Friday, August 1, 2008

PR Crisis brewing online for the National Communication Association

There's an old joke floating around the communication discipline which implies that the people who are attracted to the study of communication tend to be the worst communicators. Judging by the National Communication Association's (NCA) latest actions (or inactions), this may very well be the case.
Here's a case study in PR crisis management courtesy of our own disciplinary organization: NCA is "the oldest and largest national organization to promote communication scholarship and education" and counts roughly 7,700 members. Last year, the NCA Executive Committee approved a new registration policy for its annual convention, which is usually held at the end of November. The new policy requires all designated presenters, panelists, chairs, and responders to pre-register for the conference by August 6, 2008 or be removed from both the printed and online convention program. This new policy and the way NCA has attempted to enforce it, have unleashed a backlash of angry comments and calls for a boycott of the convention on CRTNET, a daily e-mail listserv managed by NCA.

The anger seems to stem not only from the policy itself, but also from the harassing tone and the exaggerated number of reminder emails and announcements NCA has been sending out during the last few weeks. Below are just a few sample messages sent out to members:
1. If you are a solo author, chair, or respondent and are not registered for the convention by August, 6, your paper/panel will be removed from the printed and online program.
2. Are you a listed participant in the 2008 Convention Program?
Program Participant Registration Deadline: Wed., August 6, 2008
Hurry Register Today! Don't Wait Until the Last Day!
3. There are two ways to register.
4. Dear NCA member,
Q: What do the following books have in common?
- Cat in the Hat
- Guinness Book of World Records
- War and Peace

A: No one will find your name in these books.

Please don't let this happen with the NCA Annual Convention Program Book. Register by August 6!"
When you consider that most of NCA's members are communication professors who examine messages and their effects on an audience for a living, it goes without saying that these nagging reminders received a thorough critical review. As one professor put in on CRNET:
Note to the NCA office: You people may want to start reading some of the research published in your journals. Generating reactance and animosity from condescending, pushy, and annoying email messages---high in controlling language and low in positive and negative politeness---may gain you a short burst in compliance, but it will likely result in source derogation and a serious loss of referent power.
What is amazing is that although NCA manages the CRNET listserv and should therefore be well aware of the storm that's brewing online, it has yet to respond to the growing criticism and animosity. Could it be that NCA isn't listening and monitoring online conversations? Surely, they would have to. They're the National Communication Association after all! Why they haven't joined the conversation is beyond me. From a PR perspective this seems rather foolish. Why not respond to NCA members who've vented on CRNET, or at least explain their side of the story? Seems like there might be some truth to that old communication joke after all...


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for talking about this issue. My co-author was in a tizzy/panic over the last e-mail that NCA sent out. We were frustrated because we both labored over our paper, but only my name might be in the book because she missed the payment deadline and because she won't be able to attend. It's a screwed-up system brought on by abuses, but one would think the organization would attempt some communication with its members.

Karen Russell said...

FYI, I just got back from AEJMC and a lot of people were talking about this -- including one person who said "to hell with it" and withdrew his paper from the program!