PR’s Own Phone Hacking Scandal: O’Dwyer Fires Back at PRSA


While it may not be on the level of resignations, arrest and hearings before Parliament, PR has its own version of the News Corp. phone hacking scandal—and if you've following the plot line over the years, the story is equally intriguing.

On July 19 AdAge reported that the Public Relations Society of America has accused venerable PR scribe Jack O'Dwyer of "hacking" into PRSA phone conference calls between 2007 and 2009, then writing stories about what had gone on during the meetings. If you follow O'Dwyer or are a PRSA member, you'll be familiar with O'Dwyer's critiques of the PRSA—particularly of a lack of financial transparency. At times, O'Dwyer's coverage could be described as fanatical, but the PRSA and its VP of PR Arthur Yann have shown some public restraint in responding to O'Dwyer—often just ignoring him.

Not so this time. In response, O'Dwyer tells PR News that the allegation is "bull____."  He says PRSA members called him up and told him directly what was going on in those conferences. "Plus, those meetings should be public record anyway," he adds. O'Dwyer sums up the PRSA's actions against him as "caveman stuff."

Steve Cody, managing partner at Peppercom and an interested observer of the O'Dwyer/PRSA dust-up, calls the hacking allegation "intriguing," and says this latest spat will definitely spice up the summer. "PR was in need of a juicy scandal," says Cody. Although July 4 has come and gone, when it comes to the PRSA and Jack O'Dwyer, the fireworks are year-round.




4 Comments

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  • Arthur Yann

    Scott,

    While we know a handful of PRSA member do pass information to Mr. O’Dwyer, the fact remains that records from our teleconferencing vendor show that telephone numbers registered to the J.R. O’Dwyer Company connected to PRSA teleconference calls without our prior knowledge or consent five times between May 22, 2007, and May 12, 2009. Given that PRNews is right around the corner from PRSA, I’d be happy to have you drop by and examine these records yourself.

    Phone hacking and now lying to cover it up. Is it any wonder public relations suffers from a reputation crisis, when the publication that claims to be ‘the bible of PR’ is clearly comfortable using unethical practices? The comparisons that others now are drawing between Mr. O’Dwyer and Rupert Murdoch certainly seem apt.

  • John Mallen

    Steve makes a good point. Better to enjoy than to be bored by all of this which was my initial reaction.

  • Sam Waltz, APR, Fell

    As a long-time PRSA member and active volunteer, a former Corporate PR/ Public Affairs exec at DuPont Company, before starting my own firm in 1993, and as a former Journalist in my 20s…

    Re: PR News and AdAge reports of the alleged phone “hacking” by a publishing competitor to PRSA, the business communication / PR / PA industry’s leading professional society…

    Note that this hubbub really is the 3rd case, with another that achieved legendary status prior to the case of The Wall Street Journal’s publisher Rupert Murdoch, whose staff for the company’s own profit and the entertainment of its News of the World readers, violated the family privacy of a kidnapped (subsequently slain) little girl, as well as of the families of 9-11 victims, royalty, starlets, and others…

    Please read and digest this link to the September 1997 edition of the American Journalism Review, http://www.ajr.org/Article.asp?id=543

  • Elisabeth Handler, A

    The spectacle of the public relations association waging war on its best-known media follower is beyond ironic. That the issue is transparency makes it even more Kafka-esque. The cherry on this sad sundae is that PRSA shamelessly exploits the timely news-hook of the NOTW media phone-hacking to attract attention. Listening in on an invitation-only conference call may be bad manners, but hardly “hacking.”