John F. Budd Jr., a member of major PR groups and counselor to blue chip companies who nevertheless kept a maverick frame of mind, died Nov. 21 at age 88.

He had run his own firm since 1991 after 30 years at the former No. 2 firm of Carl Byoir & Assocs. and seven years at Emhart.

Budd criticized corporate PR for having little impact on financial scandals such as Enron and Tyco in the early 2000’s and the more recent scandals involving AIG and major financial institutions.

John Budd
Corporate PR people. said Budd, a ten-year member of (PR) Seminar who was given the PR Society’s Gold Anvil in 1988, behaved more like “courtiers than counsel.” He felt they were mostly “ignored” or just used to transmit corporate messages created by others.

Created “Credibility Index,” Sought Griswold Home

Budd created the $150,000 research project called the “National Issues Credibility Index” whose results (“PR specialist” landed 43rd in credibility on a list of 45 information sources) put the PR Society in the equivalent of cardiac arrest in 1999.

credibility rankingPRS never printed the list in any of its publications and kept publicity to a minimum, neither sending out a release on the study nor using PR Newswire or Business Wire to publicize it.

Rather than discuss the study with this website, 1999 PRS president Sam Waltz said PRS staffers and officers would no longer take any questions from O’Dwyer reporters because they were “taking up too much time.” The boycott was lifted at the first session of the 2000 board.

A close friend of Denny Griswold, editor of PR News, Budd drew up a contract in 1995 that would donate her four-story townhouse at 127 E. 80th st. to PRS while providing her lifetime use of it. She and husband Langdon Sullivan had no children.

However, Griswold’s niece Susan Prager Garrett, found out about the plan and was instrumental in blocking any contact by PR people with Griswold for the last five-and-a-half years of her life. Griswold, who broke her hip in 1995, spent them in the Wilton Meadows Health Care Center, Wilton, Conn. The power of attorney held by Prager was used to block phone calls, visitors and mail except by the immediate relatives of Sullivan.

Garrett sold the townhouse for $3.6 million in 1998 and Griswold’s 18-acre estate in Weston, Conn. Its value was $3-$6 million.

Theresa Cusano, longterm care ombudsman, said Griswold’s PR friends should have gone to the police since it’s illegal to hold anyone incommunicado. Caretaker David Morris, who sneaked past the Wilton Meadows desk one day, said he found Griswold alert and in good health but wondering where all her friends were.

Budd at Byoir, Emhart

Surviving Budd are his wife of 58 years, Elaine, a mystery writer and critic; daughter Tracy McRoberts, and son Jonathan. A brother William lives in California and sister Marjorie in Florida.

A memorial service will take place Thursday, Dec. 29 at 11 a.m. at St. John’s of Lattingtown, Long Island.

Budd was at Byoir from 1949-79, rising to group VP and member of the plans board. He was at Emhart Corp. as VP-external relations from 1979-86. He returned to Byoir, then a unit of Hill & Knowlton, as vice chairman from 1988-91.

He then set up The Omega Group of senior PR counselors who worked with numerous blue chips including AT&T, General Motors, Merck, Deere, BellSouth, Union Carbide and Sara Lee as well as educational institutions including Columbia, Syracuse and Weslyan Universities. He became an expert on nonprofit boards, serving on 22 of them.

Although a member and program committee member of (PR) Seminar ten years, he rapped its members hard on the knuckles in 2009 for scheduling their annual meeting at the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel, Calif. Such a meeting, in the middle of a recession, sent the wrong message about corporate America, he felt.

He said the decision to go ahead with the meeting “smacks of the sort of hubris for which their CEO’s have been accused—an arrogant demonstration of tone deafness in light of public and media outrage when such ‘retreats’ at posh resorts are reported.”

Two meetings of executives of bailout recipient AIG at plush resorts in 2008 had received heavy publicity. Budd advised Seminar to switch the meeting to a hotel in New York or Washington, D.C. He said he would be “very uncomfortable” taking part in an event that cost the average Seminar couple $6,300 and has a total cost of nearly $1 million.

