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Mass resignations rock national PR body

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Mass board resignations around the country have followed the election of a new president at the Public Relations Institute of Australia.

The organisation’s CEO and a number of board members resigned immediately on the appointment of new man Mike Watson on Thursday.

Adelaide PR agency owner Leigh McClusky is one of the board members to have resigned along with representatives from Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales. Insiders believe that more resignations could occur.

Opponents of Watson claim that he and his faction, “The Fellows”, have been campaigning vigorously against now-former 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 financial turmoil for the organisation, which is funded by membership dues.

The body is said to be running a “basketcase” of a balance sheet, according to insiders who spoke to InDaily on condition of anonymity.

This morning Watson confirmed the resignations but would not say how many – and 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 said there was no battle between his supporters and the former board – indeed, he said he hadn’t heard from the board or spoken to Gaynor since a national conference in November. He said 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.

“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 fulltime 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 which indicates he did indeed have significant concerns about the PRIA’s governance and future.

In it, he says that an EGM was called for Friday to address “lax governance”.

“My supporters cherish the PRIA; we can save it, and better serve the interests of all members,” the email said.

Today, 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.”

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.

Among those to resign after Watson’s election was local PR agency boss Leigh McLusky, who told InDaily this morning she thought it fair to give the new president “a clear run to drive PRIA in the direction he wants”.

“I certainly wish the organisation well,” she said.

Watson told InDaily he did have 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.”

However his message to members ahead of the vote, obtained by InDaily, 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,” according to the message to members.

“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.”

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