Bob Dilenschneider talks about his company and the failure of the PR business to weed out bad apples that give the craft a bad name:
Q: As you look back to the day you opened The Dilenschneider Group 19 years ago, what do believe has been primarily responsible for your success in a field as fiercely competitive as PR?
A: I was determined from the beginning to hire professional communicators steeped in experience and loaded with talent. You rarely miss with that combination. That’s been the formula that’s given us the reputation we’ve achieved in the world of business. Of course, to be honest, you must mix in some luck.
Q: What kind of clients do you serve?
A: Many of our clients are Fortune 500 companies and a great number are foreign-based. Some have been on the Fortune 10 list. All are famous worldwide. And it has been my experience that the leaders of these icons of business are the easiest to deal with because they recognize the value we bring to their various businesses. We also service mid-cap companies, law firms, associations, philanthropies and individuals who wield great power and influence.
Q: How much has public relations changed over the years?
A: PR is changing every day. Huge advances in technology have had an enormous impact on our profession. The Internet, cellphones, teleconferencing, the computer. If you want to see how technology has changed the playing field, look what the Internet has done to the print media. Count how many newspapers have either disappeared or merged with other newspapers in order to survive? We are living in a digital age and that age is accelerating by the minute.
Q: Do you have standards by which you judge potential clients before you agree to take them on?
A: Certainly. First, we perform due diligence to make sure we’re not wandering into a beehive. Next, we must make sure we can really help a potential client. We make sure that the problem or problems can be solved in a reasonable manner. Over the years, we’ve found some problems are too huge to be solved by public relations or are far past the point where they can be salvaged. There are some CEOs who wait too long before they ask for help. That’s always a mistake. Playing catch-up doesn’t work.
Q: Can you name some of the outstanding professionals who have worked for you and made your success possible?
A: My executive assistant, Joan Avagliano, would lead this parade. She symbolizes the true spirit and identity of our firm: endless dedication, unquestioned loyalty, excellent work habits. Of course those who have made all of this possible would be too numerous too name. Individuals such as Ann McFeatters, Anne Radice, Tamara Hallisey, and Ed Rollins have played a key role in the direction of the Firm. Over the years we have lost several who were some of the best I have ever worked with – Charles Brophy, a Wall Street icon; Jim Wieghart, a former editor of the New York Daily News; and Ted Feurey, a CBS veteran.
Q: Time and Vanity Fair claim lobbying has surpassed PR in influence and importance at many Fortune 500 companies. Is that true?
A: Lobbying to a great extent has different goals from public relations. It’s a different discipline and uses different tools. Its methods of persuasion are more personal and seek to influence legislation. Public relations invokes many disciplines because it addresses wider, more disparate audiences.
Q: Do you ever turn down potential clients?
A: Yes. If we discover they were hiding or glossing over illegal or suspicious behavior…not telling us the full story of their predicament or the full gravity of their problems. And, of course, if we thought we could not help them achieve their goals even if they were as pure as the snow on Mt. Everest.
Q: Did you ever fire a client?
A: Rarely. But we would if we found they were lying to us.
Q: Why does the general public have a poor, and in many cases, a very negative impression of public relations?
A: I believe we have brought it on ourselves. As an industry, we’ve done a very poor job of weeding out the bad apples. So, we’ve been tarred with their brush. Ironically, we’ve done a poor job of explaining ourselves to the public and making the most of our good deeds. Legitimate public relations has been confused by the public with hype, half-truths, a lack of transparency. To eliminate or clarify this confusion we have to do a far better job of educating the public about the absolute necessity and value professional public relations brings to society and its institutions.
Q: What was the most difficult crisis the firm was asked to resolve or ameliorate at best?
A: No crisis is the same; no crisis is easy, and it is always a very tense time. But in all the years we have been in business, the most difficult days of our firm were around 9/11. From our office windows we saw the smoke billowing from the towers and what happened on that day will always be etched in our minds. And those who lost their lives will be in our hearts forever.
Q: Name two highlights DGI experienced in the past 19 years that stand above all others.
A: There are so many highlights, it is hard to pick out two. We have dealt with the
smartest people in the world on some of the most interesting situations. Indeed, every day at our Firm brings a new challenge, as well as a new opportunity. It has been that way since we opened the doors, and we hope it continues that way for the next 20 years.