Dorothy Crenshaw November 3, 2011 | 10:33:30

Does Matt Lauer Hate PR?

People in PR-agency-land are getting steamed this week about our industry’s reputation. Again. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz appeared on the NBC-TV’s “Today” to talk about his jobs creation fund, which will raise cash for micro-loans to small businesses, and host Matt Lauer was less than gracious.

Lauer allowed Schultz to outline the program, but he seemed to be trying to get the Starbucks chief to admit he launched the initiative to sell more lattes. Or, as he rephrased it later, for “PR” reasons. Schultz calmly responded that the fund has nothing to do with marketing or PR for Starbucks.

So, why is “PR” a dirty word, we ask? In a post wonderfully titled, “Matt…Matt…Matt…You’re Glib,” PRSA stirred things up about Lauer’s discourtesy towards Schultz and his dismissive attitude towards what we do.

PR Newser‘s Tonya Garcia has a different take. She suggests that Schultz could have responded along the lines of, “We want people to know that Starbucks cares about the issue and we’re going to let people know about it. And if that makes us look good, great.” In other words, de-stigmatize the question, and the term, by returning to its literal meaning. The broader point, of course, is that PR and philanthropy can coexist.

I love Garcia’s point, and she’s right. But I think the Matt Lauer brew-haha goes beyond that. As an industry, we’re being just a bit overly sensitive about our own reputation issues. Yes, they’re real, but sometimes, it’s just not about you.

This is one of those times. The point here isn’t Matt Lauer’s view of PR, or what the word “public relations” connotes. It says less about our industry than it does about, …well, my list is pretty long, but it includes the following: the deplorable state of morning talk show infotainment; the demonization of “big business”; the presumed liberal media bias backlash; and Starbucks’ own reputation, which has been shaded with misunderstanding. (I worked with Starbucks as a client for several years, so count me as possibly biased.)

But I think the PR mavens should simmer down and wait for the next opportunity to defend ourselves from attack. It’s bound to happen soon.

And for the record, there’s one word Schultz used that sums up the jobs fund program more accurately than “marketing,” “reputation,” or “PR,” at least for my money. That word is “leadership.”

3 thoughts on “Does Matt Lauer Hate PR?

  1. Thanks for the shout-out to the PRSA blog post. Always appreciated. And I have to agree with you that it is not always about us (i.e., PR pros), but in this instance, it likely has a lot more to do with Matt Lauer having evolved from a true journalist to more of an infotainment reporter. Which is unfortunate because at one point, many would say he was one of the best interviewers in the business.
    But I digress. The broader point we tried to make in our blog post on the dust-up is that what Matt Lauer and many others think as a “PR ploy” by a company (in this case, Starbucks with its new jobs program) is nothing of the sort. Yes, it has some PR components to it (as in how CEO Howard Schultz got the Today show interview in the first place), but above all, it is a business decision that is in line with Starbucks’ and Schultz’s commitment to improving the jobs prospects for Americans. I don’t think logical folks would claim that is a pure “PR campaign” as Lauer did, but would see it more as Schultz trying to improve job prospects for Americans, which in turn, has an obvious impact on his company.
    I would counter Lauer’s glib remark with a retort that not everything is always about PR, which goes to your point that it is not always about us. I think in Starbucks’ case, it is more about rebuilding the American economy and, thus, improving Starbucks’ prospects, that it is about getting great PR. The company already gets enough of that on its own merits.
    Keith Trivitt
    Associate Director

  2. Yes, I agree. And I couldn’t agree more about Create Jobs for USA (got my bracelet yesterday) I think someone commented on the PRSAY on how contradictory it is that news and talk programs will interview quasi-celebs with less cynicism than they do a business leader who’s made a significant commitment to the public good. It’s unfortunate, but it says something about the interviewer’s POV, as well as the public’s tastes.
    And then there’s the fact that Starbucks is unfairly characterized as a behemoth that runs over the small guys. On the contrary, it’s grown the entire category. But don’t get me started on that one….

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