PROFILE: Dick Yarbrough, Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games; Olympics set Atlanta alight

Dick Yarbrough has been three years in training for the 1996 Olympics

Dick Yarbrough has been three years in training for the 1996 Olympics



This week Dick Yarbrough bore the Olympic flame through his late

mother’s North Georgia birthplace. The passage may have been Yarbrough’s

most poignant contribution to bringing the Olympics to Atlanta but it

was not the first. As communications managing director of the Atlanta

Committee for the Olympic Games, Yarbrough, 58, has spent the last three

years nurturing the public face of the centennial Games.



Yarbrough, who joins Manning, Selvage and Lee as a worldwide senior

counsellor after the Olympics, went to ACOG from BellSouth in 1993 after

27 years in the telecommunications industry. He joined Southern Bell in

1964, as a PR supervisor, moved to parent AT&T as public affairs

director, in 1977, and after a successful stint of running his own firm

- which was bought by Ketchum after his departure - he rejoined the

divested BellSouth in 1986 as PR vice-president.



Yarbrough’s ACOG remit is huge, with his 75-strong team - swelling,

partly with volunteers, to 3,000 during the Games - covering PR, public

information, press, and state and federal government relations.



The complexity of the press operation is gargantuan, with 15,000 print

and broadcast staff besieging Atlanta. The 5,000 print journalists alone

have been provided with such facilities as a massive central press

centre, 24-hour restaurant facilities, daily press conferences,

transport to and from hotels and the use of 2,000 information screens

covering everything from medal tallies to athlete biographies.



However, media and public obsession with the Games began long before the

main press body arrived. Yarbrough says this constant spotlight brings

frustrations.



‘We could make the headlines every day. When responding to issues, you

have to learn to pick out those things that are erroneous and hurt your

feelings, but do not matter in the long run, and those that could lead a

third party, such as a regulator or the Government, to impact your

ability to do your business.’



Yarbrough reports to ACOG’s chief executive Billy Payne, a direct line

that he demanded on his recruitment. This reflects his conviction that

communications leaders should sit at the ‘top table’ of management, with

their counsel taken as seriously as lawyers.



Such professional pride reflects Yarbrough’s personal pride in his own

work. His long working hours and exacting standards, for himself and

others, are legendary.



BellSouth assistant media relations director Lois Phillips says: ‘I have

never met a manager who demanded such high quality consistently: he

never let it falter. One night, I remember we worked until midnight on

something and then had to be in at eight the next morning.’



Such demands, Phillips recalls, inspired two reactions: ‘You loved him

or you got transferred out, there was no middle ground.’



Despite knowing Yarbrough as a ‘hard taskmaster’ Kent Matlock, president

of Atlanta agency, Matlock and Associates, is one of the former. Matlock

recalls how, while he was still a student, despite his seniority,

Yarbrough freely gave him advice and support. Referring to him as ‘one

of the best mentors you could have’, he talks, almost reverentially, of

Yarbrough’s enlightened approach to PR and the candour and truthfulness

of his guidance.



Yarbrough is continuing to be his own hard taskmaster, working a regular

14 hour day at ACOG. And he seems unlikely to bow out too soon from the

American PR arena, which this year saw him honoured as only the fourth

person to receive an Inside PR magazine lifetime achievement award.



Tellingly, on confirming that his Manning Selvage and Lee role is part

time, he adds, without irony: ‘I would expect to be in most every day.’



HIGHLIGHTS



1964 PR supervisor, Southern Bell

1977 Director, public affairs, AT&T

1980 Assistant vice-president PR, Southern Bell

1984 President, Bowes/Hanlon/Yarbrough

1986 Vice-president PR, BellSouth

1993 MD communications, Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games



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