Oral Histories

Bill Nielsen

Full Interview

Bill Nielsen Biography

Consultant to management of for-profit and non-profit organizations; retired corporate vice president of Johnson & Johnson.


WILLARD “BILL” D. NIELSEN, consultant to management of for-profit and non-profit organizations; retired corporate vice president of Johnson & Johnson.

December 17, 2012

Brookeville, Maryland


INTERVIEWER: Bill, you have a long career with agency experience, leadership experience at Johnson & Johnson, and consulting leadership in the field. I’ve heard you say in speeches that you believe the best and the brightest young people should go into public relations, and that you’re interested in convincing them to do that. My question to you is, why should the best and brightest young people consider public relations?

NIELSEN: I happen to believe, after a lot of years in this and seeing the essential role that we play in the management of corporations—and other institutions too—that there is kind of a single character about the function.   It is a place where you get a total view and total involvement in the organization; whether it be a for-profit or a not-for-profit organization. And it truly is a place where you can make a difference. You can re-direct an organization. You can help make it more successful than perhaps it was ever thought possible. Certainly in health care where I was with Johnson & Johnson, we frequently dealt with life and death issues and the issue of product quality was terribly important. The whole payment system that surrounded what we were trying to do was very important. So in this role, I really saw the possibility and the reality of the difference that we could make because all the issues in one way or another were resolved only with effective communication so that people really understood what we were doing. I know many people in other industries who feel the same way about their role whether it be in electronics or other consumer product and manufacturing firms—power companies, you name it. The business is involved in every aspect of society and there are very, very few that don’t touch publics and have to be understood by publics. And this function puts you right at the center of the discussion. I find it terrifically exciting, the possibilities that you can make in a career. Now translating that to young people, who have their whole world ahead of them, might seem difficult. But we’re very fortunate with younger generations today. Young people who really do want to make a difference, have been touched by what they’ve heard about environmental degradation, about things like sustainability of raw materials; the carbon footprint. The idea that we should occupy this planet and when we leave, we don’t leave a footprint. They’re really inspired by that and that translates into this idea of wanting to do a life of work that has some value. And as I look at all the jobs in big businesses, quite frankly I can’t see many that hold the potential to have as profound an effect on the future of an organization as public relations or corporate communications. I feel very passionate about that and when I’m out speaking with younger people, unfortunately I sound sometimes like a reformed drunk; I am so passionate about it. But I think the word gets through and I’ve been fortunate to have been able to mentor many young people and see them into jobs in this field that have the potential to make quite a difference going forward.

INTERVIEWER: I think often times young people, young practitioners or students, when they think about public relations, they might only be thinking about that sort of technician role.


INTERVIEWER: But you’ve talked a lot about the counseling role of public relations, and I’m wondering if you could talk more about that counseling role, what you perceive as the status of that counseling role in the corporate world today?

NIELSEN: Well, that’s certainly a multifaceted question. The counseling role, it’s in some jeopardy but not in the right places, not in the best places. CEOs today are smarter and smarter about their roles and they are also surprised, most of them, to learn how much time they have to devote in their roles to communications. And they know they need counsel to do that. It’s an interesting topic to take up with younger people, particularly in college and communications schools because they all ask the question, ‘well how do you become a counselor?’ I usually say, starting right now, everything that you do, every project that you take on needs to be looked at and you need to take from that involvement or that project or that assignment, something that you learned about the execution of that. The development of the strategy for the client that you are working with—that’s the element that you take forward. That becomes eventually a part of who you are. When you turn around and start providing counsel to those who are younger or to organizations, you’re going to find yourself drawing on those experiences. And that’s how you become a counselor. There isn’t any strict academic track that you have to follow. It’s more a matter of paying attention to what’s happening around you, what you’re doing, and the reasons why certain things have occurred. What lessons you can learn and that’s the track. That’s the way to begin to get there. I would also say that the college experience, the university experience—I’m fond of telling young people that…we get into a discussion about why they’re here. Why are they doing this and the bottom line is, they’re there to learn how to learn. The requirement for a bachelor’s degree or whatever is not dependent necessarily on rote memorization of formulas or a perfect recitation of American history or whatever topic. But these subjects are put out to students to teach them how to learn. And that’s a particularly critical element in the background of a good public relations person: the ability to learn, the ability to learn quickly and the ability to take that new learning and to act on it. That’s certainly the bottom line in good crisis management. In this role, particularly in major organizations, things happen very quickly, from phone call to phone call literally. And today it would be from tweet to tweet literally. Or a Facebook post. New things are happening and if they pose some kind of a problem or a threat to your organization—could be that you’ve never ever heard this topic, some problem with a particular line that you haven’t focused on—well, you have to learn quickly. What is that all about? What was behind that? And you have to make a decision very quickly. Do you have enough information or do you need more information and where do you get it? Then based on your background and experience of other kinds of learning and situations that you have gone through, you try to understand what is it you’ve believed about what you’ve now learned. And how is that going to affect your decision or your advice to management for handling that problem?

