PRSA News Thought Leadership

Leadership Means Looking Forward; Governance Means Making Sound Decisions


Good governance takes leadership. Good leadership takes looking beyond the moment to make decisions that will have an impact long past the decision point.

This year, we have several governance initiatives coming before the Leadership Assembly on Oct. 7 that will require real leadership by our Chapter, District and Section delegates. I’m excited to say that these recommendations are being brought forth by the Governance Committee, newly formed this year and comprised of non-Board volunteers, aside from the Board liaison assigned to this committee.

This group — which comes from across the United States and includes current and past leaders — has delved into the Society’s bylaws to assess how the organization can remain sound and agile enough to adapt to our changing landscape while still delivering the very best member value. The Governance Committee is recommending four bylaw changes this year.

The recommendations:

  1. Clarify that the Board of Directors will approve PRSA District bylaws.
  2. Remove barriers to membership and better reflect our base by changing “public relations professional” to “communications professional.”
  3. Secure the best talent and improve diversity by electing all Board of Director members At-Large.
  4. Entrust the Board of Director to revise bylaws.

The Board has unanimously endorsed all of the recommended changes.

The first two are mostly housekeeping: Codifying our processes and bringing our language up-to-date to adequately reflect the work and membership of PRSA. In the first recommendation, the new language would codify our existing practices resulting in no change in process. If not passed, then this task would fall to the Leadership Assembly to annually review the bylaws, making the meeting cumbersome and delaying District bylaw approvals to once yearly.

By changing the wording from public relations to communications professional, we can greater reflect our membership base. In recent years, communications has taken over many of the titles held by our members. Do we plan to change PRSA’s name? No! We will remain steadfast in our history as we have for the last 70 years, but allow our membership ranks to expand as our roles in the companies we work for have expanded. This will reduce the number of members who leave as a result of “no longer performing traditional public relations,” as the Society will be able to still address their professional needs in spite of the title change. There is a very real opportunity to increase our membership ranks as a result of this recommended change.

Each year, our Nominating Committee struggles to reach a richly diverse and talented Board slate. In recent years, the At-Large seat, with the addition of two non-APR seats, has created an influx of candidates, averaging more than 20 individuals for the past two years. At-Large candidates have come from nine of 10 Districts. Yet, many of these qualified candidates had to be turned away. By not being able to move candidates from At-Large to other open Director seats, it limits the NomCom’s ability to select the best and most diverse Board of Directors.

The Governance Committee is recommending the geographical identifier be removed and all candidates be selected At-Large for Director positions. This doesn’t remove the non-APR seat, which would be open to one non-APR each year, but it would open the ability to select top candidates based on a broad and diverse spectrum that is balanced among geography, industry, experience, discipline, ethnicity, LGBTQ and other diverse traits to round out a comprehensive, diversely rich Board of leaders.

Is this a shift away from Districts? Absolutely not. PRSA has invested heavily in District programs this year and will continue to do so. Likewise, we are encouraging this tier within the organization to continue to assist in nurturing and recommending viable Board candidates. And, the composition of NomCom would remain the same with representation from Districts and Sections to ensure that all spectrums are considered as Board slates are selected. This change has been recommended to the Board for consideration by both the 2015 and 2016 Nominating Committees and is supported by past, current and future chairs (2015-2018) of that committee.

Finally, if the last recommendation sounds familiar, it’s because it came before the Leadership Assembly last year and failed by a mere five votes. Given that response, the Governance Committee felt some additional checks in place made this Amendment feasible for consideration again. This proposed Amendment now incorporates a 30-day comment period prior to Board action, and the Leadership Assembly will have the power to overturn bylaws enacted by the Board with a two-thirds vote.

This Amendment lets the Leadership Assembly focus on key issues and initiatives of importance to members and the profession, as the Board can take care of housekeeping items in a timely fashion. This will not mean that amendments won’t come before delegates. This will mean key items of consideration will have the attention they deserve by our full body of leadership. This will give delegates the chance to weigh in on critical issues in a way that is impactful to the Society.

There’s much to digest here and many decisions to be made so that PRSA can remain relevant, flexible and agile in our evolving world today. Just like the last 70 years, we’ve come a long way, yet we have a long way to go as well. I hope that as members of the largest communications association, our leaders will see that these amendments are necessary to ensure our future stability.

Jane Dvorak, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the 2017 PRSA National Chair. Leadership is at the heart of her year as she chairs the Society in a time of change and opportunity. The formation of the Governance Committee was a strategic move to ensure that PRSA remains relevant and member needs continue to be met as the organization strives to be nimble in its 70th year and beyond.  

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