Hall of Famer Discusses Career, PR Future

   Jon Iwata

Jon Iwata, one of the most strategic thinkers in our profession, was honored at last week’s Arthur W. Page Society annual meeting in Chicago.

Iwata, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications at IBM, described how he shifted his career aspirations 27 years ago from journalism to PR.  The profession is fortunate he did so.

In accepting the top Page honor, Iwata delivered a thoughtful speech entitled “Authenticity and Differentiation,”  which was posted on the Page website today.  Here’s Jon’s story about switching his plans from being an investigative reporter to PR:

“I was an undergraduate at San Jose State’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications in 1982. I was there because I had been smitten by the work of Woodward and Bernstein during Watergate, which happened when I was a teenager growing up in California. Like so many, I thought it was noble to uncover truth as a profession. So I was all fired up to become an investigative journalist.

“To fulfill requirements for elective classes that year, I signed up for a public relations course taught by Dennis Wilcox. I figured I would hold my nose and sit through this thing, looking at my future opponents with a mix of disdain and pity.

“But then I was assigned to do a report on an unfolding national drama — Johnson and Johnson and its handling of the Tylenol crisis. Like so many others, I was astonished by J&J’s actions. I’m pretty sure I remember seeing a black and white photo of J&J’s executive team, led by Jim Burke, and there, literally with a seat at that table, was Larry Foster.

“As we know, the debate around that table was not about litigation and liability, or whether to meet stakeholder demands, or to comply with the government. The crux of the debate was – What was the right thing to do as J&J… consistent with its values as codified in its famous credo.

“The result of that debate? A quintessential moment of authenticity in business.”

Iwata’s view of the future role of the top PR officer in corporations was summed up this way:  “Managing multi-stakeholder relationships…embracing new digital methods… the intentional management of trust…All of these priorities for the Chief Communications Officer of the future are essential, and they point us to new kinds of work – perhaps new, formally recognized job responsibilities…the contours of a new profession.”

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