INTERVIEWER: You’ve talked about learning the counselor role, and I’m curious to find out, how do you learn the ethics that you need to practice?

NIELSEN: Well, it’s a favorite topic of mine but it doesn’t start with ethics, it starts with values. I think the problem with ethics is that they don’t make dishonest people honest. They don’t make uninformed people suddenly very wise to the world. Ethics codes are very important. Where they’re most important would be in helping people decide on how to approach or handle an issue in our field where there might be more than one right answer. I think that’s admittedly a very short summary of ethics but that’s kind of where I view that. I think what’s more important in our field is a statement of values, of what we believe is important based on our understanding of who we are and what we do. And I have, through the Arthur Page Society and other organizations, been working to try to develop some kind of a basic values statement for practitioners—public relations, public affairs—we haven’t decided on what we’re going call ourselves yet. Maybe we can talk about that a little bit later. But I think that our value proposition is essentially rooted in the acknowledgment of the importance of four main constituents. The first would be the publics with whom we communicate. I think that the truth, and the commitment to the truth and communicating it well—not just part of the truth but the whole truth or at least enough truth to help an audience fully understand a situation, ought to be a very important value to us. Transparency might be included in that one tenet—and many others. I almost think we need to consider a vow related to the truth. Not just the truth that someone else tells us but truth that we have validated based on our own research. I think that’s an important part of who we are and what we value. A second tenet would be to the clients or the organizations or individuals we serve. We value honest advocacy for their points of view--their decisions about who they are, what’s important to them. And we need to be honest advocates. But we need to do that in a way that we maintain our own independence so that we can validate claims being made by our clients and speak to those truths. There’s a lot more to be said about that but I view that as a very important constituent and value tenet of public relations. The third tenet would be the media—I’m talking about new media, old media. But it essentially arises from the constitutional right that we have to inquire about matters that are in the public interest. That’s traditionally the role of the journalist. Today it’s a much broader definition when you bring in bloggers and I think that the challenge for communications people is to discern—and here’s where you get to the ethics question—what are legitimate ethics inquiries. That doesn’t mean just The New York Times or just The Wall Street Journal but discovering that a particular blogger had an important audience and had a sense of his or her own values. That to me represents a legitimate inquiry into what we might be doing. So I would include that in the media. And I think we have an obligation to be responsive to inquiries from the media and to do so promptly and certainly truthfully and accurately. I think that we place a value on upholding the highest journalistic standards. That, after all, is the third leg of the old definition of public relations—the third party that is working with information that we are dispensing. And then I think the fourth value tenet is to our own profession. The standards that we adopt, the principles that we uphold that make up the character of who we are. There needs to be some kind of uniformity in that commitment so that we can expect of each other, the same kind of treatment of information—delivered information—and all of that being essentially rooted in the truth. Not essentially, absolutely. Absolutely rooted in the truth. I think that this is a longer answer than you were probably prepared for but, unless we come together on some agreement of what we value on a personal level in our profession—if we just focus on the ethics of it, anyone could sign on to an ethics code but it seems to me it has a whole lot more meaning if that commitment is based on what we agree to be the fundamental values of who we are and what we do.

