10 thoughts on “Social Distortion: Why PRSA and other Legacy Organizations Have Lost Their Relevance

  1. This is just one more reason I’ve always preferred to be part of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) – because it covers all of those “turfs.” In my own career, I’ve held positions in employee communications, PR, web development and marketing, with social mixed in to most. Through them all, I’ve been able to continue to call myself a business communicator – an accredited business communicator, in fact. And, through all of these career paths, I’ve been able to learn and network with fellow IABCers who also fit into the various roles. It’s a diverse group by geography, gender and work title and therefore I think it makes the most sense long-term if you want the benefits of a professional organization.

  2. Laura — thanks for the excellent comment and you are absolutely right. I honestly forgot about IABC, but have spoken to various IABC groups over the years and there is definitely a stronger mix of people and many open minds. Passion for your profession is great, it’s just when that passion blinds to you its future that it becomes a problem.

  3. Full disclosure here: I work for ASAE — the American Society of Association Executives. Yes, it’s very meta.
    If are right, I agree with you. A professional organization trying to protect itself from encroachment from other professions and sectors is doomed to irrelevance.
    But I don’t think that’s what’s happening here. You make the mistake of assuming that one guy speaks for PRSA’s position. The groups you name — PRSA, AMA — they get this more than your post would have readers believe. Yes, they’ll have members who think and say many different things. But those groups understand it’s not either/or, it’s both/and. More than a lot of groups, they understand that the game has changed.
    I certainly agree with the part of your post that says no department owns or should control social media. We’re at a point where it’s going to touch multiple workgroups in different ways. I think the smartest organizations have begun to understand this and what formerly was a policy controlled in one area has begun to become more democratized throughout the organization.
    And I certainly think a lot of professional societies and trade groups are behind the curve in understanding how the social web changes the business they’re in. But to say none of us understand it and that we’re all useless and irrelevant is too broad a brush.

  4. Hey Gary – Consider me a subscriber after reading this post. Great stuff, and couldn’t agree more. Have had similar reactions when speaking to PRSA groups in Cleveland when I lived there.
    The usefulness of these organizations was, at one time, in being able to connect professionals with one another. We could gather for an hour or so every month and talk about issues facing the industry. Now, those interactions happen at lightning speed on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, forums, etc… Similarly, these organizations were useful in helping new professionals network with existing professionals in order to land a job. Now? Those new professionals can network 24/7/365. Just not sure I see the value, especially if I’m being asked to shell out a decent amount of cash to be a part of it.
    Thanks again for the post.

  5. Agree with other commenters about IABC. In that organization it’s not about who owns social media–or any other communications tool or trend–but about individual professional development, capacity building, research and resources, and a collective desire to move the conversation(s) forward. Also very much value, as Laura said, the diversity of members and other communication professionals who attend IABC’s events.

  6. Chuck — thanks for the comment and kind words. I thought your name sounded familiar, then say your bio and remembered why 🙂 Say hi to John Bell for me!
    Scott — points well taken. I was using some hyperbole to make a point, though at least in the Orange County chapter, this parochial view is a collective mindset.
    Michelle — thanks, you and Laura make great points. Maybe I meed to re-join my local IABC Chapter 🙂

  7. Gary–Both Laura and Michelle made one of the points that came to me after reading your thoughtful post. I value my IABC membership because of the diversity of its membership.
    The other point is that I see how the organization in which I work (my day job) could be much more effective if its various communication silos [e.g., Marketing, Public Relations, Corporate (internal) Communications and Social Responsibility] worked together.
    Some professional associations may be myopic, but hugely positive change could be made elsewhere by giving organizations a new pair of glasses.

  8. Hi Gary,
    Actually, PRSA agrees that “public engagement” is functionally agnostic.
    Which is why it’s disingenuous and odd that you would rely on the expressed view of a single individual (who may or may not be one of PRSA 32,000 members), at a single PRSA-hosted event (out of thousands), at a single PRSA Chapter (out of 112 across the country) to triangulate our organization’s view and, on that basis, sound a clarion call to disband it after more than 60 years in existence.
    PRSA trains public relations professionals (we “represent” individuals, not agencies) to use social media as a means of achieving their clients’ and organizations’ objectives. And while we often note that the typical skills used by public relations professionals are particularly well-suited to working in social media, that doesn’t mean we believe that only public relations professionals should use social media. If it doesn’t work that way in our own organization — where cross-functional teams collaboratively “own” social media — why would we suggest it work that way in yours?
    (BTW, if you ask us whether public relations is a “legacy discipline that no longer has relevance,” we have an opinion on that, too … regardless of the definition du jour chosen in support of your argument.)
    But for someone who is not and never has been a PRSA member to say that we have lost our relevance on the basis of a single individual’s views; and that our ethics, diversity, advocacy, learning, mentoring networking and awards programs thereby have no discernable value; and that we should take the AMA and 4As with us when we go … frankly strikes us a great example of social media’s failings.
    If Steve Rubel was available, none of this would have happened.
    Arthur Yann
    Vice President, Public Relations

  9. Arthur — thanks so much for your comments and your candor, I do appreciate and respect your POV. I’ve actually spoken and been involved with PRSA events for about 20 years (and have been a speaker at National), so my comments come from the historical perspective of PRSA (and others, including the Society of Professional Journalists where I was a Chapter President) falling short of broader perspectives.
    I’m very glad to hear all that you are doing — maybe I should join and see for myself, right? 🙂
    And you’re right, this is why Steve always got first dibs on speaking engagements when I was at Edelman — however, since we are both short bald Jewush guys, most audiences never knew the difference 🙂

  10. Gary, your post about the myopia of these professional associations is unintentionally myopic. I say that without rancor, because the philosophical foundation of your perspective is commonly shared.
    For the last several years, discussions about social media have been dominated by external applications – marketing, branding, sales, PR, customer service – but as I discuss in Part 2 of the Social Media Primer I’m developing (http://tiny.cc/SMinOrgsPrimer2, updated http://tiny.cc/SMinOrgsPrimer1and2update), that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In parallel, but substantially under the radar, a growing number of people are pursuing ways of leveraging 2.0 technologies internally, for things like knowledge management, project management, research & development, internal communication, and a host of human capital management initiatives. There are also increasingly complex IMplications of these technologies, including staffing,compensation, training, leadership & development, performance management – and of course risk management, both in terms of IT assets and in terms of addressing legal and policies issues.
    I could go on, but my basic point is that it’s not the associations that are irrelevant – it’s the arguments and turf battles. Ultimately, the answer will be both “none of the above” and “all of the above” – and we could save a lot of time and energy by accepting that inevitability and focusing our energies on more productive issues. For months now, after witnessing these debates in multiple contexts, I’ve wanted to write a post addressing the “who owns” question, and I will do so soon. I do think an organization’s efforts to leverage new technologies in strategic ways does need a leader, but I think that leader should probably be an individual rather than a department or function. I’m still fleshing out my ideas, but the C-level executives that make the most sense to me currently are not in traditional communications-related roles.
    Courtney Hunt – Founder, Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community

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