While on the subject of Seminar, he also rapped its decision to drop “PR” from its name. “What management discipline do they represent?” he asked. “Is this some sort of affectation that presumes some policy role unknown to chief executives?”

Saw Corp. PR as Weakened

Budd said in 2009 that senior PR executives, “who boast of their access to the CEO, had failed to save CEOs from “boneheaded conduct” that “significantly increased the trust deficit.”

The executives, he said, have exhibited “collective impotence in persuading iconic CEOs to exercise common sense in dealing with public exposes.”

There have been “notable” exceptions, he added, but their PR counseling has been limited to “the mechanics of communications.”

Budd defined PR as “the management of perceptions.” He was a founding member of the Fellows of the PR Society; a trustee of the Arthur W. Page Society; member of the Wisemen of New York, and received three awards of the National Investor Relations Institute.

“Observations,” a newsletter covering PR aspects of current issues, was published bi-monthly for many years.

Turtle Publishing of Omega published six monographs and booklets—“CEO Credibility: The Management of Reputation”; “Street Smart PR”; “how to Manage Your ROE: Return on Expectations”; “How to Get Along with the Press—and Why”; The 12 Immutable Laws of (non-profit) Chairmanship,” and “How to Change Your (PR) Job into a Career: the Da Vinci Factor.”

Created Ill-fated “PR Credibility Index”

An Omega Report published in April 2004 recapped the accomplishments of the group and listed one of them has having “Conceived and played an instrumental role in the creation of a nationwide ‘Credibility Index.’”

The PRS and Rockefeller Foundations contributed $150,000 and a team of researchers was hired headed by Ronald Hinckley, Ph.D., formerly with the National Security Council; Robert Shapiro, Ph.D., professor of political science, Columbia University, and Lawrence Bobo, Ph.D., professor of sociology and Afro-American studies at Harvard.

Hinckley, most recently director of research, U.S. Information Agency, previously was with the National Security Council as director of special studies in crisis
management. He had published extensively on public opinion including People, Polls and Policymakers.

A brochure for the Credibility Index said it “represents for the PR Society a responsible and innovative initiative in the complex field of public opinion study, assessment and measurement.”

The study took three years to plan and two to execute. Interviewed were 2,500 members of the public resulting in 5,000 pages of materials.
Jonathan Bargh, New York University psychologist quoted in the brochure, said it would “determine the degree to which an individual trusts the person advocating or espousing a position on an issue.”

The PRS Foundation enlisted the support of the Rockefeller Foundation which donated $75,000 with the proviso that opinions of minorities be included.

The low standing of “PR specialist” caught PRS by surprise and it could think of no other strategy but to give the study as little publicity as possible. An announcement was made in Rockefeller Foundation offices just before the July 4 holiday and PR Week/U.S. was the only PR publication invited.

Launching a campaign to offset the finding would have been difficult since PRS in 1999 had only one PR staffer, Richard George. He quit that September just before the national conference.

PRS followed the policy set by 1980 president Patrick Jackson who said the h.q. staff should be comprised almost entirely of professional association people.

Waltz announced in the previous month that PRS would no longer deal with O’Dwyer Co. reporters.

The O’Dwyer NL editorialized that the reason for the boycott was that PRS leaders and staff did not want to answer questions about the study.

PR director George, refusing to be involved in such a boycott, quit, leaving only COO Ray Gaulke and program director Judy Voss as staffers who were also members of PRS. PR coordinator Heather Rogers had quit earlier in the year.

The boycott caused by the Credibility study resulted in a member charging the entire PRS board with violation of five articles in the Code of Ethics.

Faced with trying the charges before one of its judicial panels, as had been done in previous instances of ethical charges, the Ethics Board headed by Bob Frause of Seattle decided to abandon enforcement of the Code and write an entirely new one.

That was done over the next two years at a cost of $195,000.