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Preview: InPeRspective


This blog is dedicated to putting the profession of public relations in perspective - pointing out our mistakes as a profession (and some of my collosal ones as well) and of course our great moments, too. I hope it provides a forum where fellow practitio

Updated: 2014-10-03T03:30:28.259-04:00


What's with the name of this blog anyway?


Hi, I'm back after about a three month hiatus. Those that know me will likely think it's impossible that I ran out of things to say and I'm sure I didn't - I simply ran out of time. So it's back to the drawing board. A question I'd always thought I'd get about this blog but never did is "why is it called inperspective2020?" Surely a more fitting name might be "flack attack" or "confessions of a spinmeister", right? Wrong. This blog isn't about me. Rather it's about our profession - yes, there I said it, profession (and I don't need an academic to define for me what that means or any determination over whether we posses the requisite "body of knowledge"). When a CEO looks you in the eye and asks you "what should we do" then my friends you have all the proof you need that you are a member of a very real and very meaningful profession. But, what's that you say? You're CEO doesn't ask you what to do that much? Excuse me, did you say you report to an HR executive and have little access to the top? Sadly, you are not alone. We still have much to do to completely credentialize the profession of public relations - and while we're doing that let's shred the multiple choice APR exam - only other PR people care about that (and yes, I have an APR - and not from the multiple choice exam). So, that brings me to the name of this blog. The mission as stated in previous missives is to put our profession in perspective - warts and all. But why 2020? Well, in 1920 Ed Bernays (yes, THAT Ed Bernays) gave out the first business card saying "of public relations counsel." Now if you asked Bernays he might say that he not only gave birth to the idea of public relations, but the act of giving out the business card listing himself as public relations counsel was the first step in "professionalizing" public relations. What's more, if Ed was still with us he'd probably realize that the year 2020 would mark the centennial of our profession and that what we needed most today was a 2020 vision of where we were going as a profession and how we were going to emerge as trusted business advisers in time for our centennial. Alas, Ed isn't with us any longer. I hope to use these pages to help frame that 2020 vision and maybe along the way prove that we are a profession after all - and more so than the two other more seemly ones that charge by the hour (lawyers and whores). More to come soon - promise.

Can we talk?


So, I read in a recent issue of PR News about a new approach to measurement that would help practitioners have a better sense of their company's or client's "share of discussion." We would accomplish this feat - gasp - by finding more detailed ways to measure media coverage. Ugh. Why is it that whenever we discuss measurement we make it sound harder and harder? Maybe I missed a meeting, but the last time I looked up the definition of discussion it involved two parties that were, well, TALKING about an issue. Some of my more academically inclined friends might call that two-way symmetrical communication. Can we really say that media placements foster discussion? Granted if your client is Tom Cruise perhaps the answer is yes. And maybe even the coverage of Oprah travails at Hermes might count, maybe. Truth is even if media does sometimes inspire discussion is that consistently meaningful if our clients or our companies are not participants in the process? I don't think so. Folks, we need to find better ways to communicate above the media filter and find ways for our clients and companies to be active participants in discussion that impacts the way they do business - blogs, for example - but what about good old fashioned town hall meetings or dinners? Dialogue, discussion, debate - that's what we need. And we need a way to measure the outcome of all that. Building a better mousetrap for measuring media coverage to me doesn't sound like the answer, but I could be wrong.

The Sounds of Silence


Hello folks! I've heard from some readers wondering why I haven't posted the last few weeks. Those who know me surely realize it couldn't have been that I ran out of things to say.

It was more of a personal silent protest against the PRSA's recent legal proceedings in the matter of the e-mail criticizing the job performance of Catherine Bolton. To be honest the whole affair has left me speechless. I did want to speak out on it, but since I'm not a lawyer I wondered if that might be too risky. Hey, if the PRSA wanted to sue me - well, there's nothing anonymous about this web site so I'm easy to find.

