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Staying the course through Sandy and 2012


November 30, 2012

Superstorm Sandy roared into New York this past October, shutting down Lower Manhattan and causing widespread devastation.  At PRSA, we were working on our Conference postmortem, our end-of year leadership transition and wrapping up some year-end projects when Mother Nature changed our plans.

Even though our offices lost water, electricity, heat and telecommunications services, we were fortunate, as other businesses in our neighborhood were literally under-water. In the aftermath of the storm, many individuals, including some of our staff, had to contend with basic issues of staying warm and finding a place to live or something to eat. 

For some small- and medium-sized organizations in Lower Manhattan, Superstorm Sandy will be their last chapter.  For PRSA, a combination of preparedness, hard work — and a dollop of luck —enabled us to fully resume our normal operations within a few hours of having our crucial utilities restored.  And some of our most popular benefits, such as  Jobcenter resources, remained available to our members throughout the storm.

During the storm and its aftermath, we were able to quickly access key contact information, post messages to members on our website, put our email system into a slowdown mode, and communicate with our staff and board about our respective situations and prospects for recovery.

The year in review

As 2012 closes, I’m happy to report that while Sandy did impact our operations, and will have some effect on our business, the storm didn’t knock us off course for the year.

First and foremost, membership continues its modest post-recession climb.  One of the largest external factors affecting membership is the state of the economy, and given the continuing uncertainty, we’re pleased that we are continuing to meet all of our strategic objectives for the year.

Against this backdrop, we’ve done a number of things this year to make PRSA membership even more valuable to you:

  • Rolled out a new business model for our webinars:  Your PRSA membership now includes nearly every webinar we produce.  As a result, we’ll deliver 6,500 webinar sessions to members this year — up from about 1,500 last year.
     
  • Developedand launched a mobile version of our PRSA website:  You can now access many of our online resources using your smartphone or tablet, with even more features to come.
     
  • Redesigned our popular daily news compilation, Issues & Trends: We’ve optimized the new layout for mobile devices and cleaned up the presentation, so that you’ll now find PRSA resources presented in the context of the day’s news.
     
  • Bestowed the first-ever “PRServing America” awards: These awards are for PRSA Chapters that have done pro bono-PR work in their communities to help feed the homeless, teach CPR, encourage voting, and support returning veterans as well as other worthy outcomes.
     
  • Announced an option allowing members to pay their Chapter dues on a quarterly basis: Note, though, that each Chapter leadership must affirmatively vote to be included in this program.
     
  • Created additional Chapter/District Support Tools to help your local communities thrive:  From budget templates to volunteer management tips, these resources are now organized in an online “locker” for leaders to access more quickly and easily. 
     
  • Installed a new email platform that will help us strengthen our communications:We will customize how we reach out to our members, and more effectively target relevant messages, information and resources.

Every year brings unexpected opportunities and challenges.  Sandy was a challenge, but in the aftermath, we conducted a self-assessment of what worked well, and what we could have done differently.  We’re compiling a list of lessons learned, and taking steps to ensure that we’re even better prepared for what may come in the future.

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



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