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The invasion of public relations' domain by lawyers and marketers.

First the lawyer invasion." I have repeatedly emphasized over the years in my speeches and in my writings that by far the most important task in public relations is monitoring the public opinion environment to sensitize top management so that it can deal effectively with that climate and, thus, head off storms before they reach hurricane strength.

To little amount of disillusionment with the efficacy of public relations set in when most of our number in the U.S. failed to read the implications for all institutions of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark separate-but-equal case Brown v. Board of Education in the '50s; failed to discern the implications and consequences of U.S. authors Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," or Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique" in the '60s. Too many industries and institutions were ambushed by the crisis of the civil rights movement, the ecology movement, and the feminist movement, all of which continue to pose difficult problems for organizations, profit and nonprofit alike. These failures on our part caused too many corporations to turn back to lawyers or personnel managers for their public affairs counsel akin to the dark ages of the early 1900s.

The increasing role that lawyers are playing in our field, particularly in Washington, D.C., takes us back to the beginnings of the practice. That was a day when Ivy Lee, who many consider one of the fathers of PR, was telling corporate leaders that if you want to obfuscate an issue or steamroller a legislature, get yourself a lawyer. Lee wrote: "I have seen more situations which the public ought to understand and which the public would sympathize with, spoiled by the intervention of a lawyer than in any other way." He argued that if you want to get your story to the public you should hire a former newspaper journalist.

PR arrived in Washington, D.C. at turn of century

On January 18, 1991, the New York Times published a letter from me to correct the mistaken notion, printed in a story of January 14, that public relations had just arrived on Capitol Hill. As I pointed out, public relations counselors had been involved in efforts to influence the U.S. Congress since William Wolff Smith established his publicity office in Washington in 1902. In the Times letter, I cited the fact that the nation's railroads had employed the Publicity Bureau of Boston in 1906 to wage a publicity campaign against U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt's consummate use of PR and the validity of his cause. In 1910 they also had lost a campaign to get a rate increase from the Interstate Commerce Commission. When Ivy Lee returned from London to the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1912, they were ready to listen to his counsel. The lawyer-lobbyists had been of no avail in 1906 nor in 19 1 0. Lee persuaded the railroads to mount a publicity campaign to gain public support for this increase. The executives agreed with Lee that they had not told their story to the public through the press. Lee argued: "If you go to the people and get the people to agree with you, you can be sure ultimately legislatures, commissions, and everybody else must give way in your favor." These thoughts of Lee's were quoted in my letter. Its publication brought a number of letters from counselors who applauded Lee and indicated that they were being squeezed out by corporate counsel. Permit me to quote from a few of these letters:

"Before I retired, I was executive vice president (of an insurance trade organization). I fought a losing battle. As money became tight in insurance, there was a tendency on the part of companies and their associations to turn over their public relations functions to lawyers, and to ignore any others." The following response came from a person trained as a lawyer and who practiced 10 years in San Francisco: Rarely do you see in print such a good description of the inherent struggle between legal counsel and public relations and, in fact, lobbying.... When I was recruited in 1975 by - to form a lobbying operation in Washington, D.C., my main condition was that it have equal status with the legal department in NYC headquarters and be of equal rank.... Most corporate lawyers are too risk averse to be good lobbyists. To be really good at it, you have to have the authority to make decisions fast, not to reply constantly, 'I have to check with our lawyers in New York first.'...

While I am hardly negative on the legal profession, I do happen to think it has gained too much power in corporate life."

A good friend and a woman who has her own agency in Washington, D.C. wrote me: "It [the letter] is right on target. Given the growing power of lawyers these days maybe we should just give up fighting them on public policy issues, but require every law graduate to have a minor in public relations if that is the type of counsel they insist on giving. Or - an even better idea close all the law schools."