Alas, I settled for silence since the PRSA's actions seemed to me to be calling for just that. I have not seen the full text of the e-mail signed "Catherine Hater," and frankly I'd hope for something more profound in the nom de plum of someone acting as a whistle blower of sorts to an association's board. However, I fail to understand how concerns about the performance of a senior officer at an organization sent anonymously to board members could negatively impact governance, as PRSA has publicly stated as a cause for their concern. Isn't such "whistle blowing" and the response such a communication receives from a board a test of effective governance in the first place?

So, hello darkness my old friends... it's good to talk to you again. And remember sometimes the words of the prophets are in an e-mail, a blog or a face-to-face conversation - they're not always on the subway walls and we shouldn't be afraid to look for them. Words seldom hurt people, but lawsuits sure can.

Communications Begins at Home


I come from a lower middle class background - hell, let's face it I grew up on the government's welfare system so you might say I know what it means to be poor. As a result, I have these memories of my mother telling me when I was a kid that charity begins at home. At the time I thought she was just cheap, but I came to realize that if we didn't address the needs of our own house first we wouldn't be able to help anyone down the road. She was right. The same lesson applies to communications. How many of us see our firms or our clients invest far more (in time AND money) on external communications than we do on internal communications. As my mom might say, communications begins at home. If we don't communicate within our own houses first we won't be able to communicate with anyone down the road. Someone showed me some interesting data from Towers Perrin recently. They found that employees trust what a company says to its shareholders and customers more than they trust the information the company shares with employees. If that's true and if that is how employees view your organization then you're in for a very bumpy ride. In an age where media is increasingly becoming disintermediated how your employees communicate news about your organization to friends, family, colleagues and customers and how you communicate with them is more important than ever. Hey, you never know one of them just might be blogging and someone might actually be reading it! See you on the information highway.

Paradise by the Dashboard Light?


So, I just saw Monty Python's Spamalot on Broadway - a must see. And this morning for some reason I keep hearing Meatloaf's Paradise by the Dashboard Light in my head. Ed Bernays' uncle would insist the two events are connected somehow, so being a big fan of Bernays and Uncle Sigmund I pondered what the connection might be. And then it hit me: the search for the holy grail or in PR parlance, measurement. I must have met with a dozen firms in the last year or so - all offering various public relations measurement "dashboards." Like some high tech tool in the PR man's batcave, the so-called dashboards are supposed to give me a real-time look at where my firm or client stands in the world. But whose world? Most dashboards I've seen only look at media coverage. These days that's nowhere near the full picture. The media landscape has changed. It's the age of MEdia (or what I'd call the day of me), as I think my friend Richard Edelman recently called it in a white paper. We are all media. You, me, my mom, your neighbor. You don't need to be a blogger to voice an opinion and you certainly don't need to own a newspaper to be an influencer. Where's the dashboard for that? As PR professionals we must constantly be in tune with all of our stakeholders with open communications channels established to reach them all effectively - and that means inside our own organizations as well. It's a two-way information superhighway out there and if you're spending too much time looking at your dashboard, well, you're probably going to end up like road kill. Buckle up people - the game has changed and it's time to keep your eyes on the two-way communications traffic that waits on the road ahead.

Making it Ad Up!


You may have noticed there are now ads on this blog. Let me explain. Almost 20 years ago one of the great New York PR counselors - Bob Dorf - heard I was trying to run my own agency on campus at NYU. He reached into his jacket pocket and wrote me a check for $500 on the spot. We bought stationery and beer - at his suggestion. Google (which runs this blog) has given me an opportunity to start trying to repay what Bob did for me. Google will pay me for any click throughs to the PR-oriented ads you see on this page. I will take any fees paid to me by Google and donate them to the NY area Public Relations Student Society of America chapters. Maybe I can make a small difference. It's a start. So click away. And if you think it's a really bad idea let me know that, too. Thanks.

