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PRSA Perspectives: The ‘Value of National’ Question

Editor’s Note: Throughout the ongoing discussion regarding a proposed dues increase, some PRSA members have expressed interest in better understanding the value of PRSA National. In a May 2011 column in Public Relations Tactics, William M. Murray, CAE, PRSA president and chief operating officer, offered insight and commentary on the value of National and the role it plays helping PRSA’s 114 chapters and its 22,000 professional members succeed daily.

We spend a lot of time at PRSA thinking about member value and looking for ways to keep member satisfaction at its presently high level. One question that people occasionally ask me pertains to the value that our members receive from PRSA National, relative to the value that they receive from their local Chapters.

As the relationship between PRSA and its Chapters is cooperative, complementary and mutually beneficial, it’s sometimes difficult to know exactly where the value of National membership ends and the value of Chapter membership begins.

It’s a fair question — one that merits further exploration here. And perhaps the best way to answer this is by considering what our profession might look like without PRSA National.

Without a national organization knitting together PRSA’s Chapter network, there would be essentially 114 local PR organizations of different sizes, philosophies and membership criteria. Each former Chapter would be separate and distinct from other Chapters, as well as from similar organizations.

The members of these new organizations would have far fewer professionals to network with — most likely several hundred locally, compared with the 22,000 members of PRSA nationally.

In addition, PRSA’s Code of Ethics, diversity programs, student society and Foundation — which funds PR research — would all cease to exist. We’d also lose PRSA’s industry advocacy program, which helped create better-informed perceptions of the role and value of public relations by generating positive exposure for the profession in The Financial Times, The New York Times, USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, PRNewser, PRWeek, Advertising Age, MediaPost, The Guardian, Fast Company, Harvard Business Review and elsewhere in recent months.

At the same time — and before attempting to replicate the professional development opportunities available through PRSA National — these new organizations would need a way to process membership applications and renewals, conduct member research, market products and services and handle the other back-end functions that PRSA currently manages. The cost of managing these functions would not be minimized through economies of scale, as it is now.

There also wouldn’t be a national body to provide these local organizations with financial and operational support, such as speaker stipends, membership promotions and leadership tools that PRSA offers to its Chapters.

Those are just some of the intangibles. We’d also be without tangible benefits, such as PRSA’s award-winning publications, The Strategist, Tactics and PR Journal; daily electronic newsletter, Issues & Trends; database of industry reference information; micro-communities organized around specific industries, practice specialties and organizational settings; and Jobcenter career resources.

Also, the International Conference; Section conferences; the Silver Anvil Awards; individual awards, such as the Gold Anvil; the College of  Fellows; and the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) program would be gone.

Finding Value

When examined from this perspective, it’s easy to understand why our research shows that PRSA members not only value the National organization and their local Chapters almost equally, but also appreciate the National organization just a tiny bit more.

Yet, each PRSA Chapter I visit reminds me of the outstanding local communities that our volunteers have helped create, which is one reason why some of our members believe that their local Chapter is PRSA.

In fact, we are both parts of a whole — a nationwide organization that is larger than the sum of its parts. I think few members would argue that the unique partnership between the National organization and its Chapters helps both function more efficiently and cost-effectively, and affords PRSA greater scope and influence.

Ultimately, we are only as strong as each of our communities. So, make sure your Chapter is using our available resources, and let us know how we can help.

As always, I welcome your thoughts, and I look forward to hearing from you at william.murray@prsa.org.

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