I love public relations. Passionately. Yet, as annual fees come due for my Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) membership, I’m wrestling with the decision to renew. Since it is a fairly big spend for a solo practitioner, I’m leaning towards channeling that $440 in another direction.

Public Relations Society of AmericaI’ve been a member in the past as part of agency memberships, but expectations change when it’s your own dollar being spent on dues. This last year was the first time I’d paid the dues out of my own pocket and I have to say that I’ve been disappointed.

As an organization, PRSA is falling further and further behind. In my opinion, it needs a massive infusion of fresh thinking and digital strategy to give it new life. It needs to become nimble.

To keep up with changes in the profession and play a visible, engaged role in the industry, I have some ideas on a few major gaps that need to be addressed. Add yours in the comments!

1. Ramp up the email blasts.

If I were evaluating PRSA strategy, one of the first pieces I would suggest implementing is a much deeper level of email marketing. A wonderful database of past and present members sits largely unused – leveraging it to help members remember to use the benefits they are paying for would be HUGE.

It would also boost retention.

Member participation in the online webinars is very low, for example. Yet, I’ve never seen a PRSA Facebook post promoting one, or received an email reminding me of one coming up. I haven’t seen so much as a single tweet, either.

I get the PRSA issues and trends email blast, but nothing about webinars or other online member resources. The only member emails I receive revolve around the (very expensive) conferences.

Instead of spending more money, it would be nice to get more out of what I’ve already spent.

This lack of promotion explains why the attendance is so low, despite FANTASTIC topics and the resources expended in putting them together.

PRSA is desperately in need of marketing and PR on its own behalf – even more than external efforts, it needs a solid, consistent member outreach program that helps us maximize use of our membership.

I’d venture to guess that email marketing alone to promote member events would explode participation and even retention in a matter of months, making it worth every penny spent. It would be very high return for a low investment.

Along with Facebook activity and promotions, this would be one of the first tactics I’d launch if PRSA were a client, because the payoff would be immediate.

Besides, we pay almost $500 a year in dues – shouldn’t that entitle us to NOT have to constantly hunt down the event calendar to see what is coming up? I never remember to do it, so I miss out on membership benefits that would interest me.

So, how about a weekly email touting what is on the calendar for the upcoming week? Or a simple yet consistent Facebook activity promoting each webinar a few days beforehand, and perhaps a “save the date” location a month in advance? It would make a huge difference in how I perceive my membership if the association ensured I was aware of the events it offered in time to put it on my calendar. I’d participate more often, thus getting more value out of my membership.

And why have I never received a copy of the PRSA Tactics member newsletter during the entire year of my membership? Digital would be nice – no need for wasting money on snail mail. Or how about an app to drop it right on my iPad? I’ve received it twice upon request after the fact, but I just don’t have the time or energy to chase it down every month.

If PRSA were to simply focus on helping members get more value from their membership by using the assets it already has using digital PR tactics, great things would happen.

2. Hire a fantastic community manager to handle PRSA social media.

How can members respect social media advice from an organization that clearly doesn’t get social media? Facebook is about community and sharing expertise, not promotion.

Not only does PRSA not engage with members or local chapter pages, almost every post is an event promotion. Where is the thought leadership? The content curation? The comments and shares when members tag the PRSA page? Missing. All missing.

The Twitter page is equally abysmal. It’s content aggregation with nothing else.

Putting a dedicated community manager in place would do wonders. Plus, creating a tighter community would have a strong impact on member retention. Perhaps they could launch a weekly Twitter chat, or participate in relevant chats already happening (such as #PRprochat). Or entice the webinar presenters to do a monthly Google hangout with members? A monthly APR related chat would also be interesting, or a monthly chat with a special guest, perhaps the author of that month’s PRSA Tactics cover story author? That could be very fun with minimal effort. I’d also like to see all of the great content showcased on the PRSA Facebook page, with local chapters encouraged to share it.

At the very least, the content aggregation could shift to content curation with expertise and insight added, and the association could become a voice in the important conversations happening around digital PR.

It’s disappointingly invisible during a time of historic shifts and epic changes, when it should be front-and-center driving the change with a powerful voice.

In fact, I often hear peers question if it’s even relevant in today’s environment. Ouch.

3. Launch measurable PR campaigns and tactics on its own behalf.

Any membership organization needs funds to thrive and grow. I’m not sure if PRSA is a 100 percent volunteer organization or not, but if it is going to remain viable, it’s time to start investing funds in marketing and staff.