An Apple a Day Keeps the Spin Doctors Away


So, the PRSA's NY Chapter held their Big Apple Awards last night. I've gone to dozens of these affairs and they're usually dreadful, but last night's event was something to write home about. It was a class act all the way - lighthearted; yet elegant at the same time. The organizing committee is to be congratulated. The John Hill award went to Howard Rubenstein. Howard urged the practitioners in the audience to always do the right thing and to encourage their clients or employers to do so as well. If you don't do the right thing, Howard noted, you might find yourself on 60 Minutes - this said as Mike Wallace waited to give the evening's keynote address. As Howard spoke I remembered one of the guiding principles he gave to all his new employees when I worked for him all those years ago. "When you send your monthly bill out to your clients," Howard said, "ask yourself if you would feel comfortable paying that amount out of your own checkbook. If the answer is no then you're doing something wrong." Pretty basic concept, but rather profound given issues we've read about in the press recently, especially those concerning my good friends at Fleishman Hillard - who in my book are worth every dime. I may no longer be a member of PRSA, but I was delighted to be there last night and I'm already looking forward to next year. There were no spin doctors in the room last night - just some of New York's finest counselors.

Thank god It's Friday - 3


Four weeks into this blog and it's time for another short Friday thank you note. I have been doing this chronologically to thank those who have helped my career. I realize now that's probably of zero interest to you, so today I'm going to deviate from that. Today's thanks go to Maria Russell of the Newhouse School and PRSA for her tireless efforts to promote professional development - if you haven't looked into her masters program at Newhouse you really should; Ed Bernays (who founded this damn profession and whose memory seems to be constantly spat upon by senior PR professionals who probably haven't read any of his books - if you haven't read them either please start with Your Future in Public Relations); Arthur Page for leaving a legacy so strong that his principle of always telling the truth remains today - if you're not a member of the Arthur Page society and qualify then join and if you are a member please find ways for your junior staff to learn from the Page Principles; and Paul Holmes for consistently honoring this profession - even though he stiffed us completely at this year's SABRE awards! Thanks.

A Phair Assessment?


So, I'm reading the May 18th issue of Jack O'Dwyer's newsletter over breakfast this morning and I saw Jack's report on the recent testimony of my friend Doug Simon, the PRSA's Judy Phair and the Television News Directors Barbara Cochran before Congress. There's no question that the current bill that Senators Kerry and Lautenberg have on the table goes way too far - hell Lautenberg wants to start regulating press releases and it all has a scary sense of moving beyond work done on behalf of government entities and into the world of commercial speech. And then I read Judy's quote stating that the PR profession "exists as a profession today because it has established a level of trust with the media and the public." I have never used profanity on this blog, but today I make an exception and say - you must be fucking kidding me! The only reason this bill is even before a Congressional committee is because the public and the media DON'T trust public relations people. The fault in that lies with all of us, but also with the PRSA who has done hardly anything to enforce ethics out of legal fear. Thank god Doug Simon is making sense and putting his money where his mouth is in calling for disclosure in video news releases in a very public campaign. Hopefully a compromise can be reached (with the cooperation of the PR industry) and this doesn't morph into something bigger than it needs to be. But telling Congress that the public trusts PR professionals is ridiculous and foolhardy. And the questions that are being asked now transcend the Armstrong Williams case and get at the very core of some media tactics we all have used. Let's not deny we have a credibility problem. Rather, lets try to fix it before Congress does it for us. Reading comments like that of Phair makes me think maybe toxic sludge really is good for me - and that's a terrible thought, especially when you're trying to have your breakfast!

