Oral Histories

John R. Budd, Jr.

Interview Segments on Topic: Ethical Decisionmaking/Behavior

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.

Transcript

Interviewer: Do you think that the new media, the electronic technology including the Internet is making the public relations practice more or less ethical?

Budd: First of all there is no public relations process. What does it do in communications or communicators? No I don’t think it is making a mark. Walter Wriston who was highly regarded head of Citi Corp., now deceased, once told me he said. Your ethics come from your family, you don’t hire them and find them later. So if you’re going to operate unethically, you are going to do it. So he could operate on that and if you operate ethically no matter what the venue is you are going to be. That’s why I don’t am not particularly enamored of ethical guidelines. There’s a lot of showmanship and the same thing applies to corporate social responsibility. I think companies have an innate responsibility to their community, employees, so on and so forth. And because they do have the leverage of their size and money they should do more than just make successful products. They should really extend their, their social responsibilities in areas they are responsible for or in disciplines that relate to them and not all this. You know if all the CEOs ever did all the social activists asked them to do, there’d be no social activists. They live off the green mail from companies. They are not satisfied. It’s amazing to me how many companies pay for their own trouble. They underwrite seminars and lectures and other things for people who are dedicated anti-capitalists. And it doesn’t take rocket science to find out who these people are and what they stand for. Do you agree or don’t you agree? And if you don’t agree and if there are truly negativists and so forth, you have no right to support them. I would wonder what would happen if you ask individual shareholders, not the institution, the individual shareholders would you give $.50 a share or a $1 a share to underwrite such and such a program. I bet you’d get a big No, you don’t, you put your money or you buy company stock for only one reason. You want to get you think and you hope that the investment will appreciate and you’ll get dividends. That is why you are doing it. Otherwise you have no reason. You are not going to do it because of that company is green. Doesn’t mean anything to you if your investment withers. Now if you are satisfied with the financial results and the company is actively engaged in worthwhile activities, that’s fine. And you can be proud to have the money in that company. But it’s not why you do it initially and I think boards particularly boards and CEOs are trying to buy peace and I can understand why they want to. But somebody’s got to take a stand some place some how on some of these things. I am writing a piece for the next newsletter because I’ve been reading stories about carbon emissions and so on. You tell me who is going to buy stock from a company because the carbon emissions are point something 1. I don’t understand it. Who does? Either the people do or you don’t understand. I don’t think.