Remarks from Page Center Awards honoree Ann Barkelew
March 8, 2017
Thank you Page Center. Thank you, Maril… for those generous remarks.
I am, obviously, thrilled…honored to receive an award named after Larry Foster. ..one of my all-time favorite friends. It is really special to see Ellen and her family here this evening.
And I am so proud to be sharing the platform with Alan Murray and Dick Martin as I am a big fan of them both.
You all have made this a most special evening. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Is now the time to announce I am running for office? Just kidding.
There is an old Missouri saying that you need five good hugs a day to be healthy. After this evening, I am good for several weeks.
The Page Center folks said I should take a couple of minutes to offer some thoughts on the value of integrity and ethics in society today.
That’s a big subject and I only have three to four minutes, so I am going to give you some of my thoughts in bite-sized pieces.
I have had the incredible great fortune to have been a public relations leader in the public sector, in a Fortune 50 corporation and in an international public relations agency. And before all that, I spent ten years teaching high school English and journalism, hosting parent-teacher conferences, convincing students they really did like English and helping them understand what was happening in their world when JFK was shot.
What I have learned is that public relations is public relations, no matter where you practice it. In each arena, we are responsible for managing the reputation of our organization as an asset for the organization and its key stakeholders.
And it requires each of us to build trusting relationships with all the stakeholders. It requires us to understand that communication with the public is a privilege.
Building trust starts with liking the people you work with: reporters, editors, analysts, other corporate folks, and respecting what each has to offer. I know it sounds simplistic, but I believe that if you look for the best in people, you almost always will get that back.
And, you will build the kind of trust that results in them keeping you in the loop as well. We must trust in behavior, in relationship. We must be good listeners, open to new ideas, sharing, becoming trusted and reliable professionals.
I do believe there is a mission, a purpose, a calling to what we do in public relations: to serve people, build bridges of understanding….focus our entire organizations on the values and standards. Be the providers, the interpreters, the monitors (and) the gentle reminders facilitating the flow of information that helps our democracy function better.
Today there is such a loss of civility. Everyone is so quick to criticize...skeptical of everything…reluctant to trust. They don’t know who or what to believe. We can help. We know how to build trust, how to create a better environment where truth and trust can flourish.
Did you know that high school journalism teachers are now teaching students how to recognize fake news? The California Legislature is now considering making it a requirement in all junior and high schools.
I worked for a really excellent CEO who expected me to always look straight at the facts and recommend a course. "So, what do you recommend, Barkelew?"
As Bret Stephens, the (Wall Street Journal) commentary writer, told students at UCLA last week: ”We each have our obligations to see what’s in front of one’s nose. This is the essence of intellectual integrity. Not to look around or beyond or away from the facts, but to recognize and call the facts for what they are, nothing more, nothing less.”
I loved having the PRSA Code of Ethics on display in my office. It meant I had standards for how I behaved as a public relations executive.
I memorized the Page Society Principles, which I could quote with the least provocation: Tell the truth. Prove it with action. Listen to the customer. Manage for tomorrow. Conduct public relations as if the entire company depended on it. True character is expressed by our people. Remain calm, patient and good-humored.
At (FleishmanHillard), our desk name-plates were attached to the Corporate Philosophy. Respect for the individual. Teamwork is everything. Aand finally, we are committed to the highest ethical standards.
And at Dayton Hudson, we proudly spelled it out in our stores: Customers first. Great values. Liberal return policy. Our record of community involvement. Our commitment to families and to the environment.
All of them guideposts that make us stand a little taller than the rest.
So, my friends…
We must be the someones people turn to for information they can trust...for the truth, for ethical behavior.
I learned early in my career that when we all worked together, and could see our stake in each other, we did our best work.
I believe in a culture that treats people like they matter, because they do, a culture that honestly builds trusting positive relationships and creates opportunities for everyone to stretch and grow.
My wish for each of you is that you are as richly blessed as I have been to work with great people at every turn. And that each day, when you go to do whatever it is you do, your heart beats fast with the excitement of what you are about to do.
You have made my heart beat very fast this evening and I thank you … again…for this great honor.
These remarks were written by Ann Barkelew, an honoree at the 2017 Arthur W. Page Center Awards for Integrity in Public Communication. She shared these words with nearly 230 public relations professionals and journalists at the Page Center's awards dinner on Feb. 22 in New York City.