Citizen Journalists


If you haven't visited Richard Edelman's blog yet (linked on this blog) I really urge you to do so. Richard's recent post is particularly compelling. He writes of a site that's developed in Korea called OhMyNews ( The site is developed by "citizen journalists" - ordinary people like you and me that have been empowered and enabled by technology to report what they see, think and hear. According to Richard, the site has attracted up to 34,000 citizen journalists. Media is being disintermediated folks and the impact may be profoundly utopian and dangerous all at the same time. Are we at a point where our trust in traditional media has dwindled to a point where we really trust news from the man on the corner more than we do from the New York Times? What about Fox News Channel? In this confused world we live in truth seems more and more an aberration of intersecting political ideologies. Karl Rove has replaced Walter Cronkite in telling us "that's the way it is." Media is just a channel of communication - word of mouth is, too. So what's to stop citizen journalists from reinventing how we understand the world around us. Hey, they all laughed at Turner when he launched CNN and quickly it became the first place we turned in crisis as we hungered to know what was happening. That hunger is growing and won't be satiated any time soon. Citizen journalists probably won't replace traditional media, but they are not going away either. As public relations professionals we must think carefully about how we are going to communicate with this deviation in the media channel. I wonder what Marshall McLuhan would say?

All the News That's Fit to Print and More


If you missed it, yesterday's New York Times reported on some additional steps the paper was taking to help restore its credibility with readers. The Times story can be found here (you need to register first, if you haven't already)

Personally, I still find the Times highly credible (despite the recent scandals), but I applaud their effort. Here are some of the initiatives the Times will be putting in place:

  • Make reporters and editors more accessible to readers (on our side of the fence perhaps we need to be more accessible to them as well)
  • Use fewer anonymous sources
  • Consider the creation of a New York Times blog (I presume written by the ombudsman, but they don't say in the report)
  • Confirming accuracy of stories with sources and seeking feedback on stories.

But something else in the list really got my attention, and if you're a practitioner it should grab your attention, as well. The Times says they plan to post on their web site transcripts from interviews used in the writing of stories. They also will provide links to source material. It's not clear if that will apply to all stories or only to investigative or controversial pieces, but it's a hell of a step forward in transparency. So next time the Times conducts an in-depth interview with your client be prepared for the possibility that the whole conversation can appear online. If we're doing our jobs the right way that can be a very good thing. What do you think?

Thank God It's Friday - 2


Well, we made it through another week. Time for those promised thank you notes to some of the many individuals who have helped my career over the years (to those who weren't mentioned last week - calm down, you'll get your turn). So here are today's: Jay Sears (for rescuing me from my first agency and getting me a "real" job - and later asking me how I slept at night when he discovered some work I was doing at Rubenstein); Jean Mackey for being my friend longer than anyone else and encouraging my involvement in the PRSA; Nancy Brenner for teaching me how to pitch a story; and John Fry - well for just being John Fry. Thanks and happy Friday.

Ad Folks Lack Ethics and Woe is Us?


In the current issue of Jack O'Dwyer's newsletter he writes of a study on "ethical reasoning" completed by two professors - Lee Wilkins of the Missouri School of Journalism and Renita Coleman of Louisiana State. The study examines the ethical reasoning of journalists and advertising professionals. In the ethics scores the professors gave to multiple professions journalists fared better than ad folks, but their scores are nothing to write home about.

Amusingly, journalists had slightly higher scores than dentists. I guess next time I deal with a tough reporter and it feels like a root canal I'll respect them more!

More interesting was that ad folks (who scored 31.64 on the professors' scale) slightly edged out business school undergraduates (who scored just 31.35). Aren't students supposed to be more idealistic than paid professionals launching an ad campaign?

Something is broken here folks. If we expect things to get better any time soon things better start improving in the classroom and not just the boardroom. And in between, too. Business must make it its mission to teach and reinforce ethical behavior from the day an employee walks in the building. That goes for all businesses, but especially for public relations professionals.

The professors' study did not include PR folks. I'm sort of afraid to see what the score might be, but I try to be optimistic. According to Jack's report the professors can update us with their take on ethical reasoning among PR professionals for a mere $10,000. That's not a big amount, but sadly I think we already know our scores wouldn't be something to be proud of - wouldn't it be better to spend that $10,000 towards a real ethics program for the profession?

