PRNEWS Trophy to PRSA CEO Fuels PR Society’s Disinformation Machine

While gaslighting the PR industry with undeserved accolades to PRSA's over-compensated exec staff, PRSA conceals its actual CEO job-performance data.

Now 3 1/2 years on the job at the Public Relations Society of America, PRSA CEO Linda Thomas Brooks received a trophy in recent weeks – from PR trade publication PRNEWS, oddly… which, as a PR trade pub, is supposed to hold people like PRSA’s CEO accountable, not reward her for being unaccountable.

But then again, if PRSA’s marketing budget to hide its net deficits is in play here — and PRNEWS should answer that question of how much (if anything) PRSA spends in paid media or other value exchanges with the publication — there’s often no limit to what some people will purposely ignore.

I recently received substantiated job-performance documentation from recent years, clearly showing that PRSA CEO Linda Thomas Brooks has failed to accomplish many of her CEO job functions, for which she is paid rather handsomely by the PRSA Board… nearly half-a-million dollars annually in total comp, for her management of the PRSA so-called nonprofit (?).

That comp data is according to PRSA’s last-available IRS 990 federal tax filings from 2021 and 2022:

Incidentally, the median salary of a U.S. PR specialist in 2022 was only $67,440, according to U.S. News… which means the average PR person would have to work 7.1 years to earn what Linda Thomas Brooks scores in only one year, arguably for not doing her job well.

Linda Thomas Brooks started on the job at PRSA in January 2021, after PRSA’s CFO had spent the prior 18 months reporting to himself as dual-serving CFO and “Interim CEO,” in violation of PRSA’s “conflict of interest” provision of its own ethics code.

There is no telling what kind of financial mess Ms. Thomas Brooks had to deal with walking in PRSA’s door, compounded by the pandemic’s onset within months of her arrival. So in fairness, we should acknowledge these elements that I’m sure were challenging.

Sadly for Ms. Thomas Brooks, her review was led by PRSA’s National Board Executive Committee of volunteers, who, on their best day, rarely exhibit the wherewithal to tie their own shoes without step-by-step instructions and advance-permission doled out by PRSA’s attorney, Venable, LLP (Venable ranked as PRSA’s third-highest-paid “vendor” by PRSA in 2022, clearly documenting either massive overreliance on Venable, or, alternately, significant legal problems by PRSA that they are hiding from members.)

In her e-mail to her PRSA Exec Comm colleagues, Ms. Blow desperately pleas to her fellow PRSA Board officers for “alignment” in their assessment of LTB.

Ms. Blow claimed – her words – to be “confused” and “flummoxed” by this process of evaluating Ms. Thomas Brooks. Ms. Blow referred directly to “Legal” weighing in with wordsmithing the LTB job-performance review, to use the word “Satisfactory” instead of “Achieved” – whatever that splitting-of-hairs implied.

All highlights shown below are original to the e-mail document and apparently were added by Ms. Blow.

Stepping back from the absurdity of this PRSA Board-officer clown car demonstration, I cannot help but laugh at the status of “Achieved” awarded to Linda Thomas Brooks on one of the spreadsheet’s line items, under a “contract goal” provision stipulating “projected loss of ($462,296)” and reference to net deficit… and that this “budgeted financial result” merited LTB getting an “Achieved” gold-star on her performance review.

What’s more, the notation of “see Egan’s comment” on the spreadsheet refers apparently to 2022 PRSA National Chair-Elect Michelle Egan wondering out loud, “did the Board actually approve a budget or just approve pivoting to virtual on ICON?”… referring to PRSA’s International Conference (ICON) — which is PRSA’s do-or-die financial event of the year.

This woman – Ms. Egan – apparently couldn’t even recall this monumental a Board decision, despite the fact that she herself served as PRSA National Chair-Elect in 2022, after two consecutive years serving as PRSA National Treasurer, as PRSA lost millions of dollars on her treasury watch.

Three out of the five items on this spreadsheet of “Contract Goals” assigned to CEO Linda Thomas Brooks were flagged by then-PRSA National Chair Felicia Blow, Immediate Past Chair Michelle Olson, Chair-Elect Michelle Egan, Treasurer Jane Law, and Secretary Joseph Abreu (who now serves as National Chair of PRSA) as “Not achieved.”

