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

See also

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 5

BB: There is significant research showing that the public wants to be associated with and buy their products and services from socially-responsible companies. Additionally, employee satisfaction and retention, brand awareness, community goodwill and of course, sales of products and services are greatly influenced by an organization’s involvement in cause-related efforts. I would think that there is no other profession more aligned to be proactive and the instigators of such cause-related good than the public relations profession. What has surprised me is that I’ve seen very little, if any, information on the national association level encouraging partnerships between the different sectors - nonprofit, for-profit, education, government - and yet these partnerships have a large influence on what the general public sees as important, especially from the corporate sector.

WM: This doesn’t really sound like a good answer but what I will tell you is the diversity of the profession, not with respect to cultural and ethical diversity, but with respect to professional diversity is, at times, overwhelming and trying to figure out how to deliver education to everyone in a different box on the matrix is very challenging.

We have an awards program that we run every year and there’s dozens and dozens of categories - community PR programs, government-related and national charitable organizations. We take those award winners and we create abstracts and put them in a database so our members can use them. So it’s clear that it’s happening a lot because you’ll see a lot of the award winners on the annual program that are doing some type of community service or public service type work.

However, you raise a very interesting question and the question is, why aren’t there more explicit courses that are out there that teach this, that recommend it and encourage it? I don’t know the answer to that and I’m going to take away this discussion and look into this and see what we could be doing and how we could be doing it.

BB: The perspective of yours which I’m really valuing is that kind of the impact a national organization can have and yet the limitations you have to try to be dictating anything to 30,000 members, in any subject matter.

WM: The relationship between the national organization and the local chapters, it’s a very interesting one because we want to provide high-level direction with respect to strategy, we want to provide training, how to be a better leader and a chapter manager, we want to provide support and infrastructure, but when it comes down to exactly what they should be doing in a local context, I think it would not only be presumptuous for us to tell them what to do, it would be disastrous. Our role is to provide encouragement and cross-chapter communications, but when it comes to something like community service, if there was ever an issue that should be tailored locally, that’s got to be it.

BB: Are there any other initiatives that you’re working on or hoping to develop?

WM: This is a very different kind of animal, but last year we did some work with the American Statistical Association. The ASA is a membership organization comprised of statisticians across the country and their mission is to support the good use of statistics. And, one of the things they felt was needed was more transparency and more accuracy when statistics were used by companies and organizations in press releases and in other types of situations to justify something the organization was doing.

So, the ASA came to us and said, how about we develop some best practices with respect to the use of statistics? We liked that idea because one of the key strategic goals we have as an organization is to encourage our members to be more quantitative, to talk about ROI, to measure the impact. Obviously, they need a very good understanding of the use of statistics and numbers and data, and so this could be the kind of thing that could benefit our profession. We put a working group together from each organization, they worked on this for six months and we released a guide to our membership. The ASA felt that this helped fulfill their mission for the better good use of statistics and we felt that this fulfilled our mission because it gave our members a tool that they could use in their day-to-day practice to be a more effective communicator and practitioner of PR. From our perspective this was an effective partnership that advanced the strategic goals of each organization.

End of this interview.

For more information on developing highly successful partnerships please visit: www.bruceburtch.com

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