Oral Histories

Emmanuel Tchividjian

Interview Segments on Topic: Counselor/Counseling Advisor

Emmanuel Tchividjian Biography

Emmanuel Tchividjian serves as the Executive Director, Ethics Consulting Practice for Ruder-Finn, the only PR agency with an ethics officer, ethics committee and regular ethics meetings to which all staff are invited. Tchividjian has been with the company since 1997. Prior to joining Ruder-Finn, he worked for the Government of Switzerland and in particular, was tasked with researching and telling that country's account on issues relating to WWII and the Holocaust.

Mr. Tchividjian is a Certified Compliance & Ethics Professional from the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE) and a member of the Ethics & Compliance Officers Association, (ECOA) the national professional association for managers of ethics and compliance programs. He is the Ethics Officer of the New York Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America as well as a member (ex-officio) of the National Board of Ethics and Professional Standards. He is also a member of the Swiss-American and French-American Chambers of Commerce.


Interviewer: So what do you see as the influences of media on contemporary ethical decision making in public relations? What role does the media play in the way that public relations is making decisions?

Tchividjian: Are you talking about new media or media in general?

Interviewer: Actually that’s the question I was going to ask you, it was about new media, so you could tell me about traditional media and then maybe go to new media or if you want to answer that together, you’re welcome to.

Tchividjian: The new media brings a new element, but of course in public relations you deal with the media, not always; people sometimes confuse public relations with publicity, then you go in a wider range than public relations is. For me, public relations is; a public relations executive is someone who is an advisor/counselor in communications. So it can be for a CEO, writing a speech, or going to talk to the shareholders. It doesn’t always involve the press. It can be internal communication, but it involves the press very often, especially for a commercial client. So ethics and the media is the same thing. You have to build trust with journalists. You have the interest of your client to defend but you have your own reputation at stake. So you have to make sure there’s a correct balance—you have to make sure you’re comfortable doing what you do. Someone said never do anything that don’t want [to be] published on the front page of the next morning’s newspaper or don’t write an email that you would be embarrassed to read in court. You have to know that these things last.

I had one experience where we had a problem with a client. It was going to be news and I knew the story. We had done nothing wrong, but there had to be some explanations, so I talked to David Finn and the executive committee and they allowed me to speak freely to one journalist that trusted me. So I told her the story first and she wrote a wonderful front-page article for the press with the exact truth of what had happened. This would not have happened unless she had trusted me and I trusted her. I had to trust her too because she could take my words and turn them around and say different things. I’ve been on FOX [News]—they called—I gave an interview in the letter and I saw how the media can mislead you, can take the quote, put it in another context to give a totally different story. So there’s also some unethical behavior among the media as well, especially when they already have a point of view and they’re just trying to get something that’s said to reinforce that view.

Interviewer: Tell us a little bit about, about counseling, as a counseling role, transitioning a little bit from mentoring. The aim of the Arthur W. Page Center and the Arthur Page Society is to help individuals become counselors to leadership. So how can individuals best prepare themselves for this role; best prepare themselves to be counselors to leaders in public relations?

Tchividjian: Well, I think you have to put yourselves into the person you are going to counsel’s shoes and think what keeps him or her awake at night; what are the issues; what’s the past or the history; and what are the challenges on one hand. On the other hand, you have to encourage. You can’t be someone if you’re going to speak to the CEO that’s going to tell him what he wants to hear. We’ve seen this in the political world, people surrounding themselves with advisors that praise that person and tell him he’s right and then you have people with courage and with integrity that will say things as they see them.

Interviewer: So how can individuals prepare themselves to be counselors? What are some of the things that they can do to prepare them to be a good counselor to leadership?

Tchividjian: In reading or what kind of preparation?

Interviewer: Preparation as far as that, education, maybe even going back to some mentoring.

Tchividjian: I think some psychology can help because it helps with your interaction and the understanding of the other. That could be helpful. I think you need a dose of humility because you can be wrong. You can be both forceful, and humble at the same time; forceful when you really know for sure, but we rarely know for sure. You have to make sure that you always consider the person you’re counseling’s best interests at all times and not yours.