INTERVIEWER: How far away are we as an industry, public relations practice, from coming together on a common set of shared values? This uniformity in commitment?

NIELSEN: How far away are we from adopting a common set of values? I think we’re at the beginning stages, truthfully. I really do. We need to get this into the academic environment, this whole idea. It may be that we haven’t identified the right values—I think we’ve identified the right values, maybe not articulated them as well as they should be. But I also think that values that we ultimately come together to agree on are ideas that we have to develop together. We need consensus. And a value statement is not something that you just force on (someone) unless we’re all inmates in a prison. We are a free society and I think that the strength of one’s commitment to these values is certainly going to be based on the extent of your belief that they’re true, that these things are important to us. I think that the articulation of values in our practice or our profession is terribly important in part because there is no licensure; there is no set academic course of study that we have to go through. There’s no particular degree, there’s no certification. The FTC hasn’t approved what we’re doing, nor has anyone else. The legitimacy of what we do has been based largely on cases and the standards set by people who went before us, such as Arthur Page. Even Arthur Page, though, he didn’t write the book about public relations. The book was written about Arthur Page. That became the book about the principles that applied to what we do. And that happened not because Arthur Page forced his view out to the profession, it happened because the number of his colleagues and others who studied what he did, concluded that he was essentially basing his worth on a number of very important principles that needed to be codified and shared. Those principles emerged today as very strong pillars in the practice of the corporate communications function.

The other thing I want out of this, I want a new Page principle that speaks to values. And I want you to help me make that happen, through the Page Center. I’ve talked to Jack Koten (a founder of the Arthur W. Page Center at Penn State) and first president of the Arthur W. Page Society) and he said he believes there’s enough written in the Page documents and speeches, that we could get together a principle, just like Jack and the rest of them created the current Page Principles. You know they wrote them, right?


NIELSEN: Jack Koten wrote most of them (and) the other people who work closely with him. They added one not too long ago.

INTERVIEWER: You’ve talked about values and of course Arthur Page comes to mind when we think about the Page principles and the way those can be really read and understood as values. And I’m wondering if you’ll talk about the Page principles and their value to the profession.

NIELSEN: Well, I think the Page principles have come to represent a real definition of how we intend to practice. They’re not really a definition of the technical aspects of communications, there’s nothing in there about how to write a press release or the quality of the annual report. But what they reflect is Arthur Page’s true understanding of his role in the Bell System and the influence that he wanted to have over decision making. Jack Koten and others reviewed the work of Arthur Page. They knew that these principles were important and that it would be very important for future generations to try to codify this, and that’s what they’ve done. Telling the truth. Too often, in my book, we get down to these one liners; tell the truth, prove it with action, recognize blah blah blah. Once in a while you need to go back and read the whole statement about what do we mean about telling the truth and what do we mean about proving it with action. Proving it with action is probably one of the most important principles for me and it was an issue that I focused on in my career. And that had to do with the behavior of an organization and making sure that that behavior was consistent, always, with the values that it publically said were important to it. The worst thing you can do and lose your integrity totally, is to say that you believe in one thing and create a perception that you’re acting in some other way or in self-interest and away from that. Telling the truth, proving it with action—that is, behaviors, decision-making on tough issues in any business that is consistent with what you’ve said is important to your organization. That’s the crux of it. From there it’s about how do you articulate that, how do you write that, how do you place it, how do you get it? Those are all things that good education programs will teach people to do in our field. But understanding the importance of that function as a part of what we do is very important in the first place. And then secondly, how you execute that within your organization is another dimension of that. The whole issue, I believe, comes down to our experience and our good judgment born on years of experience. But it’s also self-confidence in what we know to be true and what we know to be right about a situation. And to be able to stand our ground, not to back down when you get into an argument with somebody who may see a little differently; but to have the self-confidence to be there and, if necessary, to put your career on the line to prevail on your point of view. So that second principle holds a ton of stuff for me in terms of defining who we are, the importance of what we do; the philosophical underpinnings of what we do. We don’t show up in a management meeting with the decisions of old judges or court cases which general counsel can support. We don’t have the accounting practices and standards board which the chief financial officer is going to bring. We don’t have all the employment laws and practices that the HR person is going to show up with. We don’t have the FDA’s requirement. Sometimes we do but there are people in management who represent those points of view. We don’t have any studied hierarchical academic positioning. So how do you make that dog hunt? Some would say, well, it’s the strength of your convictions about who you are and the relationships you’ve already established with those people who are going to say, ‘you know, I don’t entirely agree with him but there’s a ring of truth in what he’s saying.’ It takes intestinal fortitude and a lot of self-confidence to stand in those positions and to prevail in those arguments. It helps a lot to be able to turn to contemporaries through the Page Society and to know that they’re operating by a statement of principles that are consistent with what you’re advocating. So, there’s huge value in that.

