Since I was elected to succeed Dave Drobis, retired chairman of Ketchum, as president of the Arthur W. Page Society in September, I've spent a lot of time speaking about the organization and the Page Principles upon which it was founded in 1983. In these talks, I've been struck by how these principles, developed when my parents were still in grade school, remain as relevant today as when Arthur Page was practicing them at AT&T, beginning in 1927.
At first glance, the Page Principles are simple, seemingly self-evident guidelines for operating a public business. There are six: Tell the truth; prove it with action; listen to the customer; manage for tomorrow; treat PR as if the whole company depended on it; remain calm, patient, and good-humored.
As with many simple things, these principles have been mostly overlooked, ignored, underestimated, or defied by those responsible for governing public companies. Page noted that "all business in a democratic country begins with public permission and exists by public approval." Clearly some current business leaders were out the day this chapter was covered in business school. The sad reality, of course, is that it probably wasn't covered in business school at all.
The majority of the Page Society's 300-plus members hold the most senior reputation-management post in their organization. The Page roster also boasts the heads of the largest PR firms, as well as the leading academics in the profession. Our members care deeply about the Page Principles. They view them as the differentiating factor between the Page Society and other similar professional associations.
As I start my term as president, I am following a long line of distinguished leaders who have built the Page Society into a financially stable organization with an active, engaged membership. In the year ahead, I plan to maintain this momentum by focusing on three key areas:
Involvement. We must find new ways to enhance the meaningful participation of Page Society members in the organization's work. One such example is "Pathways to Diversity," a new scholarship program sponsored by the society and dedicated to raising awareness of PR and communications as a career choice for minority college students. The program is designed to foster diversity within the fields of PR and corporate communications, create new educational and career opportunities, and open doors for students of every background and origin.
Interaction. A second area of focus is the interaction between the society and other groups that share common interests, such as the Business Roundtable, the National Investor Relations Institute, the Institute for Public Relations, and the Council of PR Firms. In that regard, the Page Society has been a leader in the PR Coalition, under the direction of Jim Murphy, corporate communications head at Accenture and himself a former Page Society president.
Impact. I hope to maintain the Page Society's role as a preeminent voice in the fields of PR and reputation management. The society has tried practicing what it preaches by engaging the trade media through ongoing outreach efforts while increasing our exposure to the mainstream business media. During the year, we plan to explore new ideas to make the society's efforts more visible to both members and those outside the organization.
I couldn't be more excited to be leading the Page Society at such an opportune time. The importance of reputation management has never been clearer, not just to those in our industry, but increasingly to the world's business, civic, religious, and academic leaders. The wounds caused by the many scandals of the past three years are deep; they won't heal overnight.
When it comes to issues of reputation and credibility, Page members are leaders in both thought and action. They are well-prepared to help restore public confidence in business, government, and other institutions following this tumultuous period by providing a sound model to follow and by demonstrating through example the power and benefits of the Page Principles at work. Additionally, they are committed to partnering with their colleagues in the C-suite to enhance understanding of the critical link between enterprise reputation and overall business strategy.
In Arthur Page's words: "Real success, both for big business and the public, lies in large enterprise conducting itself in the public interest and in such a way that the public will give it sufficient freedom to serve effectively."
I think even Eliot Spitzer could agree with that.
Tom Martin is president of The Arthur W. Page Society and SVP of corporate relations at ITT Industries.