Between The Pages: Mastering the Masters, Part 2

In the first part of this article, I commented on the role of key thinkers and their ideas which shaped the public communications profession for the past century. Now for those of you who fight the good fight every day, here are three books from "generals in the trenches." *Goodbye to the Low Profile, by Herb Schmertz, Little Brown, 1986. Herb Schmertz joined Mobil in 1966 as a lawyer specializing in labor relations. When he retired at 57, in 1988, his title was executive vice president, his annual salary approached three quarters of a million dollars, and his office was in what we today call the C-Suite. Since his student days, Schmertz, had been involved in high-profile political campaigns. He started in 1960 organizing New York voters for John Kennedy, and also took leaves of absence to work on campaigns for Robert and Edward Kennedy. Upon entering the business world, he quickly discovered that the prevailing philosophy was that corporations should be silent and invisible - in other words, keep a low profile. He convinced Mobil's CEO that keeping a low profile meant always playing defense in the court of public opinion. His experience in the political process taught him that the days of effecting change by lobbying key politicians was ending. Therefore, corporations had to reach out to key audiences that could influence lawmakers. Contrary to the maxim "the best offense is a good defense," Schmertz believed that the best offense was a good offense. So he went on the offensive. By spending millions underwriting Masterpiece Theatre on public television and using the op-ed pages of leading national newspapers, he formulated the agenda and set the tone to explain Mobil's stand on key issues of the day. Two decades before phrases such as reputation management or brand identity entered the business vocabulary, Schmertz ran a political campaign for a corporation, and raised Mobil to "top of mind" of a broad demographic. Equally important, he made it respectable for companies to express views, opinions, and philosophies to various constituencies. He was a 20th century business communication pioneer who set the standard for people in the field of corporate communications. *A Briefing for Leaders, by Robert L. Dilenschneider, Harper Collins, 1992. In the 1960's, as Herb Schmertz was climbing the corporate ladder at Mobil, Bob Dilenschneider joined Hill & Knowlton when it was "a group of 31 terrific people." Fast-forward 20 years: As CEO he had 4,000 people working for him, counseling clients on everything from media relations to marketing communications and crisis management. This book builds on some of the ideas he advanced in, Power and Influence: Mastering the Art of Persuasion [Prentice Hall 1990] and it was written as a manifesto for leaders in all walks of life, some of whom I'm sure he hoped would become Hill & Knowlton clients. Dilenschneider begins with the raw material of leadership [vision and values], discusses the current [circa 1992] economic and political landscape, and offers a template for survival in the coming years. The style is anecdotal and laced with aphorisms, but he covers important ground in moving from theory to practice. He advocated that "companies learn the character of the new anti- establishment thinking and monitor its evolution." He also advised leaders to have a single primary communications adviser to help them cut through the information clutter and competing interests-- preferably someone like him. *Damage Control, Eric Dezenhall and John Weber, Penguin Books, 2007. Damage Control is Dezenhall's second book on crisis management. His first, Nail'Em!, explored the semantics of the toughest job in communications, and proclaimed that whether you call it crisis communications, risk management or damage control, it's all about responding to the "Culture of Attack," which he believes has become the modus vivendi in contemporary society. He goes on to postulate that any attack requires "Six Vs": a victim, a villain, a vindicator, a void, a vehicle and a value; and then dissects a couple dozen topical examples and how they were handled. For years now, Dezenhall has been a lone wolf, howling at the moon of traditional PR dogma regarding crisis communication. In Damage Control, he takes on all comers in 18 pithy chapters, and cogently documents what is wrong with traditional thinking, and how to fix it. His intensity and no-nonsense approach carries over to his writing style, and that is why this book should be on the bookshelf of anyone involved in public communications--and required reading for every college undergraduate taking an advanced course in PR. PRN CONTACT: Peter Brinch is editor of Media Industry Today. He can be reached at

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