I ran outside this morning. At 5 a.m. it was about 30 degrees, no wind and a perfectly clear sky. It doesn’t get much better than that in Northeast Ohio on the last day of fall.
When you are running by yourself you really do have time to think. And that’s a luxury that many of us don’t enjoy these days on the job. And even when we leave the office, with e-mail and cell phones we can easily get tethered to the job 24/7.
But not when you are running. I was thinking this morning about Henry Eaton. Henry founded the PR firm Dix & Eaton in Cleveland and for years was one of the most respected public relations counselors in Northeast Ohio and beyond. When I was vice president of corporate communications at BFGoodrich in Akron I hired Dix & Eaton and had a long and very successful relationship with that firm. It also gave me the opportunity to meet and work with Henry.
Henry Eaton was everything you could ask for in a public relations counselor – and friend. He was totally honest and trustworthy. He listened and he cared. He had tremendous credibility with his clients and with reporters and editors. And he was a brilliant strategic thinker. We went through some difficult times together: plant closings, a contentious senior management change and the relocation of BFGoodrich from its home in Akron to new headquarters in Charlotte.
I would talk to Henry and ask him what he thought. What approach would he take? At first he offered very specific advice. But as time went on, he would answer by saying, “You know what to do. This isn’t rocket science.” And he was right. I did know what to do: tell the truth, inform employees first and often, don’t spin the story, be available to answer questions and provide access that enabled reporters to talk to senior managers, be responsive and responsible. And when in doubt, communicate quickly and often to everyone that may have an interest. I learned many valuable lessons from Henry Eaton and from others throughout my career: Hank Wardle, Tony Massi, Jim Griffith and Foster Smith among them.
When Henry died a few years ago, those of us who knew him personally lost a friend and valued associate. The public relations industry lost someone who represented everything that is right about what we do – or try to do.
I’m certainly no Henry Eaton. Not even close. But I respected him – and part of my responsibility today as a teacher at Kent State is to help students learn that professionalism and character really do matter in public relations.
I read a lot of blogs and articles about public relations and social media. Most focus on process and technology. “Ten reasons why company blogs are a waste of time.” “Ten reasons why your company will fail without a blog.” “An insider’s look at how to actually get someone to read your blog.” Gee, maybe I should read that one. You get the point.
But I don’t read much these days about character. And about the personal values and traits that are necessary in public relations careers.
And that’s a shame. On the job I can help someone become a better writer. But I’m not certain I can help him or her become more ethical – and professional.
I was thinking about character and about Henry Eaton during my six-mile run this morning. I’ll think about how to get someone to actually read my blog tomorrow.