I’m going to speak to one other principle that I think is terribly important. That’s the last one, which is to remain calm, patient and good humored. It sounds silly to mention in the face of telling the truth and prove it with action and all those other dimensions. But it’s really important. What it says is that it’s important for us not to take ourselves too seriously all the time. To recognize that in our free society and the organizations that we represent, there has to be a balance of views. We need to keep the team together, we need to keep everybody advancing on the same track and inspired and committed to supporting one another. We can’t get there if you’re just hammering everyone else saying, ‘we’re not going to do that because it’s not true or it’s not the whole truth. You can take this kind of policing stance in your organization and some people do and policing is a good thing. But I think where you really win acceptance and endorsement is not taking yourself so seriously and that the world is not going to end tomorrow. You’re willing to compromise when it’s appropriate to compromise. I think that that last principle also speaks to maintaining a commitment to a principle for a long term. It’s hard to do in the short term. (Former British Prime Minister) Tony Blair has suggested that you almost need a short-term public policy and then a long-term commitment to your values. You need to be able to live in both dimensions and be okay with that. I know a lot of people who have found the peace of that idea, the commitment to prevail in the long-term and to survive in the short-term. That’s where the art of our practice comes into play, it truly does. And I think it’s a very important understanding that we need to get into for young people who are coming along in this profession.

INTERVIEWER: Can you talk a little bit about your own experiences and perhaps—key people and experiences that helped you develop what is obviously a very strong set of values that you operate by and did operate by in the profession? Can you just talk a little bit about the key experiences and figures that helped you arrive at some of the values that were key for you?

NIELSEN: Maybe we could start along the lines of if you pick and choose what you want. I think fundamentally our values come from family originally and parents teaching right from wrong. Do I believe I would have been a bad person without my parents? No, I don’t. But certainly that was a place where we saw demonstrated things like truth and not lying and being faithful to one another. It’s all about how you build up your own self-confidence about who you are so I’d have to acknowledge that. And my current family is terribly important to me. I have three daughters and as I’ve said, there’s nothing like three daughters to keep an old guy honest. They don’t let you get away with much. Especially they don’t let you get away with the grouchiness that comes with age. They keep you honest. I’m saying that lightly but it’s very, very true. They represent for me, together with my wife, my red-face tests and what I do, what I decide. There’s a check there someplace. If I did that—would they understand that? Would they accept that? Or would I embarrass them? So, I think those are important dimensions to count on; who you are and how you grow up, how that begins to develop in you.