Later, the larger performance review of Linda Thomas Brooks as apparently presented to PRSA’s full Board included the following slide show:

And this, in spite of PRSA having suffered net monetary losses – according to IRS tax filings – of $1,463,680 in 2020 and $725,978 in 2021 (the latter losses incurred directly under Linda Thomas Brook’s own CEO management for 12 months in 2021)… for a grand total of $2,189,658 of member dollars lost in those two preceding years, under the leadership of pretty much this same gaggle of Board volunteers.

In light of all the “Not Achieved” entries on the performance evaluation spreadsheet, these folks thought it would be a great idea to pay Linda Thomas Brooks even MORE MONEY, at member expense.

That’s not all, in the way of Linda Thomas Brooks’ failures in leadership.

I’m also in possession of more recent PRSA staff / employee survey results, from January 2023, with PRSA employees having reflected on their past year of employment experience at PRSA after the Board forked over to Ms. Thomas Brooks even more money for lackluster performance.

As a first matter, however, it’s confusing precisely how many people even completed this survey and whether it included Board members, who are not paid employees but volunteers.

PRSA’s most recent IRS 990 filing (2022) claimed that PRSA had – at that time – only 48 employees. However, this cover page by the survey firm shows that there were 35 “General Survey Respondents” and 35 “Leader Survey Respondents.” 

Very strange to have the exact same number for both; and even more strange that this total reflects 70 people in presumed employment at PRSA, when only 48 total are reported to the IRS… which begs the question – who exactly was surveyed here? There is the possibility, too, that PRSA instructed the same number of staff – 35 – to take two separate components of the survey, irrespective of whether they themselves were in “leadership.”

Even so, it would appear that PRSA has shed massive staff numbers, to go from 48 as cited on its 2022 IRS 990 filing, to only 35 in January 2023 — unless certain PRSA staff were purposely excluded from the employee survey. It’s clearly an indication of an organization in massive financial trouble to cover its own payroll, although certainly, Linda Thomas Brooks enjoys her nice, undeserved salary raises, I’m sure.

As we scratch our head on this key methodology question, we nonetheless can tell, after then two full years on the job, Linda Thomas Brooks’ charm offensive to build solidarity and performance-driven focus among her own team appears to have registered as more “offensive” than “charm.”

The pie-chart in the employee survey results report shows that 68.6% of PRSA employees are “not engaged,” while only 31.4% of staff – only 11 people – are “engaged.”

And that’s with PRSA footing – according to its 2022 IRS 990 filing – a full payroll + benefits expense line item, funded by member dollars, of more than $6 million (and in an increase over the prior year)… or, given the 48 employees claimed on the tax document, annual per-capita comp of PRSA staff of $126,647 per staff member.

From the member perspective – of which I am clearly not one, thanks in large part to Linda Thomas Brooks’ own handiwork – I can imagine that the average-paid PR person earning only $67,440 a year is going to be pretty steamed, that they’re forking over member dues to pay PRSA staff earning about TWICE as much as they do on average but with only 11 of those folks registering as even “engaged” in their work to serve the members who are footing the bill.

The “Overall Satisfaction at Work” numbers among PRSA staff trended THE WRONG WAY under Linda Thomas Brooks’ CEO leadership after two years at PRSA, according to this January 2023 employee survey.

In fairness to the rank-and-file staff, my sympathies have to go out to those who clearly feel they are in – to such an extensive degree – a less-than-ideal work environment.

The open-ended survey responses bore this reality out, even more so…

No sooner had LTB darkened PRSA’s door in January 2021, she personally oversaw an unethical expulsion action targeting me – a former PRSA National Board member (2002-03) — immediately launched within days of LTB being hired.

The entire conflict-of-interest-riddled, conviction-in-search-of-claims, kangaroo-court process was in violation of New York whistleblower statutes… as I had been a documented whistleblower in PRSA for years up to that point, reporting PRSA leadership for ethics misconduct and legal noncompliance.

But this fact didn’t stop Linda Thomas Brooks in Month 1 of her employment from eagerly serving on the “grievance panel” to make sure her PRSA attorney (compensated with member dollars) overruled all of my protests of well-documented conflicts surrounding their contrived and highly unethical effort.

Without question, Linda Thomas Brooks started from Day 1 on the job, being fed a bunch of defamatory baloney about me, by direct participants in past PRSA ethics / financial / legal misconduct. This defamation of me aimed to make PRSA’s unfair and unscrupulous attacks against me seem justified to my colleagues who didn’t know any better.