A former student, a retired counselor, wrote me of an experience which he had in 1974 in connection with a real estate client who had plans to transform some 10,000 acres of land about 40 miles west of Chicago into a new town like Reston, Va. The land had to be rezoned. "We had prepared the public for the proposal with a series of news releases. A public meeting to present the plan and hear the opponents was arranged. The client selected a Loop [downtown Chicago] attorney as its public spokesman. However, the first words out of his mouth were unscripted and We're here as a matter of right' and went on to explain 'that as owners of the land his group has a legal right to seek its highest and best use.' He kept referring to 'rights' and his constant use of the term created intense opposition that led, after a year of wrangling before the county fathers, to having the development plan rejected outright."

PR practitioners fade away lawyers step in Nonetheless, we in public relations must ask ourselves why corporations, in particular, are continuing to listen to lawyers for public relations counsel instead of the seasoned practitioner. Why, for example, was the late and respected Kerryn King the last of our number in the oil industry? The U.S.' seven major oil companies all have lawyers as heads of their public affairs departments. Is it because today organizations see their large PR problems narrowly as matters of legislation and litigation? Or is it our failure to produce counselors who can take a broader view and do the job better? Who can take the lead in solving problems?

I agree with the findings in the Initial Data Report of IABC's valuable study, "Excellence in Public Relations and Communication Management, that "CEOs who value excellent public relations often do not have excellent departments in the organizations they head in large part because of a shortage of knowledgeable, strategic public relations managers and an oversupply of public relations technicians." I've been preaching this line for many years.

The education and mind set of most lawyers handicap them in their role of public relations counselors. The lawyer's basic attitude I heard once expressed succinctly by a General Motors attorney: "Tell 'em nothing, deny everything." We saw this attitude writ large in Exxon's disastrous response to the Alaskan Valdez oil spill. Exxon's reputation was bound to suffer after a captain ran his tanker aground in the pristine waters of Prince William Sound. But unquestionably Exxon greatly worsened the damage to its public standing by failing to seize control of developments after the spill and establish itself as a company concerned about the problems it had caused. Exxon's lawyer-counselors violated most of the cardinal rules on crisis management. This will become a textbook example of what not to do when a crisis comes calling. I can assure you of that. Contrast Exxon's failures with johnson & Johnson's successful defusion of its Tylenol crisis - that response directed by a seasoned public relations officer - Larry Foster. That too, has become a textbook example.

Marketing is not PR

Now to the marketing fad: There is a growing movement to merge public relations into marketing - that marketing support is the be-all and the end-all of public relations. This confusion has its source in the teaching and textbooks of Philip Kotler of Northwestern University. In Kotler's view, marketing is the primary function in both business and nonprofit agencies. Hospitals across the country are accepting his view of "social marketing" and abandoning the title of public relations for that of marketing. This new emphasis on marketing has reached its pinnacle at General Motors which once set the pace for public relations as it did for cars. But no longer. Today at GM public relations no longer operates at the presidential policy-making level as it did in the days of Paul Garrett, one of the pioneering giants of our field, and Anthony De Lorenzo. Instead, it has a communication and marketing staff with a marketer, Jim Fitzpatrick, supervising Bill Quigley, who is in charge of executive communication. One of my former students who has a successful public relations agency in Atlanta, Ga., recently issued a promotional brochure on "how we can help with your marketing problems." When I gently chided her about confusing public relations with marketing, she replied, "We have clients who are more comfortable with the term marketing so we use it." This is a disturbing trend in our field.

Let us make it clear that one of public relations' functions is to support the marketing of goods and services. But it is only one of public relations' functions. Professor Kotler blurs the two functions and his definition of marketing reads as though it were public relations. Unlike Kotler, his colleague, Thomas Harris, in his new book, "The Marketers' Guide to Public Relations," separates the practice of public relations and states that public relations will remain a management function concerned with the company's relationships with all its constituent publics. I will steadfastly hold to my view that the public relations staff function is to advise and support the line organization functions and the other assist-advise staffs. I have always seen public relations as an in-house agency serving all top management. Public relations' sensitivity is needed in the promotion of products and services - as many a corporation has learned to its chagrin. Kotler, Harris and their followers argue "marketing public relations helps the company achieve its objectives by serving as protector and promoter of the company's image among various publics." I loathe the word mage and Kotler is an image devotee - he tells his readers, his students and his many audiences that "image is a set of beliefs, ideas, and impressions that a person holds of an object." My Webster's tells me that an "image is a reproduction or imitation of a person or thing." I insist that we in public relations should be concerned with guarding and enhancing an organization's reputation.

