Oral Histories

Bob Ehinger

Interview Segments on Topic: PR and Technology/Change

Bob Ehinger Biography

Though born in Saco, Maine, Ehinger spent most of his early years in Dover, Delaware.  From there he attended Dartmouth College and graduated in 1943 with a degree in economics.  After graduation, he joined the Navy as an Ensign in the Supply Corps and served as supply officer on a destroyer in the Pacific.

After the war, Ehinger was hired by Western Electric as a buyer's clerk in the Purchasing Department in New York City.  (Western Electric was the purchasing agent for the Bell Telephone companies).  After advancing to senior buyer, he transferred to an operating job at a large service center in Los Angeles, and eventually became the manager.  With about 1,100 employees, he thought Western Electric should be better known in the Southern California area, so he hired the first-ever public relations professional.  Eventually, the P.R. Vice President in New York transferred him to New York as Director of Community Relations and Public Affairs.  This job was followed by assignments in personnel, defense activities, and finally Ehinger became Secretary and Treasurer of the company (Western had an outside board of directors).  From this assignment, he became Vice President of Public Relations in 1973.  In 1982 Ed Block, AT&T P.R. Vice President, asked him to come to AT&T on January 1, 1984.  With Ed, Ehinger established the AT&T Foundation and the Arthur W. Page Society.  The first annual conference was held at the Hershey Inn in Hershey, Pa.  At that time, the Society's membership came primarily from the telephone companies that were being divested from AT&T.  Ehinger comments that it has been a source of pride to see how the Page Society has grown and become the leader in the profession.

Transcript

INTERVIEWER:  Okay.  What do you think about all the new technology and the effect that’s having on public relations and on ethical decision-making?

EHINGER:  Well, I don’t know enough about it myself but certainly when you get blogs and all that stuff, the stuff gets out fast.  You don’t have to wait for the morning paper.  So it obviously complicates the job and the problem is how do you get facts out there.  But it’s important therefore that you keep flow of information out there about your company, about your business so that when people hear this from a blogger let’s say, at least they raise a question they might say, that’s not what I heard.  But it is a complication and I don’t know…there are people out there to get you.  They don’t like you cause you’re big.  I don’t know about the bankers.  I don’t know what really should happen—but there are a lot of people that don’t like them.

INTERVIEWER:  That’s for sure.

EHINGER:  Well, the automobile business is the same way to a degree, although Ford seems to have done very well.  And it’s interesting that the former head of AT&T is now chairman of the board of General Motors and now the acting CEO.  And he seems to be doing a pretty good job.  But yeah, I think social networking, bloggers, Twitter, I don’t know any of that stuff, and I don’t want to.

INTERVIEWER:  I must say I have never tweeted.

EHINGER:  No, I wouldn’t know what a tweet was, I thought it was a bird.