It’s time to run the nonprofit like a business. I’m hoping recent leadership shifts will help.

If public relations on behalf of the association is currently done on a volunteer basis, maybe it’s time to PAY for the PR support it needs. If the right hire or retainer were put in place, it would pay for itself extremely quickly. It would also help the association retain credibility.

Content marketing, social media and SEO all need attention and, as cornerstones of digital PR, it’s time for PRSA to put resources in place to flex its muscles in these disciplines on behalf of its own reputation and visibility.

Not only does it need to teach these skills to public relations pros, but it needs to apply them on its own behalf. Fast.

Perhaps it’s a chicken-or-egg conundrum between low membership and lack of revenue, but what does it say about the organization if PRSA can’t master PR well enough to drive the revenue it needs to survive and thrive?

Isn’t that what public relations is designed to do?

It even struggles with doing a good job of communicating with its members.

If the organization can’t close the gap between demonstrating expertise and sharing it, then it is doomed to fail. It isn’t just about bringing in the right experts to present to members, but actually practicing public relations strategies and tactics on its own behalf to grow as an organization. To demonstrate cutting edge, fresh tactics and strategies that work, and be an engaged member of the public relations community – no matter where it happens to be in the online world.

Speaking of whether the chicken or egg came first, in terms of membership versus revenue, the regional conferences and national conference are a perfect example of how a lack of funding impact membership value. How much value can an expensive conference give its paying attendees when there is no money to pay speaker fees? When it can’t even pick up speaker travel and hospitality costs? It has to settle for those speakers willing to pony up hundreds or thousands of dollars in hopes of landing business from their speaking gig, instead of having the freedom to pick speakers based on their expertise and credibility. The best speakers don’t pay for their expenses, they demand a well-deserved fee. Bringing in a higher quality of speakers would also bring in more ticket sales.

The lack of revenue is becoming a crisis because PRSA is not able to put the resources in place that it needs to remain competitive and provide value. It’s sinking like the Titanic.

As PRSA falls further and further behind in meeting member expectations and earning support and respect from the PR industry, APR certification will also become more and more meaningless. Once that is gone, what will be left?

4. Use PR influencers as advocates and volunteers.

I tried to give away my time. I was even ready to donate the equivalent of a full retainer. I filled out PRSA’s online volunteer form two or three times AND inquired on the Facebook page.

No response. Not even a courtesy email acknowledging my offer to give away my time for free because I care so much about the profession. Wow. EPIC FAIL.

This association desperately needs help and resources, yet how many volunteer submissions go ignored? I wonder…

My local chapter struggles with similar issues. I’ve been chasing down the Master Practitioner SIG group for A FULL YEAR, but haven’t once received information enabling me to attend one. Epic fail there, too. However, the local chapter does a far, FAR better job of promoting its local events than the parent association does.

From a financial perspective, it makes far more sense to attend local events and pay non-member prices than it does to remain a member only for local event discounts.

If PRSA were to create a brand ambassador program leveraging influencers as advocates and volunteers, the amplification of PRSA as a leader would be incredible.

To take it a step further, national could even create a brand ambassador kit for local chapters to launch similar efforts on a local level. Wow. Can you image how fantastic that could be?

It gives me goosebumps. .

5. Connect and engage with local chapters.

This could potentially be PRSA’s most powerful organic resource for growth, yet it’s completely unused. Other than a connection to the parent organization through local chapter leadership, PRSA doesn’t do much for its local chapters. What a shame! Cross-pollination at a member level just doesn’t seem to exist.

They don’t even share local chapter online events or content that might be noteworthy to its members.

Can’t PRSA create resources for its local chapters to make them stronger?

  • For example, how about collateral to promote upcoming webinars at the local monthly chapter meetings?
  • How about a blog that syndicates content written by PRSA members?
  • How about an email newsletter template already populated with some content that can be co-branded with the local chapter logo and information?
  • Or tools to set up local closed Facebook groups leveraging local PR pros and media but using national resources?
  • What about having that community manager work with local chapter social media committees?
  • How about a committee to help local chapters encourage agencies to join and participate?
  • What about a Pinterest board with local chapters invited to post and share?
  • Wouldn’t it be fun to leverage SlideShare to aggregate PowerPoint presentations from local chapter monthly meetings?

I could go on and on with ideas. So much potential to leverage…

With a little imagination, PRSA, oh what we could do!!

What changes would you like to see from PRSA? Let’s air the laundry and start the conversation. Perhaps it will make a difference.