Now is Time to Update PRSA’s Bylaws

Updating PRSA’s bylaws in keeping with modern governance theories and current best practices in association management is one of the most important organizational initiatives that PRSA is undertaking in 2009.

For the uninitiated, PRSA’s bylaws were drafted by the Society’s founders, under the authority of its Charter, to govern areas such as membership, dues, the election of directors and officers, accreditation, and the establishment and operation of Chapters, Districts, and Sections, among other things. Amending PRSA’s bylaws requires a two-thirds vote of the delegates present and voting at the annual meeting of the Assembly.

There needs to be appropriate cause to amend the bylaws—and broad support for the changes being proposed—which may be reasons why PRSA’s bylaws have not been thoroughly revised since they were first ratified more than 60 years ago. They have been amended slightly from time to time, however, in response to evolving Society needs.

Today, PRSA is at a point in its history when broad and meaningful bylaws changes will help the Society continue to grow, prosper, and serve as a leading voice in the public relations industry. If we’re to build a framework for PRSA to move confidently into the 21st century, we cannot do it on an early 20th century foundation.

For this reason, PRSA established a Bylaws Task Force in 2007, to determine exactly what changes were needed and for what purpose, and how to accomplish those changes in a way that was data-driven, logical, informed, transparent and likely to produce the desired outcomes.

The task force researched current trends in association governance and engaged Tecker Consultants, experts in association governance, to further understand best practices. A number of governance shifts with direct relevance to PRSA were identified, among them:

— Bylaws can accommodate change as an organization and profession mature.
— Associations that represent mature professions are inclusive, engaging the broadest possible community.
— Barriers to full participation, including holding the organization’s credentials, are usually abandoned.
— Boards are defining and delegating, rather than reacting and ratifying.
— Popular votes are supplanting the use of stakeholder groups to “represent” members.

The task force next engaged the Board and Chapter, District, and Section leaders, as well as members and Assembly Delegates, in exercises to articulate their vision of the “ideal” PRSA. Attributes for an “ideal” Society that emerged from these exercises were diverse and far-reaching, and included qualities such as “inclusive,” “open,” “member-driven,” “more democratic,” “strategic,” and “trendsetting” leaders” (and more of them).

While PRSA’s successes already show progress against many of these ideals, the task force felt that governance changes in three main areas of the bylaws—membership, governance, and leadership—could further strengthen the Society for the future. Subject to input from our members, we plan to incorporate changes in these areas into a new bylaws document to be voted on by the Assembly at PRSA’s International Conference in San Diego in November 2009.

To help our members understand why the changes are necessary, the specific changes being contemplated and the expected outcomes that the changes will produce, we’ve established a variety of resources. For starters, a leadership briefing has been prepared and posted online. A Governance e-Group also will be available the week of Feb. 23, in the MemberNet section of the PRSA Web site, where a list of frequently asked questions and various background materials and presentations also can be accessed. In addition, a series of calls between the PRSA Board of Directors and Chapter, District, and Section leaders and Assembly Delegates will be scheduled.

Finally, member questions may be sent at any time to

Meaningful change is never easy. Still, revisions to the current set of PRSA bylaws will result in a more modern, flexible and efficient system of governance for PRSA, and we are eager to engage the PRSA community in developing a shared vision for moving forward.

William Murray is president and COO of PRSA.

About the author

William Murray


  • Bill:

    It’s good to see PRSA approach its governance with such a studied and open approach. As society, media and public relations has changed since the Society’s founding, so must the PRSA, especially in light of the recent rapid and dramatic changes in all three. As someone who has served and benefited from the public relations industry for 16 years, and as an employee whose firm has served the public relations since it’s inception, I look forward to the evolution of PRSA as it continues to meet the needs of the profession and its practitioners.


  • I wrote this to Jack O’Dwyer in response to his critical editorial on the proposed changes and he published it! Here it is again for the PRSA members who don’t read O’Dwyer’s publications. I should have thought to come to PRSAY first but it’s not top of mind yet; it will be henceforth.


    These proposals are far from perfect but they allow the Society to take a big step forward in allowing non-APRs to serve on the national board and associated committees. I’m an APR and I’ve never considered the designation much more than a reflection of my interest in, and commitment to, the profession. For me, the change to a more ecumenical nomination process will encourage a lot more young practitioners to join the Society and a lot more of the profession’s senior non-APRs to seek office and get involved.

