Change is Here — Are You Ready to Lead and Contribute?

Historically, moments of monumental change have represented opportunity for the public relations profession. Despite the harsh economic realities our country has endured recently, I believe the public relations profession is poised for tremendous growth.

 “Leadership is the art of mobilizing others to want  to struggle for shared aspirations.”
— James Kouzes

Historically, moments of monumental change have represented opportunity for the public relations profession. Despite the harsh economic realities our country has endured recently, I believe the public relations profession is poised for tremendous growth. However, to realize this potential we, as members, need to commit to retooling, advocating, and practicing our craft ethically and in the best interest of the institutions we represent and the publics they serve.

As PRSA chair and CEO, I am honored to lead PRSA and join with hundreds of other volunteer leaders serving on the Chapter, District and National level in committing to this goal. But forget the titles — they don’t make leaders. Rather, leadership is service to others. We must all take on leadership responsibilities during these unique times and now, perhaps more than ever, is a perfect time to challenge ourselves to join the frontlines as a contributor, an informed professional and an advocate for the profession — both in words and actions.

Last year, several PRSA volunteers helped define the role of leaders in our Society. The task force called on all leaders to “motivate and mobilize members by providing a shared purpose and direction to realize and advance the vision, mission and objectives of PRSA.”

 As I prepare for this week’s National board meeting and plan my Chapter visits for 2009, my respect for our volunteer leaders grows, and my hopes for the future of PRSA and the profession intensifies.

Our shared mission, our aspirations, and our struggle are clear — to help communication professionals advance in their careers and to create and foster environments in which public relations professionals can thrive. Here are a few suggestions that may help you become a part of the process.

  • Make the most of your Chapter meetings, networking events and professional development sessions. 
  • Be part of the dialogue — contribute to your Chapter or Section blog through posts or comments. 
  • Mentor a PRSSA student or someone who is new to the profession. 
  • Network through your Chapter, District or Section conference. 
  • Commit to retooling your skills, whether it’s through attending PRSA’s International Conference in San Diego (Nov. 7-10) or a Professional Development seminar, teleseminar or webinar. 
  • Take advantage of volunteer opportunities available through your Chapter, District or Section. 
  • Consider volunteering at National Headquarters.

I’m reminded of the inscription above my junior high school’s door, which read simply: “Enter to Learn. Knowledge is Power. Go Forth and Serve.” Those words are more powerful today than when I entered the seventh grade. And they should serve as a reminder to us all of the duty we have as professionals and members of PRSA.

I have no doubt that with a shared vision and collective energies, our public relations community and profession will respond to the challenges ahead and achieve great things.


Michael Cherenson, APR, is the 2009 PRSA chair & CEO.

About the author

Michael Cherenson, APR, Fellow PRSA


  • Michael,

    I appreciate the opportunity for transparent interaction with the leaders of the organization.

    I am a member in good standing and active on the board of the PRSA Austin chapter. During the board planning meeting earlier this week, we discussed the difficulty of growing chapter membership.

    I personally believe the average member does not benefit from the national organization to an extent that justifies the cost to join. As a result, the local chapters must find a way to provide value to members worth $300+ per year. It is not easy!

    I appreciate the effort to launch the blogs Comprehension and PRSAY. However, I was under the impression that a redesigned would launch several months ago. The main site is circa 1998 and gives a very poor first impression of a organization on the forefront of “change.” Our chapter delayed a redesign with the understanding that we would be able to use the new template. However, we must move forward without the support of PRSA National.

    Why do you feel the new blogs were a greater priority than the national site?

    How can I communicate the value that the national organization provides to local members in Austin, Texas?

    I look forward to your comments.

    Best, Thomas Terry

    • Thomas — thanks for your comments and service to the Society. I’ll be blogging more extensively in the future about the ways that you and other Chapter leaders can communicate the value PRSA national provides, because it’s only through our unity that we can celebrate a profession-wide code of ethics and standards, maintain a national community of professionals committed to public relations education and training, and grow our advocacy and diversity efforts.

