Associations Gain Prestige and Visibility by Serving as Expert Resources for Media

By Bensimon, Helen Frank; Walker, Patricia A. | Public Relations Journal, February 1992 | Go to article overview
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Associations Gain Prestige and Visibility by Serving as Expert Resources for Media


Bensimon, Helen Frank, Walker, Patricia A., Public Relations Journal


Increasingly, associations are being called upon to respond to issues in the news that affect not only the industries, companies and professions that they represent, but U.S. society in general.

When Judge Clarence Thomas faced charges of sexual harassment during his stormy Supreme Court confirmation hearings, reporters called the American Society for Training and Development in Alexanderia, VA. They wanted to know how companies use training to prevent harassment in the workplace. They also wanted to talk to trainers who specialize in this area.

When the Food and Drug Administration announced stringent food labeling regulations, the American Dietelic Association in Chicago received calls from reporters asking the society's position on the issue. The news media also wanted more detailed information on the kinds of information consumers could expect to find on packaged foods.

Similarly, frequent Congressional and business proposals on health care reform are generating a steady volume of news media calls to the American Medical Association in Chicago.

With increasing frequency, public relations practitioners in professional and trade associations are being called upon by reporters to serve as, or identify, reliable third-party experts in their specialty. Both business and consumer press view association professionals as credible sources on a wide variety of issues.

Public relations professionals in associations are involved with issues that their members confront: globalization, environmentalism, mergers and acquisitions, the ethnically diverse work force and increased specialization. Perhaps as a result, association practitioners are increasingly being called upon to defend the industries or groups they represent in the media or simply provide information to the press that sheds light on an issue related to the

association's specialty.

Responding to the media is becoming an important role for associations and the public relations executives who serve them. Increased news coverage tends to enhance an organization's prestige by generating publicity about its mission and programs. This, in turn, can result in membership growth and greater awareness of the association's stance on public policy issues.

Association practitioners must constantly balance the demands of diverse publics, including volunteer leaders, members, prospective members, opinion leaders, government agencies, legislators, the general public, and even adversaries. Communicating with all of these publics requires flexibility and a firm grasp of the association's unique niche in its specialty. Setting high industry standards, total quality management and ethics enforcement will continue to be high priorities for associations and their communicators. In particular, their public postures will need to continually reflect a reasoned response to the changing external environment.

Size increases visibility

In the past 15 years, the number of national associations has nearly doubled. Association public relations has emerged as a burgeoning area of practice. Formation of the Association Section within the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) in 1964 recognized this trend. It was the second professional interest section created by PRSA.

According to the Washington, DC-based American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), seven out of 10 Americans belong to at least one of the nation's more than 100,000 national, state or local associations. Twenty-five percent of Americans belong to four or more associations.

"There appears to be a correlation between the number of years of education people have and the number of associations they belong to: the more education, the more association memberships," reported Tom Gorski, public relations vice president of ASAE.

Associations may represent an industry or a profession or have a religious, ethnic or social basis.

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Associations Gain Prestige and Visibility by Serving as Expert Resources for Media
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