Alarmed by the acrimony between the Trump Administration and the press, including Trump’s remark that the press is the “enemy of the American people,” speakers at the Arthur W. Page Center dinner last night called for PR people to enter the fray.

Jack O'Dwyer & Dick Martin at Arthur W. Page Center dinner(L to R) Jack O'Dwyer &
Dick Martin

photos: Jack O'Dwyer

Dick Martin, former AT&T exec VP/PR, one of three honorees, urged the PR industry to create a PR counterpart to the Ad Council that has created public interest campaigns for 75 years.

“Why doesn’t the PR industry have an equivalent effort?” he asked the more than 200 attendees at the first annual awards dinner of the Page Center. It will present “Larry G. Foster Awards” to leading PR and journalistic figures who have shown a “fervent commitment to the concept of ‘truth well told,’ thereby influencing the formation of public awareness, public opinion and public permission.”

The other recipients of the awards were Ann Barkelew, founding General Manager and Senior Partner of Fleishman-Hillard, and Alan Murray, Chief Content Officer of Time Inc. and Editor-in-Chief of Fortune magazine.

Bill Nielsen, former head of communications of Johnson & Johnson, was chair of the event, attended by more than 200 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York.

PR, Media Credibility Is Low—Martin

Martin noted that while PR has credibility problems, so does the media. “Public communications is at a dangerous tipping point,” he said.

Bill NielsenBill Nielsen, chair of the
Page dinner

A Gallup poll shows Americans’ trust in journalism is at “an all-time low,” with two-thirds of U.S. adults not believing the news they “see, hear or read.”

“It’s especially frightening when the most powerful man in the world attacks reporters as ‘the most dishonest people in the world’ and calls some of our leading news organizations ‘enemies of the American people.’” he said.

The PR industry can’t stand by and hope the situation will change, said Martin. “Media literacy may be the social issue of our time. Addressing it is in our own interest.”

The internet “democratized media, giving everyone a voice, but traditional media are now “fewer, smaller, and poorer,” he said. They have lost ad dollars but “more significantly, they’ve cheapened the value of content, turning it into a commodity measured in clicks rather than substance.”

Murray, Barkelew Hope for Improved press/PR Relations

Murray and Barkelew also expressed the hope that relations can be improved between the press and companies, institutions and the government, with particular reference to the Trump Administration.

Maril MacDonald presents award to Ann BarkelewMaril MacDonald (L) presents Larry G. Foster award to Ann Barkelew

Murray said it’s the job of both PR and journalism to “fully inform the public.” The truth should be “the standard that both hope to attain,” he said.

Leaders of other PR groups that were present included Roger Bolton, president of the Arthur W. Page Society; Tina McCorkindale, CEO of the Institute for PR; Renee Wilson, President of the PR Council, and Jane Dvorak, Chair of PR Society of America.

Press present included Jerry Swartz, Deputy Editor, AP, and Dan Victor, Senior Staff Editor, New York Times.

The advisory board of the Page Center, which is based at Pennsylvania State University, includes Nielsen, Bolton and Denise Bortree, Director of the Center, who is Associate Professor of advertising/PR at Penn State.

Others are Ellyn Fisher, SVP-PR of the Ad Council; Marie Hardin, Dean of the College of Communications, Penn State; Jon Iwata, SVP-marketing and communications, IBM; Maril MacDonald, CEO of Gagen MacDonald; William Margaritis, business consultant and investor; Tom Martin, executive-in-residence, College of Charleston; John Nichols, emeritus professor of communications, Penn State, and Gary Sheffer, former VP-communications,
General Electric.

Premium sponsors of the awards event were Allstate, Brunswick, Bill Nielsen Communications Consulting, Edelman, FTI Consulting, IBM, Johnson & Johnson and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The Page Center "dedicates itself to advancing ethics and integrity in all forms of communication. It funds vital research both nationally and internationally and develops educational opportunities that build a broad awareness and respect for integrity that is imperative for the future of the field. Since its 2004 founding, the Center has funded more than 200 scholars and awarded more than $700,000 in research funding. The Center promotes the Page Principles, a set of values based on Arthur Page's speeches and writings."