Dan Rather Keynote Shines at PRSA-NY 25th Annual Big Apple Awards: Speaks of the Positive Aspects of the PR/Journalist Relationship “At Its Best”
By Lea-Ann Germinder, APR, Fellow PRSA, PresidentEelect of the PRSA-NY Chapter
Editor’s note: The author presided as chair of the PRSA-NY 2012 Big Apple Awards. A gala 25th awards event was celebrated at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Columbus Circle with a special keynote speaker, Dan Rather, legendary news anchor and author of “Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News.” Rather received a standing ovation for his remarks and graciously signed copies of his books for the crowd. In this post, Germinder reflects on the relevancy of his remarks to the public relations profession.
Dan Rather delivers, and then some. The New York Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA-NY) established the Big Apple Awards program in 1988 to encourage excellence in public relations. Founded in 1948, PRSA-NY is one of the founding chapters of PRSA. Today, winning a PRSA-NY Big Apple is considered a prestigious honor and the individual awards mark significant achievements.
New York area public relations professionals gathered recently at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Columbus Circle, to see who won a coveted Big Apple, congratulate the single award winners, and celebrate their success. Here in the room were the practitioners who developed strategies relevant to pressing issues of the year, and then slogged out the long hours to deliver campaigns of excellence. But first, as a special 25th awards tribute, they listened to Dan Rather.
Rather’s appreciation for the hard work of public relations professionals was evident in his pre-event interview with Doug Simon of DS Productions. “Public relations at its best, it serves the client of course, but it serves the larger public interest. And this stuff deals with reporters such as myself and journalism which at its best, quality journalism with integrity, is in the public interest. Yes it can make money, and yes it can serve the stockholders and stockholder value, but at its best it’s in the public interest,” said Rather.
Serving the Public Interest
The Society of Professional Journalist (SPJ) Code of Ethics preamble includes the phrase, “Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty.” The PRSA Member Code of Ethics pledge begins, “I pledge to conduct myself professionally, with truth, accuracy and responsibility to the public.” Likeminded phrases to be sure. However, today’s discourse in public relations is more and more about “building the brand” and how public relations provides relevancy in a “digital” world. In a marketing centric world, “serving the public interest” likely elicits blank stares. Rather brought out our duty to serve the public interest center stage once again.
Most of the heavy lifting of public relations practitioners is done behind the scenes. The same applies to journalists. With information or “content” exploding a t a rapid, real-time rate, the value of credible sources increases. Those sources can be good public relations practitioners. To be sure, no journalist is going to take our word at face value. But if we’ve done our homework, we present a point of view to be researched and/or debated. Rather acknowledged as such in his praise for White House press secretaries that understood the job of journalism. Terms like hack and spin doctors are all too often frequently used in the mainstream media. Rather’s long view of working together to do our respective jobs is certainly closer to the truth.
At Our Best
Rather’s acknowledgement of the value of public relations when we are at our best – serving our clients but serving the public interest – gives public relations practitioners much to ponder. Are we at our best every day? If not, what can we do to get there? In a business environment increasingly focused on marketing the brand versus informing the public, it’s a worthwhile introspective exercise.
At the recent PRSA Leadership Rally for incoming chapter presidents, several conversations took place about public relation’s role within marketing, and in particular relative to brand communications. PRSA Chair-Elect Mickey G. Nall, APR Fellow PRSA, said it so well, “If marketing owns the brand, then public relations owns the reputation.”
Yes we can be members of the brand team. But with that ownership of reputation, our relationships with journalists in serving the public interest, whether traditional, digital, or a combination of both, are equally important. We need to educate, inform and yes, persuade our marketing colleagues why serving the public interest can co-exist with marketing the brand. If I am to understand Mr. Rather’s comments correctly, he accepts we have that role. And we accept that journalists have their role to seek the truth.
Mr. Rather, thank you for giving us thoughts to ponder, and acknowledging our positive role when public relations professionals are “at our best.”
For the complete interview with Dan Rather by Doug Simon, DS Simon Productions, go to http://www.vlogviews.com/danrather/ .
Lea-Ann Germinder, APR, Fellow PRSA is president-elect of the PRSA-NY Chapter and also served as the 2012 Big Apple Awards chair. Germinder has written and presented about the convergence of traditional and social media both nationally and internationally, has mentored many young professionals, and remains committed to playing a leadership role in the continued evolution of the public relations profession. Germinder has served on the board of PRSA-NY for the last three years as Big Apple sponsorship chair and has been a member of PRSA since 1992. She is president of Germinder & Associates, Inc., New York City, an agency that specializes in niche markets.