First, a point of clarification, in reference to certain declarations I made about lunch in my first-ever Pershing Square column. I think I hurt someone's feelings, someone who I actually did have lunch with, who was unaware of my rants on the topic of schmooze sandwiches.
I probably did not make my point clearly enough in my inaugural column. The problem isn't lunch itself; it's the expectation on the part of many acquaintances that lunch equals instant results, when they haven't spent any time investing in the relationship over time. Sometimes the most important interactions have no instantaneous ROI.
Let me then segue to one of the most satisfying interactions I've had in a while, though lunch played no role. The setting was Chicago, mid-September. I was invited by the estimable Harlan Loeb, head of Financial Dynamics' litigation practice, to join a panel discussion at Northwestern Law School. The topic was, "Who is the finder of fact in high profile litigation?", looking at what happens when media meets law, and the influence of the court of public opinion.
Joining me and Loeb on the panel were John Ray III, chairman and president of Enron Corporation; David Barstow, investigative reporter at The New York Times; Larry Yellen, investigative reporter for Fox News Chicago; and Jerry Krulewitch, SVP and general council for the Americas at McDonald's Corporation.
The panel discussion was truly engaging, with Barstow and Yellen spending time explaining what investigative journalists actually do in pursuit of their story, and Krulewitch and Ray offering their view of the world from inside a corporation facing litigation. Assessment of potential damage and fact-gathering can butt heads against the pressure of the media. Sometimes companies are even completely blindsided by class-action lawsuits, and actually find out on the same day as the media that they have even been instigated.
My role, it seems, was to put forward the view of the company's PR executive, who stands between the hungry media and the corporation, be it hiding or genuinely scrambling to get information and traction. To be completely candid, I'm not sure either the C-suite executives on the one side, or the journalists on the other, necessarily understood that the job is not simply to stonewall the press until the CEO decides to make a statement.
In fact, the panel revealed to me just how at odds the view from the media side, and the view from the corporate side, can be. Throw in a few bad experiences on both sides - whether its companies lying to reporters or reporters getting their facts screwed up, and trust is definitely at a premium in these relationships.
In the spirit of Pershing Square, however, which is meant to focus on the conversations of the industry, let me just say that the best discussions that happen are often off the record, with no reportorial or pitching agenda on the table. So it was in the hours following the panel, when we spent time over wine at a dinner table, reflecting on the complexities of keeping up with the demands of today's media cycle and what impact a story really has on a company's stakeholders. I'd love to share some of the details with you, but this conversation was strictly off the record. And, thus, that much more edifying.