Saturday, November 07, 2009

Finding The Perfect Definition

Today I attended the PRSA National Assembly as a delegate for the San Antonio chapter. The national organization was attempting a massive rewrite of the organization’s Bylaws, a task that has preoccupied the group for nearly 2 years.

While I was honored to attend and vote on behalf of the chapter, there are a number of things about attending an assembly of this nature that are extremely frustrating. Early in the process, we debated the merits of how to select board and directors, how the nominating committee should be comprised and other details that were mostly about housekeeping and governance.

Surprisingly, many of these items were contentious to a significant number of chapters, sections and districts.

No single item was more contentious than the basics of defining who should be allowed membership in the organization. Article III, Amendment 109, in which the organization was attempting to add the words “and communications” to every reference in the Bylaws, was the most hotly contested of all.

Semantics underpinned every aspect of the discussion, with repeated references to the concept of “expanding the definition of who can come into the tent” and many speakers spoke for and against who and what we should be called, what our job titles currently reflect. One speaker even quoted a textbook definition as part of the argument for striking the more encompassing definition.

What was disturbing about the discussion is that many speakers in favor of the amendment had a “sky is falling” approach to any changes which would expand the definition of public relations. Those who opposed felt that they already had a more encompassing definition of what they do and wanted the amendment to reflect that diversity. What delegates didn’t really consider is one of the keys to membership in the organization in the first place is that 50% of a members’ activities be focused on public relations. (Already part of the bylaws and not considered at all today).

In the end, the group voted 151-117 to keep the definition of public relations pure. This was a victory for some and a great loss for others.

Next year, I think I will propose an amendment at the assembly in which we debate the validity of including the word “society” into our name.