Joining the club

PR organizations have much to offer executives at all levels.

PR organizations have much to offer executives at all levels.

From the college student to the veteran professional, PR and public affairs associations offer opportunities to help people at every stage of their career. First and foremost are the opportunities available to meet other people in the business.

For those looking to get their foot in the door, for instance, the Public Relations Society of America runs the largest student PR association in the world, with more than 9,000 members studying at over 260 PRSA-certified schools around the country.

"It's an excellent way for people to come into PR," says Catherine Bolton, PRSA executive director and COO. "It's great for internships, plus students can come to their own conference that they have in tandem with ours, so it's a great [chance] to network."

The PRSA's approximately 20,000 regular members represent all ranks of the PR world, and have the opportunity to mingle with colleagues at a range of PRSA-organized activities throughout the year.

Meetings are a common attribute of most associations, though some are more general in their membership than others. The Public Affairs Council (PAC), for instance, is open to all public affairs pros. Meanwhile, the focus of groups like the Entertainment Publicists Professional Society or the Religion Communicators Council is fairly easy to guess.

Another specialized association, the Arthur W. Page Society, is devoted to the senior-most people in PR, particularly at corporations. Many of its meetings are intended to increase contact among not just top PR execs, but all senior leaders within companies.

"We're trying to get more of our members to have a seat in the C-suite, and to have their counsel and input valued as much as other C-suite executives," says Paul Basista, executive director of the approximately 420-member association. "If you look at it from the CEO perspective, who are the guys at the end of the day that [CEOs] sort of put their feet up on the desk with and close the day?"

In some cases, multiple associations collaborate to offer networking opportunities. For example, at the annual Leadership Forum co-hosted by the Council of PR Firms, the Institute for Public Relations (IPR), and the Page Society, 50 up-and-coming senior PR execs from both firms and corporations spend three days in a Davos-style leadership conference, talking with one another and listening to outside speakers.

"Our business, like most, is relationship-based," says Matt Shaw, VP at the Council of PR Firms.

"The idea is that the future generation of PR leadership should get to know one another."

Networking also includes the concept of mentoring. PAC, for instance, in addition to organizing some 30 seminars and conferences throughout the year, keeps staff on hand who specialize in different areas and meet with members either in person or over the phone to provide advice.

"So the person on staff who specializes in grassroots work meets with the people who need her advice in that area," says PAC president Doug Pinkham. "We approach career development and job advice as not just links, contacts, and phone numbers of jobs. [We see it as] helping people develop a road map for their career based on where they are now, and how to get into other areas and get the training."

Associations also offer a range of research for members. Greater knowledge of industry techniques, trends, and particular subjects can obviously help PR and public affairs pros advance their careers. At IPR, which unlike other organizations is not membership-based, but instead supported through contributions and program revenues, a range of research is available for free on its Web site, as well as from various forums it hosts around the US.

PR is perhaps more of a creative profession than say, accounting or law, where a strict set of rules underlie best practices, but there's a science to PR that the most successful practitioners of the profession study, says Frank Ovaitt, IPR president and CEO.

"We like to say there's a science beneath the art of PR," he says. "If you need basic training in PR, that's not what we do. We're much more about research-based knowledge and getting that into the field. In other words, as people move higher in the industry, they need to understand both the theory and the practice. We try to bring those together."

What, for instance, are some ways that PR pros can measure their return on investment for a campaign or other project? The IPR publishes a variety of research on metrics. In addition, a popular piece of research to come out recently from the 13,000-member International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) is a study on ethics called "The Business of Truth," notes Joseph Ugalde, the IABC's VP of marketing and communication.

Associations also give members an inside track on new job openings, as well as a venue for advertising to the industry openings that agencies, corporations, and other organizations need to fill. The Page Society's Basista says that he acts as a kind of conduit for all the very top-level openings he hears about.

"It's pretty much like musical chairs at the top. Someone leaves one company and somebody else takes that role, which leaves a vacancy at their spot," he says. "When I become aware of an opening, I'll send a message via e-mail to the entire membership and alert them that there's something available."

Overall, associations help members understand not just what their colleagues are doing, but what they should do. Unlike medicine or law, where professionals need to possess fairly extensive credentials - from degrees to state licenses - to make a living, PR and public affairs has fairly "low barriers to entry," as is often noted. Still, while there may not be any official standards, it's important for people in the business to understand what their colleagues do.

"Anything we can do to help them get exposure and connections with other people is good," notes Shaw. "It allows competitors in a non-competitive environment to share."


American Association of Political Consultants
(202) 544-9815;

Arthur W. Page Society
(212) 400-7959;

Canadian Public Relations Society
(416) 239-7034;

Council of Communication Management
(866) 463-6226;

Council of Public Relations Firms
(877) PRFIRMS;

Entertainment Publicists Professional Society
(888) 399-EPPS;

Global Public Affairs Institute
(212) 297-6108;

Hispanic Public Relations Association
(310) 473-2031;

Institute for Public Relations
(352) 392-0280;

International Association of Business Communicators
(800) 776-4222;

International Public Relations Association
(+44) 1483-280-130;

Issue Management Council
(703) 777-8450;

National Association of Government Communicators
(703) 691-0377;

National Black Public Relations Society
(323) 466-8221;

National Council for Marketing & Public Relations
(970) 330-0771;

National Investor Relations Institute
(703) 506-3570;

National School Public Relations Association
(301) 519-0496;

Public Affairs Council
(202) 872-1790;

Public Relations Society of America
(212) 460-1400;

Religion Communicators Council
(212) 870-2985;

Women Executives in Public Relations
(212) 859-7375;

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