She herself failed massively to conduct her own due diligence.

Instead, Ms. Thomas Brooks took at face-value everything that PRSA’s key culprits of wrongdoing fed to her – notably, PRSA’s CFO who controlled PRSA’s “whistleblower policy” and PRSA’s then-Chair, Michelle Olson, who only a month prior offered to me through a surrogate an appointed position on PRSA’s Board, if I would agree never to sue PRSA (I declined this mafia-like quid pro quo, given that it was highly unethical, and, arguably even illegal, under certain statutes defining “bribery”).

So, my comments here should be taken with full knowledge that I have both a professional and a personal beef with Linda Thomas Brooks, given that she is now actively telling PRSA members she had nothing to do with PRSA’s expulsion of me, when in fact, she helped drive every step of it – and I have abundant documentation on PRSA letterhead as well as now-PRSA National Chair Joseph Abreu’s taxpayer-funded and publicly discoverable government e-mail from his days with St. Lucie County, Florida’s Office of the Court Clerk & Comptroller, proving it.

But there are other obvious examples of Linda Thomas Brooks falling short – apart from her hideous metrics and her unjust treatment of me.

But like every false claim in PRSA, it all was just a public posturing exercise.

Since then, not much has changed, if you simply judge PRSA’s social media feeds and June “rainbowed” logo… again – all window-dressing.

Back in summer 2020, when PRSA’s CEO Search reignited after I began asking questions publicly about why PRSA was still allowing its CFO to report to himself as interim CEO after 12 months of no permanent CEO being hired, then-Treasurer Michelle Egan called me on the phone, claiming that PRSA was “doubling down” on hiring for diversity as part of its CEO search.

On this matter of PRSA’s DEI failures and false claims, less than a month ago, one of PRSA’s most vocal proponents of diversity authenticity, Ms. Shawn Smith in Los Angeles, California, publicly posted on LinkedIn that she was leaving PRSA membership, due to its ongoing failures in DEI performance.

Ms. Thomas Brooks has had 3 ½ years on the job so far, and this is the DEI performance result by PRSA, from the vantage point of a respected (former) member as Ms. Smith.

Ms. Smith’s LinkedIn post received more than 260 “likes” and other signs of solidarity from other LinkedIn users, as well as some 40 comments (including some of mine).

At what point does LTB simply need to DO HER JOB that she’s already being paid excessively to do… a job that should not include in its official job description scooping up trophies for her own self-aggrandizement, on non-existent or even dubious merit?

We in the U.S. PR industry need transparency, and we need performance.

Neither is evident in PRSA – and not by a long-shot.

Sadly, though, until PRSA is held to account for its massive lies, false posturing, and unethical disinformation campaigns to its own membership and to the larger global industry – with massive assists by PR trade media who either heap undeserved praise on culprits of wrongdoing or, more often than not, roll their eyes and just look the other way – we’re in a long-term conundrum due to PRSA’s status quo.

We in PR cannot achieve respect as an industry – or even respectability – with these incompetent charlatans and self-serving show-boaters running the PR industry’s reputation into the ground.

PRSA’s members and the U.S. PR workforce are under-served, or, in my case, completely maligned and both personally and professionally harmed by PRSA’s retaliation machine, which operates in the shadows, using smoke and mirrors (like fake trophies) to deceive people who deserve the truth and should be able to expect it from their trade body.

And by “chicanery,” I’m also counting Ms. Thomas Brooks’ and CFO Philip Bonaventura’s more than $5 million in math errors published online in PRSA’s 2023 “Year in Review” back in December, which Ms. Thomas Brooks then blamed on an innocent graphic designer, without that person’s knowledge or ability to defend themselves from Ms. Thomas Brooks’ false deflection of responsibility for her failures with simple addition-and-subtraction:

But at the current pace of PRSA Board leaders who are “flummoxed” by the most basic of board-management tasks to hold their own CEO accountable with something more than undeserved pay raises, PRSA’s last dime of member treasure is likely going to be forked over to the likes of PRSA’s already-overpaid CEO and CFO, for their service of disservice, running the organization completely into the ground.



    • Hi Richard — Yes, I agree it would be insightful to share other staff survey data… such as the 2024 data that would cover the 2023 timeline. If anyone has it, they’re welcome to share it with me.

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