Over the years, I’ve been called many things during my PR career:
- A gatekeeper,
- a purveyor of false information,
- a distorter of the truth,
- a defender of the indefensible,
- a maverick,
- and a cynic.
The first four comments were made to me by journalists who didn’t know me personally, even though they were never true because as a reporter and editor for several years prior to joining the PR business, I would never purposely mislead the media. The maverick comment was by clients, who admired my out-of-the box approach to the established PR tenets that dated back to the days of the Neanderthals. And the cynic by high-ranking executives, when I toiled for almost 25 years at Burson-Marsteller (although being a maverick did not always make management happy, it never prevented me from being assigned to manage or play key roles in national and international flag ship accounts).
The reason I was called a cynic is because I believed that the praises I received from top management was nothing more than sand castles on a beach that would eventually be washed away by the incoming waves. (Keep the big offices and fancy titles and show me the money was my motto long before it was used in a movie.)
Below are statements that I’ve heard over the years in our business that should not be taken seriously. People who have been in the PR rodeo for a while know better. Unfortunately, newcomers to our business take them seriously.
- With your talent, you’ll always have a job here.
- You’re making a mistake by leaving. Your career path here has no limit.
- Stick with me and as I advance you will.
- You’re like family.
For the great majority of employees, working at a PR agency can be compared to the ups and downs of the stock market
During a bull market, financial advisors look great and everything is rosy. That’s similar to an agency that is experiencing growth. But when the market tanks, the rose-colored glasses become foggy. That’s similar to an agency that loses an account or two and forgets the promises made to employees.
During my almost 25 years at Burson-Marsteller, where as a senior counselor and troubleshooter I worked with more people than any other individual, (I was recruited after 10 years from a smaller national agency), I refused management’s request to place people on the firing list because I believed there was a flaw in the hiring process.
I also was always honest when asked for my advice
In fact, my advice to practitioners who asked my opinion about leaving for a new job was, “Do what’s best for you because the agency will do what’s best for it.” I once was called on the carpet when high management learned that I gave that advice to a well-thought-of employee. My reply was, “I have to look in the mirror every morning when shaving.”
Occasionally, I would show a person a laminated slogan that was given to me at my first PR job, at a political firm. It contained a line that Nicola Machiavelli wrote in “The Prince”: “The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present.”