Oral Histories

John R. Budd, Jr.

Interview Segments on Topic: Trust/Credibility

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: What do you think of the value of, for these individuals you must mentioned, corporations may have a value statement, a mission statement, a code of ethics, how valuable is that to management and CEOs…

Budd: Not very, it’s, it’s attitude over aptitude any time. Part of the public relations problem is that they offer solutions that are superficial. I’m particularly concerned about selling reputation. You don’t sell and you don’t manufacture reputation, you earn it. Now there’s nothing wrong with a company hiring a public relations firm to improve their reputation if the firm starts out by finding what’s wrong with it and getting management to agree to change their conduct. That’s why I say attitude over aptitude. When they get public approval for media attention or for ethical guidelines for any of that stuff, without actually committing themselves, I mean the CEOs, without actually committing themselves to that they think the job is done. It’s, these are the things that you have to think about. Any one of those items can make or break a reputation. I don’t care how clever a writer you are, or how media savvy you are, you can’t do It unless the product is there and the product is the people. You are going to ask me something I am most proud of when I left Emhart. The then chairman asked me to come to a board meeting and he said you know John is leaving and so forth. If any of you have anything to say to him, do it now. They went around like usual stuff. Except the pervious CEO and chairman who had stepped down, although staying on the board, said, “Well ,what I always remember was John taught me the importance of credibility.” That was my weapon against the lawyers, although you can’t use it too often. The other thing I think of with some pride is the creation of a credibility index, which when Ray Gaulke was president of PRSA. It was my idea. We got a grant from the PRSA Foundation and a grant from Rockefeller, I think the sum total was about $200,000, to create, do research and create a Credibility Index. One of the people on that list that Ron Hinckley, who is a superb opinion analyst, was really the person who made the idea come to fruition. But we had an academic, we had four universities involved, several academic experts, and it was done so well that it was accepted by the opinion peers. What it proved, in essence, was that people give their trust to executives depending on the issue. In some cases they may believe the foreman in the plant more than they believe the CEO or the mayor more than the Congressman, and so on and so forth. So the idea of any, any universal way of getting, building trust is not really logical, you have to tailor it to the issue and so forth and too often in the PR field, when things really get tough, they turn to the CEO and think he’s going to solve everything. Get him on the stump. Get him out there, he may be the worst person in the world; there may be others who have more credibility with the shareholders or the employee or who or whatever it is. I was very disappointed. They never pursued it further and let it die. They did the one thing and that’s it. They did a modest follow-up on investor relations, but other than that it’s never been done again. There is one agency who has, I think they call Reputation Barometer. It was a total steal, but they don’t raise answers. They only raise questions and that’s no damn good. I don’t think, so let them stew.