Words of Hope and Caution from New Hall of Fame Inductee

Robert Mathias, CEO of Ogilvy Public Relations in North America, and President of Ogilvy Public Relations, was inducted into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame, along with two others on Wednesday, September 16.

Below are some excerpts from his acceptance speech.

With the hope that there are some people in the audience with us tonight who are closer to the front end of their careers than me, I thought I would offer both a word of hope and a bit of caution.2015 - Mathias

First, the caution. As public relations professionals, we have all fought long and hard to earn a seat at the proverbial table. And I think we do have that seat now. As was not necessarily the case when Harold Burson founded Burson Marstellar in 1953, we are thought of today as an established business discipline that has a legitimate role in helping to propel an enterprise forward. But this is not guaranteed. We have to work harder than our friends, the lawyers or the bankers or the dreaded management consultants. We have to demonstrate value and ROI. Everyday and in everything that we do. And, above all else, we need to remember why we are here.

Our job, first and foremost, is to be the tellers of the truth. We do our profession and ourselves a tremendous disservice when we play fast and lose with the facts or try to create something that is, in fact, not there.

We need to avoid the sin of spin and work to excise it from our vocabulary, as it connotes an attempt to obfuscate or deceive, a slight of hand designed to hide the truth. We are not spin-doctors and must not aspire to be so. Good or bad, our job must be to take the facts as they are and help our clients – be they internal or external – craft the most compelling argument possible; an argument that will convince and persuade, motivate and inspire. This is what we do. It is the value we add. And it is how we will maintain our seat at that table.

Now, the hope.

The practice of public relations has never been more exciting or more needed than it is today. The way in which consumers, investors, policymakers and other stakeholders receive and process information has never been more varied. And our options for reaching and engaging them have never been greater. From long-form writing to traditional media relations, to the creation of compelling, shareable content that is instantly distributed across multiple social platforms, we now have virtually limitless possibilities in our took kit.

Adding uncertainty to the mix, the choices and decisions that now sit in front our clients are significant, complex and are changing every day. And while it used to be as simple as placing a story in the Washington Post or on any one of three network news programs, today’s engagement strategies need to be smarter, faster, and more robust than they ever have been before.

And somebody needs to make sense of it all.

This is where we come in. Our role is that of interpreter and translator; architect and builder. We are the ones who can see the big picture; who have the greatest potential to understand it all. And we are the ones who have the most legitimate role in advising our clients as to the best path to take; the course of action that makes the most sense.

As a result, this truly is our moment to shine; our moment to demonstrate that magical combination of creativity and effectiveness and, perhaps most importantly, our opportunity to deliver the greatest impact that we have ever had in the history of our profession. This is our time.

If I were to start my career all over again, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to go into public relations. In fact, I would be more excited than ever.

Thank you all very much.

Good night.

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Hall of Fame Inductee Calls PR Leaders to Seek Diversity; Offers Advice to Career Minded Professionals

Debra Silimeo, executive vice president of Hager Sharp, was inducted into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame, along with two others during the Thoth Awards Gala, Wednesday, September 16.

Below are some excerpts from her acceptance speech.

It’s humbling to be part of this prestigious group of PR professionals. Thank you PRSA, Hall Of Fame committee, and all of the people who have been part of my village throughout my journey.Silimeo Photo

You can’t put a news story on the air, pass legislation, or build a successful PR firm without a strong team. I’ve had the privilege of working with some amazing people…talented journalists, passionate public policy advocates, really cool clients, and of course – the mission driven rock stars at Hager Sharp!

I learned a lot about defying stereotypes and giving back from one of my real life role models and mentors – the late Susan Hager. She founded Hager Sharp in 1973 – when very few women ran businesses- with the specific mission of working with clients who want to make the world a better place. She lived the mission, and she always found time to help other women succeed.

As communicators we’re always trying to engage an increasingly diverse population. So we need that same diversity of thought and creativity at the table. By diversity, I mean gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

That’s not just the right thing to do – it’s good business. In order to reach people where they live, you need to GET where they live.

So tonight I’d like to call on our PR leaders…please take a look at your teams – especially your leadership teams. If you don’t have a diverse team – find the right people. I mean, look around, there’s a lot of talent right here in this room.

If you don’t have woman or person of color on your board of directors…that’s a problem and you should fix it – and you will benefit from it.

It’s great to work in a field where you can be constantly challenged by change, and get JOY and meaning from your work.

If you’re going to spend the better part of your life working, it should be something that gives you  JOY …and that makes a positive difference.

They asked me to share some advice for young professionals – so here are some other things that I believe matter:

  • Stay curious. Stay on top of the constant changes in our industry // and on the issues that affect your client’s world. Keep your clients larger goals in mind.
  • If you do that, you can be a strategist, not just an order taker.
  • Learn the business of PR – this will make you a better manager and help you get that seat at the leadership table.
  • Be ethical. Your reputation is far more important that your job title.
  • Don’t chase all the shiny new objects. Understand them, but at the end of the day, our business is really about people and relationships.
  • Respect your power. I’ve had chance to work with a lot of powerful people. I don’t mean just presidents & members of congress – I mean all of the staff people behind the scenes – the great people at HS – and ALL of YOU in this room, YOU have power.
  • You have: Power to inform people, persuade them, motivate them to eat healthy, get educated, give back, make the world better. Use your power wisely.

And always say thank you. Thank you. Very much.