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Interview with William Murray, President, Public Relations Society of America

William Murray, President of Public Relations Society of America

Profiles in Partnership

A series on best practices and sound advice for developing and maintaining successful cross-sector partnerships – partnerships between two or more from the nonprofit, for-profit, education or government sectors.

Part 3

BB: You mentioned the term pro bono (free services) before. Does PRSA actively encourage pro bono services form your members?

WM: Yes, we encouraged more chapters to do this. I hear from not-for-profit organizations that approach us and they say we’d love some pro bono PR help here. A number of our agencies do offer pro bono work on their own. We don’t keep track of that but when we get these inquiries we’ll say to the folks who approach us, we at national can’t help you, however, you’re running in this particular geographic area and there’s a PRSA chapter there, call up the chapter, and see if this is something they’d like to help you with.

BB: I guess I’m a little surprised in the fact that PRSA, which understands more than anyone the need for community social responsibility and corporate responsibility, would just be entering into doing it for themselves. Was this something you saw that was noticeably lacking and that’s why you wanted to do this? It just seems like it would have happened earlier.

WM: I don’t know why it hasn’t happened earlier. What I can tell you is when visit our chapters and somebody says we did public relations to help a disease-related organization raise money and we did it pro bono and I’m sitting there listening to it, the light bulb goes off, I think, that is wonderful. At every single level, in my role as the national guy, how can I help that happen more? So I can’t tell you why no one thought of it earlier but I think we’re happy to be where we are right now.

BB: I’m a huge believer in pro bono services because of what it gives and also what it gives back. What do you like that comes back to your organization from these relationship/partnerships?

WM: There’s a number of ways that I think such pro bono services benefit. At the local level, we actually help improve a community. For example, the chapter that won the award for their work last year did CPR courses, they publicized a mass CPR training event. Undoubtedly at some point somebody who passed through that room is going to use CPR probably to save a life somewhere. So, the first issue is the practical impact of giving the services away to help people in their community. The second thing, PRSA is a very big organization, it’s a national organization and I think when you’re a national organization, sometimes folks wonder where the heart is in the organization. Okay, you’re delivering a webinar to help me be a better professional but do you really care about where I live or my community, do you care about the people I live with? We want to send a signal that yes, we’re about who they are professionally but we are a community, PRSA, and as a community we like our community to give to other communities. That’s very important to us.

The third thing is, and this is sort of an unintended consequence, I often hear about PR professionals who are looking for work or they’re recent graduates. The job market has been difficult and not everybody can afford to take an unpaid internship or to work for free but one of the things that I recommend to people who are transitioning or looking for work is that they look into this idea of participating in a chapter’s pro bono project. I’ve had people say to me that purely by accident they met other people who helped them network their way into a job or they worked for a social service organization and that organization came back down the road and said, we really liked the pro bono work that you did, would you like to take on some work as an independent contractor? I think that says something important about the organization, about who we are. It also opens doors for people in many ways, shapes and forms and it helps improve our communities.

Up Next: Part 4 in Series, Challenges in working with other sectors

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