PRSA Misses PR Opportunity of the Decade

Wednesday night is date night in the McGary house. So why am I blogging on date night? Because I just read this post on Forrester's Empowered blog while checking my email on my phone in the car on the drive home from the movies and was so horrified/depressed/amused that I told my husband this was a blogging emergency and I had to write about something right away while the mood struck me.

Blogging emergency? Seriously? Honestly, yes. I blog about social media and associations--sometimes association social media, sometimes just association stuff, and sometimes just social media. It's not often that there's a perfect storm of an association totally messing up both simultaneously, but PRSA has managed to do both. "Both" as in prove itself to be totally dated and basically needing to just close its doors today because there's no way they can serve as the association poised to lead the PR industry when they are so woefully out of touch with the reality of PR in the current day and age. And--sorry, that sentence was too long to add the second half of the "both"--they managed to totally miss out on a huge social media opportunity.

How often is it that one of the most respected--and, to use a beloved PR term--influential--companies in the social media world--if not the business world--basically invites an association to bask in the glow of the center stage? That's what Forrester's Josh Bernoff did in his post calling out the PR industry for bad email practices and issuing a call to action to PRSA:
 ...you need a code of conduct that reflects the difference between right and wrong, and you need to withhold certifcation from people who violate it. You need a grievance policy that goes through you, so we can report people like 5WPR who don't appear to care. If you want to serve your industry, then create a certification for people who behave properly. Because right now, every failure to respect an unsubscribe tarnishes your industry.
What would any self-respecting PR agency do if a Forrester analyst named them in such a call to action? Milk the shit out of it for the sheer PR value. Agree and ask Forrester to partner with them in getting the word out. About how responsive and forward-thinking an agency they are to rise to the occasion and work together on helping to clean up the PR industry. Something. Anything. Anything, that is, other than what PRSA did, which was basically respond with "thanks for the opportunity in the limelight; the opportunity to get our name out in a good way, to possibly attract new members and reinforce our relevance in the PR 2.0 world....but no thanks." Thanks for the suggestion but we don't do that? How about thanks for the suggestion...we'd love to collaborate and explore this idea with Forrester?

In a world where "Brand X creates a Facebook page and a Twitter account" is all too commonly considered worthy of a press release...why would PRSA flat-out turn down the opportunity to capitalize on something most companies would kill for if for no other reason than the PR value? Has anyone at PRSA read Groundswell or Empowered? I would imagine so, since Charlene Li was one of the keynotes at their 2010 conference! Did it occur to anyone there that PRSA could have been featured as a case study in a future book or, at a minimum, on Forrester's blog? You can't buy PR like that, yet there's PRSA's VP of PR totally missing the mark, showing how archaic and rigid PRSA is on the Empowered blog. Smooth move.

I'm no PR expert--I'm not even a PR person--but even I am smart enough to realize that PRSA's response on this was the stuff of #epicfail legend.

Update: I find slightly at odds the comments from two PRSA representatives on this post and the comment from William Murray, CAE, PRSA's COO on Maddie Grant's post about How the PRSA Uses Social Media. He talks about the number of times the tweet announcing their social media policy was re-tweeted and the nubmer of times it was downloaded, and talks to Mark Ragan about how important social media is to PRSA and the field of PR. So, going by William Murray's own assertions of how important social media is, and how he clearly values retweets as a measure of success, I think that makes my case on this even stronger. I wasn't blogging about the ethics of this; I was blogging about it from the standpoint of a missed social media opportunity--something Murray clearly sees value in. Look how many times Bernoff's post about PRSA's response was retweeted and the sentiment of those tweets--clearly I'm not alone in seeing their response as a #fail. Here are just a few quotes from some of those tweets: "PRSA is outdated and soon to be irrelevant" "PR pros: important read...time to clean up email practices (w/o PRSA support" "Oh - and here's PRSA&'s response:... #sigh".