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PRSA Bans Jack O'Dwyer for Criticism?
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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I was a proud member of the PRSA at one time. That is, until the time of having residual income of hundreds of dollars to have a membership was over. (Hi, kids.) I enjoyed my membership. I went to functions, met interesting people, and learned a good amount of things in this industry.

During all that time, the worst-kept secret at functions was the "Hatfields and McCoys" relationship that the PRSA shares with one PR/journo hybrid Jack O'Dwyer. Until this fascinating article by Newsroom Ink. O'Dwyer is more than the namesake, industry legend, and major domo of O'Dwyers, a public relations news source. He is also a vociferous opponent of the PRSA. From the story:

For more than 20 years O’Dwyer has raised criticism of PRSA’s national staff and board. His scrutiny of PRSA’s finances has been a thorn in the organization’s side, making negative editorial comments about expenses, staff and the board.

In short, the PRSA will not be inviting Jack to Thanksgiving dinner. Now, this kerfuffle has come to a frothy head. PRSA barred O'Dwyer from one of their major conferences in Orlando. (It seems the guy couldn't take a hint. Last year, PRSA charged him full attendance fee to gain admission and cover the event. Everyone else came for free.) Seriously? Barred him from covering the event? What's next? A wedgie for the curmudgeon? Sticking your tongue out? Making fun of his mother?

Aside from the perception issues this action creates — which the PRSA should have considered — is the best practices one. We have the standard-bearers for all thing flacky apparently ignoring one of the perfunctory tenets of crisis communications — giving all reporters access to the same story, which creates a similar share-of-voice on the issue. A few people thought PRSA just bullied the old guy, took their ball, and told Jack to go home.

“I’m embarrassed by the totally unprofessional, unethical and childish behavior of the so-called leaders of my profession, the board and staff of the Public Relations Society of America,” said Lucy Siegel, CEO of Bridge Global Strategies, in a recent blog post. “The organization has been all over industry news because of its discrimination against one industry journalist, Jack O’Dwyer.”

In other words, I believe she thinks PRSA can suck it. Next?

In a recent press release, Mark Hamrick, President of the National Press Club in Washington, DC, expressed deep concerns over “the solution chosen by PRSA, which was to ban a reporter who will write stories that may be critical of their organization.” PRSA was asked by the National Press Club to reconsider its position and to allow Mr. O’Dwyer to cover the event, “We suggested that if he behaved in a disruptive way he should be removed.” PRSA failed to act upon the suggestion, thus further damaging their integrity and reputation.

MEMO to PRSA: I heart you guys, but would any of you counsel your clients to do the same thing at one of their press conferences? Of course not. Public relations is supposed to be a transparent, open forum of communication, or did I miss that class? I know there are flacks who give most of us a terrible name. And to be fair, I have heard Mr. O'Dwyer's angst toward the PRSA carries over to the very people who are proud to be a member of the national organization. However, the point remains: Being the expert in all things PR means doing the expert things.

Should these two parties sing "Kumbaya," break bread at Thanksgiving dinner, and put this bickering to rest? Yes. Will it happen? Well, we all know you don't pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel, right? Let the Rorschach tests begin, because the ink is just beginning to spray across the bow. Time for me to buy an umbrella.

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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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