I don't think we have a choice.

Thinking Like Groucho Marx


Groucho once said, "I would never join any club that would have me as a member." I know what he means. The public relations clubs I want to join won't let people like me in and those that will, well, let's just say I don't regret resigning from the Public Relations Society of America.

Now before folks like my friend Jack O'Dwyer get all excited about that last comment, let me explain what I mean and why I've been thinking like Groucho recently.

The PRSA played a significant role in my success in this business. I must have attended dozens of conferences on media relations and I know somewhere in my home office I have at least a half dozen audio tapes from conferences on everything from crisis management to why the media hates us so much. Hell, I even have my APR certificate hanging in my office and once thought it actually meant something (I'll write a separate post on that in a few days).

But you reach a point in your career where "meet the media" events aren't where you go to get to know the key reporters who cover your client. And if all an APR gets you is a chance to vote at an assembly meeting then what's the point?

So, you look for a higher plane like the Arthur Page Society. But they won't let you in if you are not the most senior communications executive in your organization - and I'm not.

What we have folks is a huge gap that needs to be filled. Sure, the Institute for Public Relations, Page and the Council of PR Firms have gotten together to create one of the best professional development opportunities out there in the Public Relations Executive Forum conferences that are led by Professor Donald Wright, but it's not enough.

We need to focus on who the future leaders of this profession are going to be. And we not only need to train them through rock solid professional development (like Professor Wright's seminars or the Masters in Communications Management that Newhouse offers), but we also need to give them a voice to help shape where this profession is going. We don't have that.

Groucho once sang "Hello, I must be going." We can't have our associations be a pit stop for professionals. The PRSA or something like it must emerge as something more like the American Bar Association for the public relations profession. Ethics will be the cornerstone of whatever association emerges.

So, like Groucho I say to the PRSA, "I'm glad I came, but just the same I must be going." Sadly, I'm not the only one and the profession's future may hang in the balance.

Thank God It's Friday


It's Friday - the first one this blog has seen. And I'm taking the opportunity to set a policy. It's easy to say "Thank God it's Friday" and kiss another work week goodbye - and believe me I do, but it's also easy to forget to say thanks to the people that have helped all of us succeed in this business. So, every Friday I plan to take a minute to thank those who have really changed the course of my career and made me who I am today. You can ask them to apologize for what they've done if you meet them at a bar one night!

So, starting at the beginning thanks go to: Angelo Parra (my first public relations teacher); Fred Garcia (the public relations teacher I wanted to be); Robert Wood (the late former leader of Carl Byoir) for taking an interest in a kid who liked his book "Confessions of a PR Man" (a must read); recruiter Len Daniels for getting me my first job and telling me over lunch one day he thought I was full of myself; and Robert Wick for telling me I was a fraud and a failure (at the ripe old age of 21) and giving me the drive to be able to tell him one day that he was wrong.

Happy Friday everybody and thanks!

