Thursday, April 14, 2005

PRSA shuts down PRCOnline, shuts out non-members

In a not-so-surprising but still disappointing move, PRSA closed down its PRCOnline listserv last Friday. My assumption is that the PRCOnline forum was discontinued because there were many non-members who were subscribed to the list and it was intended as a service for members only. I say this because the email announcing the shutdown also included a call to join PRSA at a reduced fee. Apparently, there is now a web-based forum within the PRSA site to which PRCOnline member-subscribers have been directed.

The message I get from that is that PRSA is only interested in enriching professionals who can enrich the PRSA coffers. Some have made the argument that PRSA should not be
expected to foot the bill for a free listserve for people who aren't its members. But the thing is, I don't believe that PRCOnline required very much administration from PRSA personnel - so where was the bill to foot? If it had been something that cost the PRSA lots of personnel-hours, I could see making it a pay-for-resource only - but that just wasn't the case. It was pretty free-flowing conversation - and it was a nice way to give non-members a glimpse of the caliber of professionals who are PRSA members.

Now, I understand that PRSA has a right to restrict access to its membership, even through a listserv. And to its credit, it did offer special reduced rates to PRCOnline subscribers who wished to join the association and access the new forum. But was the decision in PRSA's best interest?

Even some members upset
A number of PRSA members have expressed disappointment about being left out of the decision-making process for the change on the list. Some of the members have suggested the change being announced late in the afternoon on a Friday was a means by which to quelch discussion about the decision. Apparently, the new listserv actually has reduced functionality (can't post wirelessly, etc.). Several former PRCOnline subscribers have already launched alternative, free groups in response.

Suggestion on a different approach
A PRSA-sponsored but public listserv, used a bit differently, could be a virtual magnet for new members. Instead of shutting people out completely, why not provide free access to non-members, but PREMIUM access to members? For example, a listserv member contact list, content arising from other areas of PRSA, and value-added tools like wireless access or chat or could be made available only to PRSA members. With the right web tools, even with non-members subscribed, it could be possible to allow PRSA members to post messages that only PRSA members would see.

And don't forget the juniors...
Like it or not, the expense of PRSA membership is prohibitive for PR newbies living paycheck-to-paycheck on entry-level salaries, even with reduced introductory dues. There aren't a lot of free options out there for people looking to make their first connections. PRSA is missing out on a cheap opportunity to create brand intimacy with the PR people of tomorrow.

On one level, I'm disappointed, certainly. On another level, PRSA's approach has expanded the need for and relevance of a personal project I began back in 2000.

I started, a free online forum, because I felt that younger members of the profession lacked affordable access to a caring community of peers and potential mentors. There was immediate interest - over 100 people joined within 24 hours. We have nearly 2400 members now, and the forum is quite active, averaging over 50 messages a day. Members get tips on dealing with the media, navigating careers, etc. We make available resources like salary surveys, recruiter directories and members' resumes. There are even frequent happy hours - in fact, The Geek Factory's Peter Shankman has organized one in New York City this Friday:

Friday, April 15, 2005 @ 6PM
Mica 587
587 3rd Avenue, between 38th and 39th Streets

With the departure of PRCOnline, I believe that YoungPRPros is now the largest and most active free PR forum on the Web. So join the party. We won't check your wallet first.

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