Dick Martin, Executive Vice-President for Public Relations for AT&T from 1997 to 2003, drew on his experience to offer insights about public relations at the heights of corporate America.
He started by asking “What do we do in PR? Rhetoric? Politics? Ethics? When you start out in PR, it’s all about rhetoric. When you get to the senior level, it’s less about what your client should say. It’s really about what your client should do. And that places public relations in the realm of ethics.”
He bemoaned the current state of PR. “Public relations has degenerated in recent years into a series of techniques that could be taught in any trade school. … If economics is the dismal science, public relations has become the merry art of pseudo events and parties designed to work people into a frenzy.”
“Today, there are armies of PR people trying to inflate expectations of company results. … When drawing attention to our clients, be sure that there is something there to draw attention to.”
Looking to the future, he argued that “PR’s success depends on our clients’ success. The very thing that makes our clients successful – their focus on creating and serving customers – can also be a weakness in communications terms. PR practitioners should consider themselves to be the peripheral vision for our clients, helping them to see and deal with the things they may miss because of their single-minded focus.”
Finally, when asked about the pressure at some firms to take on controversial clients, Martin reminded the audience that, “Every person has the right to a legal defence, but not every person has the right to public relations. There are some situations that are so heinous that public relations should not become involved. Every practitioner should ask themselves whether what they are doing is serving the public interest.”
A thoughtful, pull-no-punches presentation by a man who scaled the heights of our profession and lived to tell about his experiences.