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Bowling Series Speaker Says Public Relations
Can Help Business Recover from Trust Slump

By Ralph Derickson

Photo of Richard H. Truitt
Richard H. Truitt

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To provide real help in rebuilding trust in business, public relations counselors "must reclaim our journalism foundation that seems to have crumbled during the past decade of fast and reckless growth. We need to get back in touch with those disciplines that were so critical to the public relations process when its power was at its peak."

-- Richard H. Truitt,
2002 James C. Bowling
Executive-in-Residence lecturer

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For a story about Jack Guthrie's Lifetime Achievement Award, click here.

Lexington, Ky. (Oct. 17, 2002) -- At this "unfortunate moment in the history of corporate trust," public relations leaders are in a unique position to help restore a sense of what is right for their companies," a business consultant told educators and journalism students today at the University of Kentucky's School of Journalism and Telecommunications.

"This is not about their familiar role of selling corporate decisions," said Richard H. Truitt, principal of Truitt Partners, LLC, a Connecticut-based consulting company. "It is about helping management arrive at the right decisions. They will be particularly able to grow in this function if they are trained as journalists," he said.

Truitt spoke at the third annual James C. Bowling Executive-in-Residence Lecture Series, which each year brings a nationally recognized public professional to the campus to participate in journalism classes and to consult with faculty and administrators. The visit culminates in a campus lecture for faculty, students and the community.

Truitt was introduced by John R. "Jack" Guthrie, who said he "is the most consummate public relations professional I have had the pleasure of working with over the years." Guthrie, chairman of Guthrie/Mayes Public Relations in Louisville, is the school's 2002 Lifetime Achievement honoree.

Truitt acknowledged a decade-long decline of trust in American institutions, and said the past 12 months have been particularly painful.

"If we were security analysts in a down market, we'd be looking for a bottom along about now. If we were basketball fans losing a big game, we'd be looking for a turnaround," he said. "But we are educators and journalists and public relations practitioners, and we just might have found our moment.

"If that's the case, its symbol is the sight of corporate executives, one after the other, being brought to the bar, embarrassed before their peers, and perp-walked away in handcuffs."
Truitt said that to provide real help in rebuilding trust in business, public relations counselors "must reclaim our journalism foundation that seems to have crumbled during the past decade of fast and reckless growth. We need to get back in touch with those disciplines that were so critical to the public relations process when its power was at its peak."

In addition to "well-founded writing," and "the delicate art of persuasion," Truitt said that public relations executives must apply their capabilities to establishing a strong supporting role in corporate ethics.

Truitt said that during his newspaper career as a Chicago Tribune reporter, he learned the importance of sensing and reporting parts and pieces of stories that often were found deep below the surface.

"My education really began working with some of the wise old heads who were covering impossible beats in Chicago -- city hall, the environment, and the South Side police," he said.

"I would sit in a meeting with one of these veteran newsmen and pick up very little of substance. But they would go back to the Tribune and file a story wealthy with details about critical issues and heated controversies that I had never tumbled to. They could smell things that I couldn't even see or hear.

"Their senses penetrated deeply into the workings of Chicago. They were more than reporters, and even more than investigative reporters. They were spooks who knew where all the skeletons were hanging and who knew whether, when and how to deliver this information usefully.

"Can you imagine that tycoons at this moment in post-bubble corporate America could use this kind of professional sensitivity in framing the consciousness of their corporations? You bet they could, and they're not going to find it in the accounting department or in law.

"They're going to find it down the stairs and around the corner in public relations. These are the folks who can look their bosses right in the eye and say, 'That's a very interesting plan. How would you feel if the Courier-Journal were to run a report about your idea on tomorrow's front page?'

"In recent years, many of these corporate leaders have not really bothered to understand what superb communications could do for them. They were succeeding too fast. But today, they need our kind of help, and they know it. If you go to them as a skilled and sensitive journalist with your head together, your facts in order and your tools sharpened, they will listen."


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