Oral Histories

Marilyn Laurie

Interview Segments on Topic: Ethical Decisionmaking/Behavior

Marilyn Laurie Biography

Marilyn Laurie joined AT&T in 1971 as a nationally recognized environmentalist who helped create Earth Day and the Environmental Action Coalition.  Over the years, she created an environmental education program for AT&T employees, wrote speeches, worked in media relations and corporate advertising.  She recently retired as executive vice president of brand strategy and advertising, was a member of the 10-person Executive Committee and was responsible for leading AT&T’s brand building activities.  In addition, she served as chairman of the AT&T Foundation, overseeing a billion dollars in grants to educational, arts and community organizations throughout the world.

In  2002, Ms. Laurie was elected to the Arthur W. Page Society’s Public Relations Hall of Fame.  She was named one of “New York’s 75 Most Influential Women” by Crain’s, named a PR All-Star twice by Inside PR magazine, and received the Human Relations Award of the American Jewish Committee among many other honors.  Ms. Laurie is a Trustee of Columbia University, a Director of the New York City Ballet and currently is President of Laurie Consulting, Inc and is a past member of the Arthur W. Page Center Advisory Board.


Interviewer: What is the role of the economic bottom line in the decision making process within public relations?

Laurie: What do you mean? The company’s?

Interviewer: Right… where does the economics play into how a decision is made?

Laurie: Well, the most important thing a company needs to do is be successful-- except when it does it wrong, in which case it suddenly becomes terribly unsuccessful. So the bottom line is more often than not the driving force. But who says that to get to where you need to be on the bottom line you can’t do it ethically or with some acceptable level of social responsibility?  Now when you can’t is when you are desperate. I think about Enron. Enron of course is an interesting case. … Enron with its great social responsibility reputation… but everybody inside knew that wasn’t what counted in the way you made it at Enron. Toward the end they were desperate because they saw things would collapse. I think companies often get to that point where they think somebody is going to wipe them out if they don’t do certain things in the interest of improving the bottom line. And there the issue is to do what you need to do, whether it’s with cutting employees, closing plants, whatever ,with as much humanity and transparency as you can bring to the situation. And at the same time you’ve got to be there saying, “if you cross this ethical line the situation will become worse not better”. And you’ve got to -- this goes back to OUR consistency -- if you have consistently cared about the business, supported the business, helped expand and  bring insights to the business,  shown opportunities to the business, related reputation and brand attributes in ways that are synergistic to the business, created speeches and websites that are motivating to employees… presented ideas that gave people the feeling they were working for something more than they add up to individually …you can bring all this value. Then, when push comes to shove, you are believable when you say “Don’t cross this line. The shit is going to hit the fan. You will be sorry. YOU will be sorry. Not the enterprise in general.  You.” And you have a chance of carrying the day, and if you don’t, you’ve got to walk out. If you’re not ready to leave, you may not be able to deliver that. But that’s your job.