      In response to your other question, it’s not a matter of this blog having a higher priority than the national site; both are critically important. We created PRSAY (quickly and inexpensively) in response to PRSA’s 2008 Membership Value Perception and Satisfaction survey, which showed that (1) our members want additional ways to “voice their opinions” and (2) they find blogs very valuable for this purpose.

      We know that Members are anxious to see the redesign of come to fruition—and we are too! Phase I of the project—establishing the graphic design and top-level navigation—is nearly complete, with Phase II—designing the technical specifications and building the infrastructure, about to commence. We anticipate the new site will launch late this year (if you’ve been through a site redesign, you know what an arduous task it is), and that it will definitely be worth the wait.

      We’ll be soliciting feedback as we move into the next stage of redevelopment, so watch your e-mail for information on how you and other PRSA leaders can offer your thoughts.

  • Michael:

    Perhaps you’ve already answered Thomas directly, though in any event it seems a response here also would be worthwhile.

    His question is a polite, constructive version of ones asked more pointedly by a non-member, Seattle “social media consultant and thought leader” Barry Hurd on his company’s blog [ http://123 ] — reposted today on the widely read Ragan Communications site.

    Mr. Hurd sharply questions the value of our “old-school” association and challenges PRSA to “Learn faster. . . . Join the conversation. Don’t try to own it. . . . Don’t claim to be an expert. . . . Don’t lead the industry down a path that we do not want to follow.”

    While you may not wish to engage him, Thomas Terry’s question is pending: “Why do you feel the new blogs were a greater priority than the national site?”

    Alan Stamm
    Detroit chapter member

    • Hi Alan,

      You’ll see my response to Thomas above. As far as Mr. Hurd is concerned, we’ve posted a response on his site (unfortunately, it doesn’t seem possible to respond on the MyRagan site). For your convenience, here’s a copy of the Society’s response, posted by Bill Murray:

      Hi Barry –

      Thanks for the coverage – couple of points. With a community of members as large as PRSA, we like to make our decisions based upon facts and research. Last year, we conducted a broad member survey of our members, and the message was clear: (1) Members want additional ways to exchange ideas and voice their opinions, and (2) they find blogs just as valuable, if not more so, than LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter or texting. The research simply supports what we all know – that with the fragmentation of communications channels, we’re all having to communicate in many overlapping ways. Interestingly, what our research also told us was that old school, face-to-face meetings are still highly preferred over digital bits for many communication purposes. We think we’ve got that covered – but that another, more highly visible blog would address what we heard directly from our members.

      I’m not sure how you inferred that we are trying to “own” the conversation, for that’s simply not true. As you indicated in your post, we already are active across a number of social media platforms – all of which defy control – and this is simply one more.

      Finally, you did catch us on one thing – there was a typo, which we ourselves caught and corrected pretty quickly. However, that’s a great example of why PRSA, and social media, work so well – there’s strength that can come from many hands and eyes working for the same purpose. We appreciate those kinds of comments, too, on the rare occasion when they are needed, and offer similar support to others (for example, you might want to check on the typo in your posting on the fourth bullet, “woulnd’t” and check the use of “its” and some of the comma placement – hope that is helpful!)

  • Michael:

    I appreciate your same-day reply and am glad Bill Murray responded effectively and frankly.

    Constructive dialogue is always good, as you know.

    With support,

  • There may be an opportunity, though it won’t be easy, to fulfill a promise inherent in the “Year of Change” idea.

    As PR wisdom and initiative can sometimes succeed in bringing two opposing sides together, perhaps Mike Cherenson’s admirable PR wisdom and energy can once-and-for-all help end PRSA’s longterm disagreement with my friend, Jack O’Dwyer.

    Jack’s criticism of PRSA has unfailingly been one-sided, telling what he complains about but not about the promising future that this blog and a “Year of Change” mentality can bring. NONETHELESS perhaps the Year of Change can bring a change in–and an end to–the disagreement with Jack.

