Aug 23

For every APCO, there always seems to be a Command PR

(Tip o' RepMan's rock climbing helmet to Julie Farin for this blog idea.)

Kathy Cripps, president of The Council of PR Firms, recently waxed poetic about APCO's Alg_spin_crowd high-profile role in H-P's dismissal of CEO Mark Hurd (a knee jerk reaction based on poor counseling in this blogger's opinion, BTW).

In her blog, Kathy opined that PR no longer needs to aspire to gain a seat at the C-suite table because we already have. I posted a response to the effect, “Well, maybe, some have. But, we still have a long, long way to go.”

PR IS making great strides and, regardless of APCO's questionable counseling, we ARE being invited to attend more and more strategic decision making pow-wows. But, virtually no one knows it.

Thanks to Hollywood, the average American still thinks PR consists of little more than celebrity party planning, intra-office 'Jersey Shore' type dramas and mindless, bubblegum-chewing girls manning the phones.

The latest travesty is being broadcast on E! and is called 'The Spin Crowd.' It follows the exploits of Command PR, its histrionic owner, Jonathan Cheban, and his manic staff. Cheban says his new show is different than its predecessors and depicts PR as: “We're not just sitting there, wearing all black and looking depressed,” he said. “We're a lot more exciting. We're out there working it. We go to the Hamptons. We're in Miami. We're in planes and yachts, and the girls always look gorgeous and fashionable.” Hmmm, that does sound much more like the PR that I know. Ed, for example, rarely wears black. And, the man is “always working it.” Ted, now that I think of it, always seems headed to the Hamptons to counsel some mysterious client. And, me, well I do my best to look gorgeous and fashionable each and every day.

I jest. But, shows like ‘The Spin Crowd’ do real damage to PR's image. This is purely anecdotal to be sure, but I guarantee the average college or university PR major is much more likely to watch ‘The Spin Crowd’ and be sucked in by the drama than they are to scan the pages of The Wall Street Journal and analyze the APCO/H-P story (which, BTW, contains enough accusations of sexual hijinks, financial malfeasances and other good “stuff and things” to grab the attention of even the most ADD-addled 21-year-old).

Our industry leaders can write all the self-congratulatory blogs they like. The fact is, though, that Americans understand LESS about public relations today than ever before. Oh, and by the way, shame on PR Week for naming Kelly Cutrone one of the 25 most influential people in PR. If you aren't part of the solution, PR Week staffers, you're part of the problem. Question: will we see Jonathan Cheban vying with Richard Edelman for the coveted top spot in your 2011 rankings?

Jul 12

Was Isaac H. Brown the George Washington of PR?

Depending upon who you ask, Edward Bernays or Ivy Lee is typically credited as having
11brown-cityroom-articleInline 'invented' modern public relations.

But, if one agrees that the average American believes PR is little more than party planning (and PR Week lends that ersatz supposition credibility by naming Kelly Cutrone to its list of PR's 25 most powerful people), then Isaac H. Brown should be seen as our industry's George Washington.

A fascinating New York Times article says the 339-pound Brown was the original Manhattan party planner. In fact, from 1845 until his death in 1880, Brown was the go-to guy for New York's monied class. He'd plan the most minute details of weddings, parties and must-attend events. A chronicler of the era lauded Brown's “…efficiency and authoritative manner.” I wonder if he screamed at his lackeys and played head games with them a la Ms. Cutrone?

Like Ms. Cutrone and her badly abused minions, Brown knew “…just the right merchants from whom tables, chairs and appropriate linen could be rented.” Man, would the housewives of New York and New Jersey not kill for a party planner like the I-Man?

If we are willing to abdicate the image and reputation of PR to party planners, why not go all the way and create an Isaac H. Brown Society (a la The Arthur Page Society, which honors the legacy of America's first corporate communications executive to serve as officer and member of the Board of a major public corporation.) The Brown Society should be highly selective in its membership criteria, choosing only those party planners who have rammed their Mercedes SUVs into Long Island restaurants, besmirched the image of public relations in a long-running television and movie series (think “Sex and the City”) or publicly berated underperforming employees a la Ms. Cutrone. I'd also limit membership to party planners of 25 years of age, or under (Ms. Cutrone and her ilk would be 'grandfathered' into the Society and be named permanent members of the executive committee). The female gender would constitute 90 percent of the Brown Society's membership. Poor behavior would be encouraged at the annual spring conference and backbiting encouraged throughout the year.

Based upon party planning's meteoric rise, I could see the Isaac H. Brown Society becoming our dominant industry organization. There really would be no need for Page, PRSA, the Counselors Academy or IAB since more and more high school and college students aspire to “…do, like, cool parties and like, um, check in celebrities at black tie events and, um, yeah, cool stuff like that. And, wear, like uber cool clothes and stuff.”

Wherever he is, I'll bet Isaac H. Brown is laughing a hearty, 339-lb belly laugh. Manhattan's original party planner was way, way, way head of his time. And, how sad is that for him, for today's party planners and, for the declining fortunes of PR's overall image and reputation?