One of the privileges of getting along in years is that you can turn around and decide who it was who influenced you. Frequently in life you don’t really understand that somebody is having an important influence on you. It’s only when you look back on it. Where do you want me to start? Alexander Hamilton, whom I didn’t know, had an important (influence)—on reflection on what he did in a very short life. He lost a gun battle with Aaron Burr and it sounds to me like Aaron Burr had every right to take a shot at him because he embarrassed him in public and he wouldn’t say he was sorry. So anyway, before that happened, he was an attorney, he was the first secretary of the treasury of the United States, he signed the Constitution. He was involved in the most significant act in the creation of the Federalist Papers which were written in order to persuade residents of New York to ratify the Constitution of the United States. So I’ve referred to him before as kind of a revolutionary PR guy. That’s precisely what we do in advancing policy; trying to get people to understand why things are written a certain way or what they mean, what they don’t mean, what your recourse might be—that’s all about what Alexander Hamilton did. The Institute for Public Relations is giving a Hamilton Award and it was the people in that organization that came to the realization that, ‘hey, we’re overlooking an important figure in history.’ That’s given me a lot of meaning and the sense of purpose that Alexander Hamilton brought to his work and the commitment to the formation of the nation and how it was going to be governed; the law that would emanate from the constitution. It is very impressive what he accomplished in his life. I’ve taken a lot of lessons from him. Kind of growing into that understanding of who he was has helped me understand other dimensions of our business.

Carl Byoir was one of the founders of our practice. I didn’t know the man but I worked for the company, Carl Byoir and Associates, for 17 or 18 years. Again, as I got older in that agency and began to understand what he was doing, I had enormous respect. That was a counseling agency and at the time, we limited our clientele to about 30 or 40 and we provided all of the public relations services for those clients. Many of the biggest names, including RCA and Honeywell and Allied. Their PR departments were, in effect, people from our agency. We did the whole work and that was the design that Carl Byoir had for that company. So I guess my advantage early on was that I saw, in my career, that this function is very important to these big organizations. And many times we were housed in their facilities even though we worked, for example, out of the New York office of the agency. That made a huge impression.

Harold Burson has impressed everybody he’s ever met or ever touched. The stamina of the guy. The energy of the man. The creativity of his brain. The curiosity that he has about so many things have made a huge impression. He’s a good friend, as he is a good friend of many, many people. I don’t believe Harold has ever had a corporate job and that’s a fun distinction to make with him when we’re out. I have enormous respect and so many of us have learned so much from him.

They’re very good, I’d put John Iwata right up there, Roger Bolton, Gary Sheffer; good friends of mine. Contemporary colleagues. I’m certainly older than they are but their careers are—Margery Kraus, Beth Comstock—they’re very impressive people.

INTERVIEWER: Let me ask you a general question about the role of influential people in the workplace, and that’s about mentoring. And I just want to know from you how important you believe mentoring is to the fostering of ethical decision making and values in the workplace?

NIELSEN: I think the whole aspect of mentoring, not only young people but people in mid-career and above is very, very important and perhaps this is a theory that we haven’t explored to enough depth. There may exist, but I haven’t been aware of, checklists or the dimensions of topics that ought to be brought up in a mentoring relationship. Where I see it being really important is the opportunity to encourage people who already have the right idea, to pursue that idea. Or if they’ve already got a strong notion about a position they want to take, to encourage them to move ahead with that. I believe in the power and the accuracy of first instincts among bright people. Their first instincts are usually correct and they may find themselves in cultures that cause them to always rethink. And the problem with rethinking good instincts is your ideas get marginalized because you put them in a way that made them more acceptable. You take all the best facets of diamonds and you dull them—to use a probably lousy metaphor. But I think the value in mentoring young people and older people, is to give them that encouragement. The reason a lot of people seek mentoring is that they don’t have enough people around them who they feel are smart enough to hear their good ideas. That might sound very brash but it’s the truth. So I think those of us who have been around for a while, we may not be the smartest but we gain respect because of our age and the time and people assume we’re smarter than we are—and that’s okay. We make ourselves available increasingly to young people who have good ideas. To hear them out, to help them articulate, to hear an explanation of something and say, ‘that would be more powerful if you put that last sentence first;’ and do those kinds of things. Certainly to help them with networking and all those other things is important. But it’s the counsel and it’s the discussion, the conversations that I think are probably the most important aspect of mentoring.

