Thursday, August 16, 2007

Tom Mattia, of Coke PR
reaches out to PRS

Aug. 13, 2007

By Jack O'Dwyer


Coca-Cola, $25 billion blue chip, has warmed up to the PR Society by boosting PRS memberships from four to 18 since 2005; by having PR head Tom Mattia speak to its Georgia chapter Aug. 8, and by offering PR exec Ray Crockett as candidate for its hard-to-fill S.E. district director’s post (the last two directors quit mid-term and no candidates at all showed up by the initial deadline of June 11 this year.

But the nomcom, showing its bias against major corporate PR executives and its bias in favor of agency people, picked Philip Tate as the official nominee.

He is VP/account services of Luquire George Andrews, Charlotte “marketing/ad/PR” firm which lists 11 employees on its website.

The site shows Judi Wax as senior VP-PR and David Coburn as VP-PR.

The nomcom, headed by 2005 president Judith Phair, rejected, for the first time in history, a solo candidate from a district—Marlene Neill, an employee of the City of Waco, Texas and an M.A. candidate at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, who sought to be S.E. director.

As it currently stands, the 2008 board would have only one corporate person, Christopher Veronda, manager of communications initiatives, Eastman Kodak, which appears to be an internal PR job. He has not returned phone calls or e-mails.

Corporate PR pros leaving the PRS board this year are Tony D’Angelo of UTC/Carrier, who lost the chair-elect race to Mike Cherenson, head of the PR unit of an ad agency; Dave Rickey of Alfa Corp., who filled the unexpired term of the resigned Gary McCormick; Gerard Corbett of Hitachi, and Margaret Hennen of Fairview Health Services. Ron Owens of Kaiser Permanente quit last year shortly after joining the board.

Mattia Apologizes for Coke Absence

Mattia, formerly in top PR posts at EDS, Ford Motor, Hill & Knowlton and IBM, spoke to 160 Georgia chapter members, apologizing for a 12-year absence by Coke at such meetings. He said he would appear every year if asked back. Georgia is the second biggest chapter with more than 900 members.

Coke is one of the leaders in the U.S. of the corporate social responsibility movement, described by the Aug. 8 Christian Science Monitor as an “historic change” at the major companies that “defies classic principles taught at virtually every business school.”

Companies are finding that backing CSR and “sustainability” (don’t leave a mess) are good business, wrote author Bruce Piasecki in the Monitor.

Mattia described Coke’s socially responsible behavior in the marketplace, workplace, community and environment.

Coke Published Environmental Report

The company just published its 2007 Environmental Report, detailing “water stewardship,” “sustainable packaging,” and “energy and climate protection” in 200+ countries. It has 55,000 employees.

Mattia said Coke is going high visibility and that was why he was speaking to the chapter.

The PR Society nominating committee completely missed the point of Coke trying to be involved in the professional PR community.

Either that or it was afraid that a Coke executive could not accept some of the strict anti-communications policies of the board that impact both its press and member relations.

One reason for the rejection of Neill may be her enrollment in one of the most prestigious J-schools in the national—Missouri. No student there could countenance PRS’s tight control of information and press avoidance.

Meanwhile, the nomcom, whose members include 2006 president Cheryl Procter-Rogers, Ethics Board vice chair Bob Frause and 1995 president John Beardsley, chose as nominee from the N. Pacific district Kathryn Hubbell of AdScripts, Missoula, Mont. It sounds like her principal business is ad copy writing. (See response from Hubbell below)

Choosing Hubbell while rejecting Neill appears to have no basis in logic.

Also on the nomcom are Sue Bohle of the 2006 board and Cathryn Harris of the 2005 board. The board is not supposed to pick its own successors and board members do not serve on the nomcom except the immediate past-president in an ex-officio (supposedly quiet) role. Having such recent board members on the nomcom appears to be a violation of the spirit of the no-board member rule.

GE, Toyota, Wal-Mart Cited as CSR Examples

As an example of good CSR, Piasecki notes that General Electric is touting its “green” activities and that “friendly” CEO Jeff Immelt has replaced “hard-edged” Jack Welch (once known as “Neutron Jack” because of his staff-cutting habits).

Other examples are Toyota’s hybrid engines that reduce pollution (helping to propel Toyota past General Motors) and Wal-Mart’s company-wide “Sustainability 360” program unveiled by CEO Lee Scott in February.

S.W. candidates now need 25 signatures of 2007 Assembly delegates by Sept. 20 but there is as yet no 2007 delegate list. Otherwise, the board can appoint a director who reflects its views.

Fierce personal politics and jealousies have again marred the nomcom process and harmed not only PRS itself, but the PR industry. D’Angelo was a dead duck as chair-elect from Day One. Cherenson would never have tried to skip from secretary to chair-elect without assurances it was in the bag. He made room for Rosanna Fiske to come back on the board as treasurer in violation of the spirit of PRS bylaws. D’Angelo made enemies when he headed the investigation of the 2004 nomcom that jumped Cheryl Procter-Rogers from director to president-elect over treasurer Maria Russell without traditional service as either secretary or treasurer. Procter-Rogers as well as her “best friend” Debra Miller are both on the 2007 nomcom. There were charges that the 2004 nomcom, headed by Joann Killeen with assistance from Reed Byrum, 2003 president, counted the ballots in secret and destroyed them. Killeen has said there was no doubt about the nomcom’s wishes and no one objected when the results were announced. Tempers ran high at a 2004 board meeting in New York and there were reports D’Angelo was physically threatened by another director. Killeen had her attorney send board members a letter demanding that negative discussions about her role in the nomcom be halted. Del Galloway, 2004 president, created a “Blue Ribbon” task force to study not only alleged nomcom abuses in 2003 and 2004 but all governance of PRS. A study was started but shelved. The topic of governance was dropped by succeeding boards.

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