The Public Relations Institute of Australia has elected a new president, and on the surface all appears calm. But InDaily journalist Liam Mannix says behind the scenes the picture is muddier.
Mass board resignations around the country — including the CEO — have followed the election of Mike Watson as new president at the Public Relations Institute of Australia on Thursday.
Board members have resigned from South Australia, Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales, and insiders believe that more resignations could occur. Watson’s opponents claim that he and his faction, “The Fellows”, have been campaigning vigorously against incumbent president Terri-Helen Gaynor and her supporters over the last few months for the position at head of the PR profession’s top body. Watson denies this.
The contest came against a backdrop of what insiders say is financial insecurity for the organisation, which is funded by membership dues.
Watson told InDaily he had concerns about the organisation’s finances: “The money situation goes up and down in just about any organisation. We have money in the pot, we do have reserves, and we’ll be looking toward growing those and getting the reserves in a healthier situation.”
Yesterday Watson confirmed the resignations but would not say how many there had been — and he denied any suggestion of factional warfare. “I think people are considering their situation,” he said. “There’s a new broom that’s coming through the board; the focus of the board is different.”
Watson says there was no battle between his supporters and the former board — indeed, he says he hasn’t heard from the board or spoken to Gaynor since a national conference in November. He says he wasn’t unhappy with Gaynor or the board’s performance.
“I don’t really know because to tell you the truth I haven’t really heard too much from this board about what they’ve been doing for the last few months. Terri and I have had really no communication at all since that national conference. She was doing a good job. I just thought that I had a different vision and the supporters behind me as well as to where the institute ought to be heading,” he said.
“I wasn’t unhappy at all, I think the board were appointed early last year at a time when there was other resignations and those sorts of things in the board. For people that are volunteers, for people who have other full-time jobs, it can take a little bit of time to get up a head of steam, to find out what’s going on, how much money’s going.”
However, InDaily has seen an email that Watson sent to PRIA members last week in which he rallied his supporters:
“My supporters cherish the PRIA; we can save it, and better serve the interests of all members.”
Watson’s message to members reveals financial concerns were at the heart of his platform. His platform document said his first step on winning president would be to:
” … immediately scrub the finances. Stop the forecasting mistakes and losses. By March complete a budget to earn first; then spend.
“After serving PRIA since 1980 I feel obligated to help fix its finances and safeguard its future independence.
“There’s no reason why PRIA finances ought to stay in the red another year and eat away the financial reserves carefully invested over previous years.
“When it comes to professional scrutiny every one of our members from young guns to in-house, academics and consultants deserve better.
“Change is overdue according to concerned members around the nation who’ve encouraged me to run for presidency.”
Upon winning the presidency, Watson said he planned to take the organisation in a new direction, with a focus on the changing shape of the industry. “I wanted to see more emphasis on communication from the national office with the various state and territory divisions. I think that some of that had been missing. The board only met half a dozen times last year, and I don’t think that’s good enough,” he said.
Gaynor took the president’s job almost a year ago and along with a supportive board and CEO worked to fix the organisation’s balance sheet. Watson was elected to the role on Thursday after Gaynor pulled out of the election — scheduled for the EGM on Friday morning. After it became clear Watson had the votes, Gaynor chose to step aside rather than face a general meeting that was likely to be bitter, InDaily understands. Watson said he was unsure why Gaynor had chosen to pull the pin.