PRSA Foundation honors Jon Iwata, Chester Burger
By Kevin McCauley, O'Dwyers
The PRSA Foundation honored IBM's Jon Iwata with its Paladin Award last night at a sold-out gala at the "W" New York Union Square hotel.
The senior VP for marketing & communications for Big Blue told the audience they are operating in a "new profession," one that has moved from mass communications to engagement with individuals.
Enabled by "big data," PR is now a "business-to-person" proposition. To illustrate the world of massive data, Iwata spoke of IBM computer and Jeopardy champ, "Watson."
Big Blue programmed Watson with the ability to access the information of 200 books in less than three seconds in order to reach the required confidence level to come up with the right answer to a Jeopardy question.
As "keepers of the corporate character," it's up to PR people to make sense of the massive amount of data available so they can ask the right questions, said Iwata.
PR's overall goal is to "foster shared belief" based on facts, trust and personal experience to "spur people to action."
Kathy Lewton, immediate past president of the Foundation, introduced Iwata.
She substituted for Marcia Silverman, Ogilvy PR Worldwide chief and last year's Paladin winner, who was ill and under doctor's orders not to fly from Washington to attend the event.
The unveiling of the Chester Burger Scholarship for PR graduate students, honoring the corporate PR pioneer who died March 22, was a surprise of the evening.
Jim Arnold, honorary Foundation trustee and long-time colleague of Burger; Julia Hood, Arthur Page Society head; and Bob Grupp, Institute of PR leader, announced their organizations' backing of the Burger scholarship.
Arnold spoke of personal memories of Burger, talking about work for Firestone Tire & Rubber and Texas Instruments.
John Nevin, then-Firestone CEO, summoned them to the tire maker's Akron headquarters because he was upset that his PR team couldn't write. Burger, whom Arnold said would always look for a positive angle, asked Nevin if the PR staff was good at anything.
After reflection, Nevin said there's guy who always makes sure he had a glass of water on the podium whenever he spoke. "That's a start," Burger said.
After Burger trashed the annual report of Texas Instruments at a PR meeting in Houston, the company's CEO Mark Shepherd called the two to headquarters.
During that session, Arnold quoted management guru Peter Drucker. Burger later advised Arnold to forget quoting others and to speak in his own voice. To Arnold, that was a life-long lesson.
He also told how Burger was always on the cutting edge, whether it was taking the first transcontinental air flight or buying a computer.
During one their very last meetings, Burger was reading the New York Times on an iPad, noted Arnold.
The audience paid tribute to Burger with a moment of silence.