National Biscuit Company sold change, not crackers The Kotlers who have made this great new discovery of the role of publicity and promotion in marketing appear to know little of our field's history. Publicity as part of marketing began in 1899 when the N.W. Ayer advertising agency helped the National Biscuit Company take the cracker out of the barrel and put it in a sanitary package. In its revolutionary advertising campaign, Ayer quickly discovered that it was selling change, not crackers, and that took education of the public on the importance of sanitation in foods. The Ayer campaign on behalf of what became Nabisco was "the first to feature a staple food, ready for consumption, and sold in individual packages." This was CHANGE in capital letters at the turn of the century. This was the beginning of Ayer's pioneering in the use of publicity to support its advertisers' marketing campaigns. Every new generation, it seems, has to invent the wheel.

Kotter's marketing be-all, end-all notion is also invading professional fundraising. Kathleen Kelly, Ph.D. has written a provocative new book, "Fund Raising and Public Relations: A Critical Analysis," in which she defines fund raising as a sub-specialty under the public relations banner. She takes issue with my position that the two are coordinate, cooperative functions. In an article sharply critical of the Kotler position, "Marketing: A Flawed and Dangerous Approach to Fund Raising," in the Journal of National Association of Fund Raising Executives, she argues that "a marketing perspective is inappropriate for fund raising because in market exchanges the quid pro quo is fully captured, whereas in gift exchanges some of the benefits spill over into society." She adds: [Al marketing perspective can lead charitable organizations to change their mission, exchanging some of their control or autonomy for gifts."

Last February, I staked out this position in a talk in Stamford, Conn., a talk later reprinted in Jack O'Dwyer's PR Services magazine, and this brought a counterblast from Thomas Harris. In that talk I had quoted Chester Burger's belief that "product promotion in the '90s will increase in cost and be less and less productive." Burger cited "the fragmentation of the mass market, the proliferation of magazines, the decline of network television and rise of cable and VCRs." Harris accused me of slighting the marketing function in my textbook, "Effective Public Relations," saying, "I think that marketing PR, which accounts for some 70 percent of the business handled by agencies worldwide, deserves more than a two-page kiss-off." Harris will be accommodated in the seventh edition of "EPR," due out in 1992. I do not agree with Harris that "far too many marketing executives are woefully underinformed about the value of PR." Harris added: "When Kotler speaks, marketers listen. And he advocates an increased role for PR in gaining understanding of these influential third parties, it should be the cause of rejoicing, not sniping."

Agreeing with me in this debate is Emeritus Professor William P. Ehling of Syracuse University: "The imperialistic urge among marketers is coupled with a kind of intellectual arrogance among marketing textbook authors in which PR is variously defined as an activity subservient to marketing." The most disturbing fact in this over-emphasis on marketing in relation to public relations, is that future business executives in the U.S.' business schools, past and present, were required to take marketing courses, most of which use Kotler's text, but few are exposed to the importance of public relations as a management function. And therein lie problems for the practitioner in dealing with his M.B.A. bosses ! Public relations officials - keep your guard up! Scott M. Cutlip is dean emeritus, The University of Georgia, Athens.


One would wonder why lawyers seem to fare so weft on corporate staffs, at least after reading the results of a recent study of 70 CEOs.

The study, conducted jointly by IABC and The

Group, Inc., New York City, asked chief executives to rank the staff functions in order of their return on dollars invested. Here's how the CEOs voted:

Best return was from sales/marketing, followed by the tie between human resources and research and development.

Public relations/corporate communication came in fourth, beating out advertising and the last place finisher...the legal department.
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Title Annotation:Section 1: Drawing from the Past to Build the Future; includes related article
Author:Cutlip, Scott M.
Publication:Communication World
Date:Jan 1, 1992
Previous Article:It's deja vu all over again or let's not reinvent the wheel unless....
Next Article:The communication gap.

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