As a former campaign director, last week’s GOP convention was good political theatre to me. But as a PR person, the commentary around it rankled me a lot. Several times I saw and heard pundits state that presidential conventions are little more that public relations events. While that may be so, what bothered me was that sometimes, in the same sentence, the pundits would talk about spin and lies as if this was part of the candidates’ public relations strategy.
You can believe or not believe that lies were told and spin was spun at the convention. But please don’t say PR, by definition, is distortion of facts. For many years the public relations profession has suffered from a terribly misguided perception that this is what we do.
Yes, there are crooked politicians, poor teachers, shiftless salespeople, incompetent CEOs, and bad people in every profession. But I’ve worked with and for politicians, teachers, salespeople, and CEOs, and my experience is that nearly all do their job honestly and competently. And yes, there are a few PR people who lie or spin or just leave facts out. If I may reference a silly ’70s pop song from the signing Osmond Brothers: “One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl!”
It’s up to the present and future PR professionals to constantly set the record straight through our words and through competent and ethical performance. We will always follow the profound Ivy Ledbetter Lee, one of the fathers of modern public relations, who said in his 1906 “Declaration of Principles”: “Our matter is accurate… 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.” That, dear pundits, is what PR is all about. Your thoughts?
When Steve Jobs died this week an immediate concern was, “Can Apple be the same innovative company without him?” It’s because the man had become the brand. For Apple, this was a good thing. But for some companies, being so closely associated with their top man has not always been ideal.
A century ago, John D. Rockefeller, head of Standard Oil, was so hated for his monopolistic and callous ways, that he hired one of the fathers of modern public relations, Ivy Ledbetter Lee, to tell him how to change his image and with it, public perceptions of his businesses. Henry Ford was highly successful and respected but put his company at risk when it was revealed that he supported Adolf Hitler, and subsequently for decades there were thousands of people who wouldn’t by a Ford. Conversely, Ford’s friend Thomas Edison, one of the greatest inventors ever known, could do no wrong. The public revered him and his companies benefited by his popularity.
In my lifetime, hundreds of CEOs and founders have become TV pitchmen for the products that bear their names. The late Tom Carvel, Frank Purdue and Orville Redenbacher, for example, created well-known products which the public, by design, closely identified with them. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and Bill Gates’ Microsoft are more current examples of how closely companies can become associated with their founders. In many circles, Murdoch’s media power has become a liability for his firm. Gates might have had a similar fate to Rockefeller until he also began sharing most of his wealth with those less fortunate, thereby making his unimaginable success more palatable to the public.
My guess is that innovation won’t stop at Apple. But I doubt that anyone else will rise to actually become the Apple brand. Few have done it–and done it so successfully–as Steve Jobs. Your thoughts?