The public relations world could use more people like Ned Gerrity, the former ITT PR chief who died last week at the age of 85.
This blogger fondly remembers Gerrity from dealings with him while at The Gallagher Report, a marketing and advertising newsletter. Chief Barney Gallagher had one golden rule for his editors: never talk to a PR person, always talk to the top guy. The sole exception to the rule: Ned Gerrity.
Gerrity, who presided over ITT’s massive PR machine, always gave Gallagher and his crew the low-down on “Hungry Hal” Geneen’s crazy acquisition game plan. Why trust Gerrity? The guy was plugged in. PR people today talk about a "seat at the management table." Gerrity had more than a seat. He was Geneen's right-hand man, ready to talk about odd deals such as Continental Baking, the maker of Twinkies.
Gerrity was always available for lunch. He easily shot the breeze and served as an invaluable background source on goings-on in Big Business. He happily supplied juicy tidbits about the break-up of ATT into the Baby Bells or dished scuttlebutt from Washington.
Gerrity, of course, was no angel. He was charged with perjury for lying to a Senate investigative panel into the overthrow and death of Chile’s President Salvatore Allende. Muckraker Jack Anderson revealed ITT’s effort to fund opponents of Allende, who threatened and then succeeded into nationalizing ITT’s Chilean telephone operation.
Despite Gerrity’s media savvy, ITT never really recovered from Chile and reports that it donated to the 1972 Republican National Convention in exchange for the Nixon Administration’s dropping of an antitrust suit. ITT became a symbol of corporate imperialism and corruption on campuses throughout the U.S.
Geneen was a goner in 1978, and so was Gerrity -- in a sense. The dismantling of ITT began under buttoned-up Rand Araskog. The West Point/Harvard educated CEO Araskog was the anti-Geneen and his mission was to destroy the Geneen machine. Pitching the media about the dismantling of one of America’s great conglomerates wasn’t a very appealing task to Gerrity.
The larger-than-life PR man went out in style. ITT suspended Gerrity in 1985 for allegedly giving some negative information about management to the press. Ned denied the charge and set up his New York-based shop.
Can you imagine any corporate PR person today likely to get bounced by management for working the press? Press-avoidance is the general order of the day.
Gerrity was a character. PR needs more character and characters.