Oral Histories

John R. Budd, Jr.

Interview Segments on Topic: Challenges/Accomplishments

John R. Budd, Jr. Biography

John Budd, a former Emhart executive, is founder and chairman of the Omega Group, a New York-based public relations “think tank.”  He began his career as the lowest paid writer at Carl Byoir and Associates, and 30 years later, in 1991, when he left the company, he was vice chairman.  Budd is founding fellow of PR’s College of Fellows and is a columnist and author of the invitation-only Observation newsletter. 

Budd has received PRSA’s Gold Anvil and 8 Silver Anvils.


Interviewer: And this is the Omega group?

Budd: A virtual agency. I brought one of the pieces of stationery that I had in those days. It’s here somewhere. These people, I knew them all, and what we had, the relationship we had was philosophical, not legal. They were all active in the specialties that you see. The agreement was that any time that I had need for their kind of expertise and if they were available they would work them with me under the umbrella of Omega. And what it did, it gave me as an individual an enormous range of capabilities.

Interviewer: This is an interdisciplinary team approach?

Budd: Yea.

Interviewer: Can I tape this?

Budd: Of course, of course. Some of these people are dead now. That was the concept and it worked reasonably well, not perfectly. Reasonably well. I think if I had to do it over again I would not have made it so voluntary. I would have tied a little more conscientiously by giving them a modest fee, or something. But I didn’t want to get involved in that. As I said I know them all. Knew them all and it was a relief. At one point, you can have this. I summarized. I wanted to see what I was doing. I summarized the work from when we started in 1990, and this is an accounting in 2003. This is not typed very well but that’s all right. Because the copy, in that period in 1990 to 2003, ten of these people were engaged 21 times in projects. So to that degree it worked. What those projects were is all in here. I don’t know what you do with written material. You may have that. Then I also created at that time an imprint service, which is Turtle (Publishing Company). The reason for Turtle, when I left Byoir, I was determined not to have a going away party, I was mad, but I had my own. What I created it was the ‘Select Order of the Turtle’. A turtle does not move until he sticks his neck out. Obvious right? So I selected in my judgment a dozen people who I had worked with, some at Byoir some not, as initial honorees and we gave them a little ceramic turtle on a mahogany base. And over the years I’ve honored people just maybe they don’t think it’s an honor, we give wonderful certificates, you know, on parchment, all that baloney. I remember I gave one to David Ogilvy because I’ve always admired him. Oh he said that’s wonderful. I’ll put it in my loo. I guess that’s where he hung all those awards. So that was fun. And I have used. Then I used as an imprint service because before my first book I had outlined a book on credibility. I had written a sample chapter. I had a complete marketing plan because I knew it was a niche book. All my books are niche books. I knew exactly who to go after and I was working with an editor at McGraw-Hill who was younger than I. Almost everybody I worked with was younger than I this is a long time ago. And she kept finessing me and rewriting it and I said she doesn’t know what the hell this is all about. So I got tired. So I decided I’d do it myself. I had a good friend who was the editor of a very successful weekly up in Connecticut but more importantly he had two big offset presses. I had good friend who is in that list there who was a wonderful graphics man. So I put together a little cottage industry and I rewrote. I wrote the book. And I found out it was easy when I didn’t have to worry about anybody looking at it editing it but myself and that was Street Smart in Public Relations. And I promoted the hell out of it. Sent out fortune cookies appropriately with, and I also sent out to “a select list,” a velvet pouch with six pebbles in it and a ping-pong ball. And a little daguerreo that said throw the ping-pong ball in the water and nothing much happens. Throw the pebbles and see the waves. I built it on that and the proceeds from that book have subsequently underwritten some of the others. And all I ever look for in the various books that I’ve done, here’s some of them, is break even. Because I like to write now and so just keep proliferating. I have one. I don’t have all that I should have because I had a huge inventory at home in Connecticut and the house burned to the ground. So did all my records, and all my inventory. That was several years ago. If we had been at home and not in our New York apartment, I wouldn’t be talking to you. When I say to the ground. I mean flat. Flat. It was a ten-room house on 15 acres. Any rate, what’s your next question?

Interviewer: And it’s an invitation

Budd: Oh yeah because I got a very eclectic mailing list with a lot of lawyers and CEOs and consultants and I will say senior PR people. What I try to do in it is interpret the context of public opinion what’s going on and what you should do about it. In other words, the way that even if you are thought of as a communicator in a company or in an agency representing a company. One of the ways you could earn your way into a counseling mode is by taking the initiative, sending memos or whatever to the CEO and say look this is such and such is happening. And this is what might happen and this is what we ought to think about. And this is what I try to point out here. I am hoping to give clues to what you might do. But public relations is a very integral niche business. There are those who where ambition which is more than just a word in the dictionary. They will move and they will do it and they will succeed and there are successful people in the business. They are much in the minority. So be it. This is another talk I gave way back when. This is typical of some of the white papers I do.

Interviewer: You are a prolific writer.

Budd: And this was something I conceived of, but it was unsuccessful. I thought well and I know why I wasn’t successful. CEOs would welcome the advice of a retired CEO who they could talk with, with impunity, where as they might be hesitant letting their hair down with anyone on the board. What I didn’t and we had a few assignments and I signed up again philosophically after I said before a half dozen, maybe eight retired senior executives. Both what I didn’t really count on is how immune sitting CEOs are to advice. My thesis was correct I know that. You can see it now by the short tenure CEOs have. But this was a little too avant-garde for them.

Interviewer: This being the CEC, the Chief Executive Counsel of The Omega Group?

Budd: But it was good it didn’t fly.