INTERVIEWER: Let’s revisit public relations education for a minute. Talk about what in your mind should be the most important focus of public relations education today.

NIELSEN: The basic skills have to be a given. Too often they’re not, unfortunately. Writing, speaking and in this new age—which thank goodness I did not have to practice in—how to write an intelligible tweet. It just blows my mind to go on Twitter. I follow 170 people. Half of the tweets I cannot understand. I have no idea what they’re trying to say. Now it may sound silly but if we’re going to be out there then we’ve got to figure out how to use it better. But that’s only one issue. I would say in public relations education, no one should be allowed to get through that who thinks that PR is just a matter of glad-handing, back-slapping, meeting the right people, networking and all of that. You absolutely, you have to have the basic skills of being able to start with a clean sheet of paper and to get down something that’s intelligible and that will adequately inform and inspire people to move with whatever it is you’re going to be communicating. I hate to even say that but it remains true and we have to keep saying that. Everybody’s going to be better off. I think that as far as the educational experience, I would speak about it from two dimensions. Faculty needs far more interaction with the real world than they are currently getting. And this is not the fault of the faculty and it’s not the fault of the practitioners. But somewhere we’ve got to come together. I think the institute’s (Page Center’s) focus on providing a link between the academic world and business is a great one and well needed. And I think the Page Society and other organizations need to recognize that. What are we graduating now, 70,000 a year with degrees in public relations communications? I thought holy cow, what do they really know about the real world? I’ve been out doing guest lectures enough to see that real need. Academics, faculty members, they want the interaction. Somehow we’ve got to figure out a way to accommodate that. Another side, in strictly the early grades and early years in public relations education, is to make sure that people have understanding of what that life and that role and career field is all about. What are the dimensions of it? What’s your day like? I’ve said so many times, it’s about this ability and comfort you have in handling a lot of things at one time. Being okay with the fact that you may start out your day with six things you want to get done and not get one of them done. In fact, you may not even touch one of them because of other intervening issues. There are some people that are very happy with that. There are other people who are not. I would say at all stages of the public relations educational experience that needs to be retested and reexamined. You find a lot of people who think that the basic information included in curriculum is good for them in many different directions. But they don’t wind up going into PR jobs, many not until years later. I think those things are very important. Equally, though, is the understanding of business and finance and accounting and HR and all of those other disciplines of management and production, sales, and marketing. Communications people need to have an awareness of all those other fields. And we have to do a better job of forging alliances with the business schools to make sure that that happens. Just as much as the business schools need to build into their curriculum for management people an understanding of communications and the important role that can play in the success of any business person. Those are important to mention, I’m sure there are others—well I know there are others—but that’s what comes to mind.

INTERVIEWER: Can ethics be taught? How should ethics be integrated into a public relations curriculum in your mind? Should it be a stand-alone course? Should it be woven throughout many courses? What’s the best way to teach students about ethics?