    That said, I don’t understand why a minimum of 20 years’ experience should be needed in place of APR status. Leadership is a quality that may be improved with experience but experience is only one measure among many for judging who is and who isn’t a leader.

    Why not 15 years or 10 or even 5? And APR designation is no better as a measure of leadership than time in rank. I hope the day will come when all that’s required for national board membership is some serious involvement in the profession and the Society (maybe 10 years of management experience with or without APR) and a willingness to serve. Regarding the sitting Assembly, I hate to see it go because it has meant so much to the development of important relationships and leadership connections that I don’t think will ever result to the same degree from electronic voting and audio/video conferences.

    But new structures are clearly required for managing the new order of the world. Why not in PRSA, as well?

    All in all, I think the recommended changes will help to democratize the Society’s membership and governance and enhance the image of both the Society and the profession.

    • Thanks for your post, Don; I hope it’s the first of many.

      Given the complexity of the subject, I thought it would be helpful if I took a moment to clarify a few points.

      The Bylaws Rewrite Task Force recommended that requirements for National PRSA Board service be expanded to include members in good standing who have their APRs or who have served as a PRSA leader (Chapter, District, Section, Committee or Task Force Chair) or who have 20 or more years of public relations experience. The task force recommends that candidates for the PRSA Board have at least one of these requirements. The APR requirement has not been removed, as has been reported erroneously elsewhere.

      The task force made these recommendations since serious involvement in the profession and a willingness to serve the Society were deemed to be important qualifications for the PRSA Board. Serious involvement in the profession being measured by attaining the APR or having 20 plus years in the profession, and willingness to serve the Society being measured by service in a PRSA leadership position. Members newer to the profession could qualify for the PRSA Board by serving as Chapter, District, Section or Committee leaders. A survey of PRSA members, leaders and Delegates found knowledge of PRSA, serving in a leadership position at PRSA, and professional accomplishments to be the most important requirements for PRSA National Board members.

      The task force recommends that the Assembly continue to meet in person once a year serving to approve bylaw changes, dues structures, and Chapter dissolutions. The Assembly’s role would be enhanced to focus on issues of the profession. Their discussions would not be limited to the in-person meeting, but could be conducted virtually throughout the year.

      I hope this helps to bring the rewrite into a little clearer focus.

      Bill Murray
      PRSA President and COO

  • The concept of broadening eligibility for PRSA Board of Directors is a good one but doing so by meeting any ONE of three requirements is cumbersome and artificial.

    At the current time, Board eligibility is open only to accredited members who have served as a voting Assembly “participant or as a chapter president, section chair, district chair or chair of a national committee.” The undisputed fact is that requiring accreditation for Board eligibility means that 80% of PRSA members are not eligible and that significantly limits the pool of potential PRSA leaders and talent therefrom.

    The solution offered by the Bylaws Task Force to create a more democratic, larger pool of potential leaders is that a member would be eligible if they (1) are accredited; OR (2) served as a chapter, district, section or committee leader; OR (3) have more the 20 years of public relations experience with increasing levels of responsibility. But this really isn’t a solution.

    First of all, 20 years of public relations experience is quite irrelevant to one’s ability to be a PRSA leader or experience with PRSA. Plus, 19 years PR experience or 10 years or 5 years are all artificial boundaries keeping the potential leadership pool just as thin. Leaders in associations come from those individuals who have the energy and conviction to take the bull by the horns and make things happen.

    Experience in the work force is significantly less relevant to one’s potential as a PRSA leader than their experience within the organization to understand how it functions to meet its stated objectives and goals.

    Obviously the drafters of revised Board eligibility requirements kept accreditation as one of three alternatives because it has been an historical “requirement” and keeping it in is temporarily an easy way out.

    If PRSA elections are going to be by popular vote, then the “requirements” to run for a position should be equally liberalized. The requirement for Board eligibility should be as simple as “members who have served PRSA for at least five years including as either an Assembly participant, chapter officer, section chair, district chair or chair of a national committee.” It is that simple and a popular vote will take care of the rest.

    Richard Newman, APR, Fellow PRSA

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