Public Relations Tactics

After 10 years, is it finally time for a dues increase?

June 13, 2011

In March, I explained that the PRSA Board of Directors had engaged a Business Model Task Force to evaluate our 2011 financial forecast and budget, and prepare recommendations for ways that PRSA can balance its budget and meet its financial goals in future years.

Let’s quickly review why the Board took this step. In 2010, PRSA realized a net surplus from operations of $73,000 by tightly controlling expenses. We were fortunate that our financial investments added $197,000 to our income, helping us meet our ultimate goal of contributing 1 percent of  budgeted expenses to our financial reserves (and then some).

While we anticipate that PRSA will meet its stated net financial goals for 2011, those goals do not include the 1 percent contribution to our financial reserves. It’s the first time that any of us can recall operating with lowered expectations in this regard.

Having sharply cut expenses and tapped nearly all feasible sources of new revenue — while keeping the price of membership at 2002 levels — PRSA leaders asked the Business Model Task Force to review our financial position from a fresh, independent perspective.

To better understand the nuances of PRSA’s business model, the Task Force looked at historical data, including: financial and membership trends from 2002 through 2010; comparative data from other industry associations, such as IABC and Arthur Page; nonmember behavior; sponsorship trends; the evolution of PRSA’s product and service offerings, and the financial approaches taken by organizations of a comparable size.

The Task Force also analyzed the market factors likely to impact PRSA in 2011 and beyond, including continued pressure to diversify revenue resources; a continued increase in the cost of doing business; increased competition for lucrative programming categories and greater demand for relevant member benefits.

After reviewing and discussing the relevant information, the Business Model Task Force issued a summary report recommending that the PRSA Board of  Directors advance a motion to increase annual dues by $25 to $50 (11 percent to 22 percent) for the regular member category.* The Task Force also suggested that the Board consider new purchase options, such as bundling products and services that would increase the PRSA membership value proposition.

Finally, to help relieve the Society’s ongoing challenge of reconciling stagnant revenues with rising costs, the Task Force asked the Board to consider a policy that would allow for automatic annual increases, tied to an independent inflationary index.

Next steps

It’s now up to the Board of  Directors to accept or decline the Task Force’s recommendations, or to propose a different course of action.

The Task Force counseled the Board — in the event that it decides to move forward with the Task Force’s recommendations — to provide sufficient notice to PRSA members, highlight the rationale for the increase and give members an opportunity to provide meaningful feedback.

So why not engage our members now through this forum and elsewhere and get the conversation started?  The rationale for a dues increase is simply this:

  • PRSA has not increased the cost of its membership dues in 10 years, even though the cost of doing business has risen sharply over that time.
  • PRSA has increased the scope and number of benefits it delivers and taken other steps to increase member value, satisfaction and renewal during that same 10-year span.
  • PRSA has also been diligent about finding new ways to diversify its non-member revenue sources, and has cut $1.5 million in operating expenses from its budget.
  • PRSA needs a new approach to ensure our future financial health.

I’m eager to begin this important dialogue, and I encourage you to send me your thoughts.

*UPDATE: June 14, 2011, 9:30 a.m.:  In reviewing the Task Force's findings, the Board of Directors felt that an increase on the lower end of the recommended increase range would help mitigate the economic impact, while still allowing PRSA to achieve its financial goals in 2012 and possibly beyond. For this reason, the Board voted in May to move forward with proposing a $30 increase.


William (Bill) M. Murray, CAE, is the chief executive officer of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
Email: william.murray at


Howard E. Daniel, APR says:

I absolutely disagree with the recommendation! If PRSA is serious about attracting new members, it should LOWER dues, not raise them. If PRSA needs to increase its income, the best way to do it is to lower dues -- a significant price cut will attract enough new members to more than compensate for the reduced per-member income. Raising prices doesn't always produce greater income. Increasing volume (by cutting prices) would be a more effective approach. The trick is to find the "sweet spot" where a declining dues curve meets a rising membership curve. Howard E. Daniel, APR (2002 President, PRSA-Hawaii)

July 1, 2011

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