NIELSEN: I think ethics absolutely can be taught from the standpoint of, how does ethical decision-making come into play in an organization? Can you teach basic values? That I’m not so sure about. But there’s a whole lot on the board of Josephson Institute of Ethics. We have programs for businesses where Michael Josephson and his people will go into a troubled company and do an assessment to determine where the disconnects are between the values the company espouses and the behavior that has occurred in that company; design programs to teach teachers to carry this into the workplace. All aimed at making good decisions and the right decisions for these business organizations. And everyone wants that today because everyone is under that microscope in a very precise and detailed way. So nothing can be overlooked today because all is going to come under scrutiny at some point. And a lot of that has to do with ethical behavior, ethical decisions. Yes, it can be done. Right along with that though, needs to be the reinstruction or indoctrination into the values that an organization holds. That’s really where it starts. If you think about an organization making a declaration; whether it’s developed by employees or management, you’re going to come out at the same place. Through the values statement you’re saying, ‘this is important about who we are and what we do. These are the dimensions.’ It could be putting the customer first; it could be any number of things—quality of products, depending on industry. But management and employees or associates need to agree on what is really important about who we are and what we do. What are we going to protect for the long term? And, now that we’ve done that, how are we going to behave against these beliefs? Once that declaration is made, this is what we know about who we are. This is what’s important. This is how it’s going to influence how we conduct our business and this is the way we’re going to behave. That’s your ethical imperative; because now you’ve said it publically. You’ve invited, in effect, people to observe you, to challenge you, to question you based on those beliefs. That’s your ethical imperative. So that says, ‘now we’ve got to make sure our decision making is consistent with that.’ Because the only way ultimately to build trust—which is what everybody is after in the marketplace—is observe behavior that is consistent with what you’ve said and you believe is important about who you are and what you’re going to protect and how it’s going to affect your decision making. That’s trust. When you’ve done that and then something happens and your public sees or they’ve gotten to know about your organization then they make a judgment that, ‘Wow, that isn’t what they said they were going to do. That’s not consistent with what I believe that company stands for.’ That’s where this whole issue of long-term trust, long-term sustainable trust, finds its genesis and its sustainability over a long term.

INTERVIEWER: Can you talk about the public relations role in terms of corporate character? Developing corporate character, sustaining corporate character. What’s the public relations function in that endeavor?

NIELSEN: It’s a public relations function in determining that character is everything. There isn’t any other function of management that is going to take this up in a purposeful way. Certainly it’s a responsibility of the CEO. Certainly all the other members of management have a responsibility to the whole, but they see their roles based on where they’ve come from and the fairly well-defined set of requirements and responsibilities that they have to the corporate whole. It’s only the communications function that has the permit to be broad, to look across the entire organization to understand the total character makeup of the organization. That is one of the areas where I believe there is the opportunity to, out of one’s work of life, make a real difference at a corporation; to identify that character and all the essential elements. To make sure that everyone in the organization understands and gets it. That sets up this condition for agreement and the strengthening of management’s bond to doing the right things—understanding who we are, what our corporate character is about. That’s also the way that organizations define themselves publically--by revealing their character and reinforcing these values. I think it is absolutely one of the most important functions that we own in public relations and in corporate communications. It’s all about character because that’s the heart of reputation building. That’s the heart of trust, that’s the heart of recovery from a self-inflicted disaster or something that’s happened to the organization. It’s all a reflection of the character of the organization and it’s our role and we should own it. We should not let anybody else into that space. Do you agree with that or not?

INTERVIEWER: Absolutely, yes. I was smiling because I thought it was such a very articulating answer. Just a final kind of a wrap up. We’ve talked a lot today. We’ve really drilled down on values and ethics and corporate character, among other things. Anything that you want to add that we haven’t talked about that you think is important when you think about those issues?

NIELSEN: I think that recognizing the importance of what we do has a lot to do with sense of purpose that we bring to our lives of work. We talked earlier about young people wanting to make a difference in the world. I mentioned Alexander Hamilton and the work he did and it was a real sense of purpose that drove him. I think the sense of purpose is a distinguishing characteristic of our business—public relations and corporate communications. Not that a CEO and others don’t also have a sense of purpose but in the main they’re judged, and incentives provided for them, to meet their responsibilities by their fairly well-defined disciplines, whether it’s law, finance, HR, you name it. I think that we come to a sense of purpose because our commitment is to the truth. It’s rooted in values that are based on principles that we also agree to of this practice; together with the strong sense of the totality of the enterprise and the organization. I don’t think you can seriously touch this work without all of a sudden having a great sense of purpose about who you are and what the organization ought to be accountable to. Because you know what it’s capable of and it’s been successful. And so stretching beyond that is very much a part of who we are. That’s why public relations and communication can be so effective in building businesses, building brands. Because we, by the nature of who we are, carry a strong sense of purpose.

INTERVIEWER: All right. That was terrific.