience.

Some of his initiatives were designed not just in the interests of the PRSA but of the entire industry. He was instrumental in the revitalization of the PRSA Foundation and in the creation of the Credibility Index. And he built visibility among agency and corporate leaders.

Perhaps most crucially, he tried to make the society more responsible to its membership, rather than the board. But that achievement was also part of his undoing. Often outspoken, Gaulke is not a consensus builder but a doer, making executive decisions and sometimes bully assing along the way.

A classic example of this was his help with PRWeek's launch. Gaulke believed the introduction of a glossy, national weekly magazine would help portray a positive image for the PR industry, but this hasn't stopped PRSA members from carping, and even the merest criticism of PRSA by PRWeek has been used against him.

As a big-picture guy, Gaulke wasn't always interested in details, and his ideas were sometimes unrealistic, which is why the recent five-year plan to appoint a Chief Administrative Officer appeared to make so much sense (the position is still unfilled).

It's also understandable that Gaulke sometimes acted on his own initiative, since the decision-making channels at the PRSA are byzantine, bickering and often bizarre. Despite the fact that he was dismissed, with typical insularity, as 'an ad man,' he has always had the best interests of the PR industry at heart.

The move is probably good for everyone, however. At 66, Gaulke has no need to put up with the politics. His fundraising strengths will be well used at the foundation and K.I.D.S. And, while he's not responsible for most of PRSA's problems, a change could help to address them.

Two things are clear. First, an appointment needs to be made soon. PRSA hopes to fill the position by 'mid-2001.' Without strong leadership, many of the senior staff will drift away.

Second, the board needs to give the new person a strong mandate, including the title CEO. As the Motion Picture Association of America showed with the appointment of Jack Valenti, even an association riven with conflicting interests can be strong and important - provided the CEO is given the power and trust to do the job.





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