It's Performance Review time


Public Relations is a lot like baseball. We all strive to make the “perfect pitch.” Getting a “hit” is all part of a day’s work. So, when I embarked on my public relations career – still high on the memory of the New York Mets defeating the Boston Red Sox in the 1986 World Series, I thought if I could apply these basic principles of baseball I’d be a “PR All Star” in no time.And then it happened: my first performance review. I barely had one year of experience under my belt, but I thought I might receive a verbal pat on the back and maybe a small bump in salary. Alas, like a bedazzled Boston Red Sox fan who assumed the Mets would lose the World Series – I was wrong.For those who aren’t baseball fans, in 1986 the Mets defeated the Red Sox in a stunning comeback. My performance review didn’t go nearly as well. Those who listened to the games on the radio may recall New York Mets’ announcer Bob Murphy shouting, “The Mets win! They win!” If you were a fly on the wall during my performance review you’d undoubtedly recall the words my boss said to me: “Ken, you’re a fraud and a failure who will be found out at any agency you go to large or small.”I felt like I’d been hit in the head by a fastball.O.K. What I did next changed my career. When the meeting was over I left the office and walked down Fifth Avenue to the library at New York University. I’m not really sure why. I had graduated from NYU the year before and I guess in some Freudian way I was trying to crawl back into the womb of academia. I took the elevator to the library’s seventh floor. NYU has a large public relations collection, and as I perused the shelves one book caught my attention, if only because of its prescient title. It was “Your Future in Public Relations” by Edward Bernays. In the book Bernays outlines what he believed to be the ideal qualifications for a public relations professional. Naturally, I was eager to see how I matched up against his list. Character and integrity were the most important personal traits of the public relations professional, wrote Bernays. The public relations professional first owes integrity to society, then to his clients or employers, and as importantly to himself, he continued.Bernays may be the father of public relations, but for me at that moment he was more like Polonius giving advice to Laertes. I quit my job the next day.Playing basketball with my brother for the next two weeks, I kept thinking about the Bernays book. I discovered I was a terrible basketball player, but thought I still might amount to something in public relations.I made a checklist of the qualifications Bernays described:- Act with integrity in everything you do- Be guided by objectivity; don’t just tell clients what they want to hear- Be discreet and honor confidences like a doctor or lawyer- Understand the principles of psychology – what makes people tick- Have an imagination – which Bernays called “that rare and sparkling quality which springs to life automatically under proper stimuli”- Develop a broad cultural background – essential in dealing with people, ideas, and trends in society- Be insightful – see the implications of actions- Read as much as possible – business magazines, newspapers, lifestyle publications, etc.I’d like to say that at the age of 21 I had mastered these traits, but I don’t think anyone really can so early in life. Fortunately, as time went on I managed to be surrounded by professionals and opportunities that allowed me to develop these skills time and again. One of those professionals was Howard Paster, former chairman and CEO of H[...]



Let me put this in PeRspective - I'm a public relations man. I'm a publicist, a power broker, a spin doctor, a corporate counselor - my brother says I'm a "professional liar." In reality there isn't any perspective because public relations has done a fairly bad job at defining what we do. This blog will largely be dedicated to bringing some clarity and definition to our profession.

I never wanted to be in PR. I wanted to be a lawyer. But after CBS cancelled the "Paper Chase" and I became a fan of the "Lou Grant" show I wanted to be a reporter. Alas the fourth estate wasn't meant to be a career for me. So, I pursued the next best thing - becoming a PR man, where I thought I could still be an advocate for my clients (like a lawyer) and be a professional storyteller (like a journalist).

At least I think that's the reason - I like to tell myself it is. But as I look back at the notebook I've somehow kept from my first public relations class at New York University I think I'm a PR man for an entirely different reason - the girls. On page one of the notebook I used in that first class I circled (and shamelessly starred in red) the percentage of women that worked in the field!

I write that because 20 years later it strikes me as amusing, but also because it's evidence for me that at the time I had no idea what profession I was getting into.

I've learned a lot over the years and I hope to use this blog to share some of those experiences. In the process I hope to learn a bit more about who who we are as a profession and where we might be going.

I like to think we're a profession with principles. To get things started here are the principles Ivy Lee used to set up his press office:

Ivy Lee's Declarations of Principles
1) This is not a secret press bureau. All our work is done in the open. We aim to supply news.
2) This is not an advertising agency. If you think any of our matter ought properly to go to your business office, do not use it.
3) Our matter is accurate. Further details on any subject treated will be supplied promptly, and any editor will be assisted most carefully in verifying directly any statement of fact.
4) In brief, our plan is frankly, and openly, on behalf of business concerns and public institutions, to supply the press and public of the United States prompt and accurate information concerning subjects which it is of value and interest to the public to know about.

Wouldn't it be great if that's how reporters (or at least my brother) really viewed what we do?