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Stoking careers and causes instead of stroking egos

February 07, 2005|Warren Cowan | Warren Cowan co-founded Rogers & Cowan and is currently chairman of L.A.-based Warren Cowan and Associates Public Relations. His forthcoming book is titled "My Above-the-Titles Life."

I am positive that I'm not alone in being surprised by many of Bumble Ward's comments regarding her decision to walk away from the public relations business ["Publicist Puts a New Spin on Life," by Kim Masters, Feb. 2]. The choice to leave is hers, but to slam all the hard-working people who actually love the PR business is out of line.

My late partner, Henry Rogers, and I built our firm believing that public relations is a business. As in any business, there are stellar people and shady ones. But Ward's saying that she can count on "one hand" the number of great people in PR came as a shock to me. I know hundreds of outstanding people in the PR field.

I have always operated on the theory that my associates and I are not in the hand-holding business or interested in stroking egos for a client. Rather, we work to promote careers, sell products, publicize causes and enhance earning power. On the rare occasions that we are not treated with respect by a client, we terminate the relationship.

For example: Several years ago, one of my oldest friends and clients, Kirk Douglas, yelled at a young woman just beginning in our office. I called and told him that such rudeness was simply unacceptable, and I resigned the account. The result: He apologized to her, and we resumed our relationship.

The key here is that if you do your job professionally, then respect will follow. Unlike the late Rodney Dangerfield (who was our client), I have received respect throughout the years. In fact, I am proud to have been the guest of honor at three testimonial dinners in the past few years.

I am sorry that Ward was not blessed with the feeling of pure joy that I have for an occupation that has brought me a lifetime of enjoyment. I have for the most part had clients who would do anything for me, as I would for them. Paul Newman, for instance, would think nothing of meeting me at the airport or holding a limo door open for me. My wife says of my career: "He would have done it for free," and though I'm proud of my business success, she is absolutely right.

I agree with Pat Kingsley (who actually got her start working as my secretary) saying that she still finds the PR business to be "fun." I get to meet and spend time with some of the most interesting, intelligent people in the world. This morning alone, I spoke twice with pianist Van Cliburn; with Newman as he prepares for a big race at Daytona; and had a heart-to-heart with philanthropist Bill Austin of the Starkey Hearing Foundation as he prepares a fundraiser for hearing-impaired children. Throughout the day, I'll speak with studio executives, media members, politicians, movie and TV stars, athletes, artists and fellow publicists.

Maybe most enjoyable of all is when we are able to shepherd a little-known actor into the big leagues. It's fascinating that less than a year ago, Eva Longoria was a virtual unknown. Now, my associate Liza Anderson is flooded with calls about the "Desperate Housewives" star.

There's a reason I still get to the office bright and early each day: It is always an exciting adventure. I disagree 100% that publicists are the "bottom of the barrel" who "get humiliated" by the "soul-destroying" business, as Ward says. If my career has in any way been one of humiliation, perhaps I've been having too good of a time to notice. I have spent time with several U.S. presidents, have met nearly every Oscar winner and nearly all of my heroes from the world of sports, traveled the world several times over, and have been invited to palaces for fascinating conversations with kings and government leaders.

I also am unable to relate to Ward's desire to stop now to write a novel. I am currently writing a book, but this in no way interferes with my PR duties. I hope that the publicist who works on Ward's novel does a great job in promoting it, and he or she might even give Bumble Ward a different perspective of what a publicist does.

And my guess -- and hope -- is that the publicist who works on Ward's book will consider the assignment "fun."

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