The Arthur W. Page Center presented the Larry Foster Award for Integrity in Public Relations on Feb. 22 to Bill George, senior fellow at Harvard Business School and former CEO of Medtronic; John Onoda, consultant at Gagen MacDonald; and the late PBS NewsHour host Gwen Ifill. The awards were handed out at a ceremony held at the Grand Hyatt - Midtown Manhattan Hotel.
(L) Gary Sheffer (sr. corp. strategist, Weber Shandwick) and (R) Lisa Davis (corp. VP, communications at Northrop Grumman Corporation), honored Gwen Ifill
Honoree John Onoda (consultant at Gagen MacDonald)
The awards, which honor media professionals whose careers embody the ideals of committing to the truth and maintaining ethical practice in all aspects of their careers, are named for Larry Foster, who began his career as a journalist and went on to become the chief of public relations at Johnson & Johnson, shepherding the company through the Tylenol scandal.
Bill Nielsen, the Center's advisory board chair, said in his opening remarks that Foster's"vision was that all of us engage in communication with the public; journalist, public relations people and as business communication executives, who share their responsibilities with the truth and fact-based reporting in our work."
Nielsen also spoke about the erosion and restoration of public trust. He observed that the recently released Edelman Trust Barometer points to a sharp decline of trust in sources of information and a growing disregard for facts, data and analysis in both political and civil discourse. That problem was also the focus of a recent study released by Rand Corporation called "Truth Decay." Combatting this decline, he said, will entail many years of recovery.
Bill George was honored by Maril MacDonald, founder, and CEO of consulting firm Gagen MacDonald. George's Five Quick Principles to live by were cited:
• The truth is always going to come out, so you might as well be very transparent in telling your story.
• Tell your own story. Don't let someone else tell it for you.
• As a company, you have to transform yourself. There is probably truth in the problems and you have to correct your own problems first.
• Tell the good news every day.
• You've got to be present. Tell the deep story. Tell the story behind the story.
Ifill was honored by former vice president of communications at General Electric Gary Sheffer and Lisa Davis, a life-long friend of Ifill’s and VP of communications at Northrop Grumman Corporation.
(L to R) Barry Spector (creative director at Spector & Associates), Shelley Spector (president, Spector Corporate Communications/founder & director of Museum of Public Relations), Jane Landers (associate publisher, O'Dwyer's) and Dick Martin (former exec. VP, PR & brand management at At&T)
Judy Woodruff, who co-anchored the PBS NewsHour with Ifill, said her mantra was to "stick to what we know and let the audience make up their own minds about what to make of it."
Davis said, "People were simply drawn to her because they felt a closeness or kinship. On a professional level, her character expressed itself with objectivity and fairness. If she had political opinions, you could never tell, once you were on the air."
Onoda was honored by Tom Martin, executive-in-residence at the College of Charleston and former vice president of communications at ITT and FedEx. Martin compared Onoda to Yoda of in the Star Wars trilogy, saying both were "known for sage wisdom, their poetic language and unmatched ability to mentor others."
"Prove It With Action" was the Page Center principle Onoda focused on in addressing the audience. "Integrity in Public Communications is important now more than ever," he said, at a time "when skepticism and cynicism towards communication has become second nature for most listeners."
In his closing remarks, Nielsen said, "Change for the better is only achieved through effective communication with the public. We need to create awareness initially, understanding of the facts and the truth, to articulate the rationale for change and to encourage the acceptance of change."