Only The Invisible Survive

David Weinberger comments on the return of Flackster and opens up an interesting discussion about the role of PR in our hyperlinked world. Lots to think about, as always, in David’s remarks.

One turn of phrase, in particular, resonates for me – David talks about the need for PR to "get out of the way" (a thought I’ve touched on in the past). I’d go so far as to say that "Get out of the way" should be adopted as the rubric for the entire public relations profession. But more on that another time.

Thinking along these lines reminded me of one of my favourite "get out of the way" stories, which I can’t resist posting here.

Some years ago, I had the opportunity to work closely with the huge PR machine at Intel Corporation. At the time, one of the most senior people in Intel PR was Ursula Herrick, a genuinely smart, charming, focused woman with a terrific background in corporate and high tech PR.

One of the many aspects of Ursula’s daily life at Intel was “handling” Andy Grove – looking after his speaking calendar and high-profile public appearances in particular. At dinner in Santa Clara one night, Ursula told me this great little story about the life of a PR pro. I hope she won’t object to me relaying the anecdote here.

Andy Grove was invited to give the keynote address at one of the big industry events one year, and Ursula was alongside to make sure he had all he needed for the event. She’d worked with him on researching, drafting and rehearsing his speech; coordinated all the logistics; managed the program of press interviews lined up before and after his appearance; and was there beside him in the wings as he was being introduced to the audience of several thousand attendees.

Unfortunately, Dr. Grove also happened to be struggling with a horrible cold on the morning of the event. The headachey, snuffly, congested, nose-streaming kind of cold that really throws a kink in your day. Determined not to disappoint, Andy was primed to soldier on regardless (if you’ve read Swimming Across, you’ll know he’s just that kind of guy).

Moments before he’s due to walk out on stage, Andy had to blow his nose – trying to clear his head and his sinuses as well as possible before the big speech. Casting around for a garbage can in the half-light behind the curtain, Andy heard his cue from the event host on stage and was briefly at a loss, clutching a fist full of damp, gluey Kleenex with nowhere to chuck it.

Ursula stuck out her hand to take the bundle of tissues away, flicked a speck from his collar, and ushered Andy out in front of the waiting audience to deliver his presentation.

So here’s this woman, at the absolute pinnacle of her career – one of the two most senior PR people in the whole of the mighty Intel Corporation, and she’s catching snot for her boss.

Don't be fooled by what they tell you at PR school. This is what the job is about. And you know what? There's nothing wrong with it.