Oral Histories

Marilyn Laurie

Interview Segments on Topic: PR Education/Training

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: Are today’s workers, today’s recent college graduates, fully prepared for the rigors of the workplace?

Laurie: I suspect many of them are not. I think from what I hear from many of my colleagues the generation entering the workplace now has grown up and has experienced life  in a society where pretty much everything went our way. And I don’t believe it’s going to be like that in the next ten, twenty years. So the question of whether we have prepared them is a good one. It’s not just old people saying young people have to work harder. I don’t mean that. But whether we have  prepared them to turn what they learned into tomorrow’s competitive advantage, I’m not sure. I do believe that creativity, strategy, a certain toughness of mind, a real set of global backgrounds and skills, including foreign languages,  is going to be-- along with technology skills—very, very important.

Or look at it this way. To be a public relations professional, one of the things you have to  be able to do is put yourself in someone else’s place. How are you ever going to understand your stakeholders if you don’t have the capacity to get out of yourself and put yourself in the mindset of others in order to know where they are coming from, so that you can find that ground where you can meet and exchange ideas? I believe that in America today, in part because we have a mindset that says, -- we are THE global superpower --that we are dramatically under-skilled at putting ourselves in the position of various and sundry other countries and cultures around the globe that are very important to us.  Further, because we had as our most recent frame of reference, even though it’s decades ago,  the Cold War -- which was a combative way of thinking about things -- I don’t know that we are well suited to figure out as business people or as social advocates how to become better partners in a world that I think is going to require  many more forms of partnerships, whether it’s business partnerships,  political or social partnerships. Whether it’s learning to work with global NGOs or whoever. So I think one of the things we need to focus on in terms of learning is not  only the whole second language thing but a different way of thinking about culture that is  much closer to the way we think about an institution’s stakeholders, which  we’ve trained ourselves to do very well. But those stakeholders are increasingly growing in number and growing in difference. And there I think we have more work to do.

Interviewer: Is professional accreditation necessary within the field of public relations similar to what we currently have now with law or accounting or medicine? Do you feel that that’s a necessary step that the industry could take?

Laurie: No I don’t. I’m not sure why we are envious of lawyers, given their reputation and  doctors are about to go through a whole different phase of life as their reputations are questioned and  as they start dealing with transparency and public accountability for results. So no, I don’t think those represent  core skills. I’d rather see more PR people get MBAs, or global specializations that will equip them to do the job of tomorrow’s stakeholder management. It’s going to be about  understanding reputation. It’s making the brand come alive in behavior. I believe it’s about playing an important role in marketing communications as well—operating capably at  the intersection of marketing and PR.. It’s all these things and because the field is so broad, I don’t know that there is a particular set of courses or study that would certify that you can do this like a professional.