    PROBLEM: The agreed-upon facts are that Jack feels entitled to compensation for a use PRSA made of his material years ago, and past PRSA leaders have felt Jack is NOT entitled to compensation.

    LEGAL ANGLE: Jack can’t sue, regardless of whether he did or did not have grounds, because the deadline for suing is past.

    OPPORTUNITY: Both sides could benefit if an arbitrator rules
    (a) whether Jack should or should not get ay compensation, and (b) if he should then how much. Any compensation could be payable in ad space in Tactics where Jack could advertise his publications and get money from that.

    ADVANTAGE: This would not cost PRSA any money, it could get Jack some compensation even if modest, and both sides will be better off having the disagreement settled.

    My suggestion is that either Mike or Jack should be big enough and have the self-esteem to call the other and see if
    they can agree on a panel of perhaps three unpaid arbiters,
    perhaps a retired PR leader, a bright younger PR person and a PR journalist or lawyer.

    Then let the storm be over and a bright new day begin.

    — Ron Levy

    • Thanks for joining the discussion, Ron.

      With respect to main issue you’ve raised, matters of copyright law are extremely complex, especially when it comes to issues of “fair use,” which provides for some use of copyrighted materials without the copyright holders’ permission. Because of the complexities, copyright holders typically use the courts to resolve their disputes. If a legitimate issue existed, it would have been pursued through legal channels years ago, when the facts were still fresh.

      PRSA is looking ahead, not back. Our research confirms that the vast majority of PRSA members—nearly all, in fact—agree that the Society should focus today on members and their careers. Accordingly, we’re spending our collective energies and resources on increasing the value of PRSA membership, advocating for the profession, and helping public relations professional thrive in difficult economic times.

  • Mike, you’re obviously correct on the law. A huge number of
    lawyers–“plaintiff counsels” they are called (or sometimes “accident lawyers”)–would have been glad to sue PRSA enthusiastically and loudly at no legal fee to Jack except for a piece of any award IF the lawyers thought Jack had a case.

    So the fact that there was no suit, despite Jack’s strong feelings, is a mute witness to what even hungry lawyers thought about whether Jack had a case against PRSA.

    You’re also right that it makes sense to look ahead, not back because you have challenges to face and achievements to make. From my recent exchange of e-mails with Jack I have the feeling that he ENJOYS attacking PRSA, it makes him feel good, feeling like a bold crusader for justice. Circulation and ads may be down to a sad level but Jack can still imagine himself heroic and I wish him well.

    With age and perhaps depending on what we consume or drink, many of us may one day imagine ourselves, like Don Quixote, as enemies of imagined bad guys. It’s a little sad. Jack was years ago a teriffic journalist.

    Mike, you and the other PRSA managers have brought PRSA a
    lively energy and depth of intellect that may well help members and all PR to survive and even thrive despite the uncertain economy.

    Your willingness to publish my earlier letter shows an admirable willingness to consider–and let the members consider–challenging viewpoints. This being wide open to ideas, added to your energy and eagerness to move forward,
    is a blessing to the members and to PR.

    I’ll always wish Jack well and not consider him a has-been and I’ll remember him when he was younger. In your case, more importantly, I not only WISH you the best but I have a strong feeling that you and the other savvy PRSA managers will ACHIEVE it.

    I do ask you to join me in recognizing that Jack O’Dwyer did a lot for PR and deserves to be remembered fondly and with our respect no matter how shrill and extreme and far out the criticism.

    In this free country, thank God, we all have a right as we get older to get grumpy and perhaps less sharp than we were–and some of us will–and we deserve to be remembered for what we were, not just what we may become.

    — Ron Levy

    • Ron,

      As I’ve told Jack, we may not see eye-to-eye on all issues, but we share much in common on the larger issues impacting our profession. We both want to see public relations prosper and become more valued by business and other institutions. Jack has enjoyed a front row seat to the growth and evolution of public relations, and he certainly understands how far we’ve come as a profession. As a second-generation public relations counselor, I understand the importance of those who have come before us—Jack included—and know first-hand that they are urging us forward into the future.

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