Professional communicators battle over Karen Hughes

In about 3 weeks, I’ll be attending the Public Relations Society of America’s annual conference in Philadelphia — birthplace of freedom.

I attended the conference in New York City a few years ago and learned a lot, was inspired by the entire NYC experience and by the history of communications in our great nation. What I didn’t like about the NYC conference is that a big-name business mogul with really bad hair made an appearance on opening night. Before the event, I wondered how he fit into the genre of professional communicators. Even now, several years afterward, I’m still wondering how he inspired me to be a better communicator.

So several days ago, PRSA announced — nearly breathlessly — that a big-name speaker had agreed at the last minute to speak to our group. Bush White House loyalist Karen Hughes will address the conference. I’ve read some of Hughes’ work — her autobiography was uninteresting and bland — but she’s a dynamic speaker and has clearly utilized successful tactics in her career. After all, she knew George Bush as “governor,” and was part of the team that made him “president.”

In a world of 24 hour news cycles focused on the thugs OJ hangs around with and on when Paris or Lindsey are getting out of jail, it doesn’t surprise me to hear average Americans publicly “boo” people because of initial perceptions.

I was terribly, terribly disappointed, though, when I saw “professional” communicators blogs attack and trash not only Karen Hughes, but the PRSA leaders who decided she is a worthy speaker at the Philadelphia conference. Nobody “booed” when PRSA announced that Tim Russert and Mia Farrow would be keynote speakers.

Thankfully, I’ve found some professional communicators who agree with me. We can show up and listen to what she has to say, then offer public — and substantive — criticism of her speech afterward if we wish. For those who vehemently disagree with her policies and can’t be open-minded enough to at least listen to what she has to say, well, perhaps those professionals should take a walk in downtown Philly and find some impassioned speeches made by the men who wrestled over our Constitution and our form of government. The disagreed, debated, argued, and kept the faith. Ultimately, the product they produced continues to work even now, despite shameful narrow-minded thinking among so called liberals and would be conservatives. Maybe it’s time once again to be Americans, and to respect one another, even as we decide to disagree on some issues.

Communications is about finding common ground. It’s tough to do that if one side is unwilling to listen.

Ahmadinejad, Karen Hughes, and the lost art of listening politely « More With Les


4 thoughts on “Professional communicators battle over Karen Hughes

  1. Tracy, you are a voice of clarity, wisdom, and reason in a sea of noise. I am happy to read your thoughts on the Karen Hughes issue.

    Your point about our Founding Fathers is excellent. They would literally spin in their graves to see what “Americans” do to other Americans who hold a different political philosophy or viewpoint.

    Why is it that so many on the left who tout their open-mindedness and tolerance, who loudly embrace diversity, cannot tolerate to even hear — or let others hear — a conservative viewpoint? It is hypocrisy at its most sinister.

    Keep being the clear voice you are. I will enjoy following you in the future. Les

  2. Tracy, what bloggers have attacked and trashed Hughes and PRSA? I wrote about them, but didn’t quite trash them, and I’ve searched for other bloggers and can’t find them.

    As I’ve commented on my and Les Potter’s blog, I think Hughes and PRSA will be on a short leash with this audience, which will quickly revolt if—as was the case with Newt Gingrich at a PRSA conference more than a decade ago—PRSA members sense they’re getting spun, or they’re not getting insightful information from Hughes.

    Is this partly because communications people lean to the left and have less tolerance for rightwing rhetoric than for leftwing rhetoric? Yep. But that’s something PRSA knew that going in. I just hope they warned Hughes that she’d better be interesting and useful, and quick.

    I’m not saying this isn’t possible: I organize conferences too, for Ragan Communications. About a year ago we had Tom Ridge speak at a government communicators conference in Washington. He was fabulous–had some of the audience in tears. I’ve had similar experiences with former Reagan and Bush I officials, speaking at my Speechwriters Conference.

    If anything, the blog uproar you say is happening will get PRSA and Hughes properly prepared for this session and avert a thoughtless blunder, which was what the Gingrich incident amounted to.

  3. To David’s credit, he didn’t trash anyone, merely pointed out what can happen when conference planners do not think about who their audiences really are. David and I share the opinion that U.S. politicos make terrible professional association speakers unless they are handled correctly, briefed thoroughly, and go on to give non-partisan messages of value to the audience. As David knows from experience, it can work.

    My point all along is simply that no matter who the speaker is, even if an inappropriate choice in the professional communicator’s mind, then either get up and leave or be polite in the session and use the conference session evaluation to vent. It bothers me that we lapse into America-centric political partisanship rather than just being good listeners. I think people on either side of the political spectrum, left or right, should behave accordingly. Sadly, I see little of it anymore.

  4. Here’s the post that got me a bit riled up.

    “Well, you get my point. Nice job Ms. Hughes. Keep up the good work and maybe soon the remaining holdouts in the Middle East will hate us too.

    Karen Hughes should not be giving presentations to anyone on how to successfully implement a public relations campaign. PRSA should withdraw its invitation imediately or like President Bush it too will suffer from an enormous credibility gap.”

    By itself, the comment isn’t incendiary. However, the post came pretty quickly after I had read the Hughes announcement from PRSA, and a couple of comments seemed to have quickly piled on.

    David, I did see your post, and thought it was a reasonable, and professional, critique.

    And I appreciated Les’ comment, too.

    Perhaps professionalism is, indeed, prevailing.

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