Thursday, March 5, 2009

Public relations giants helped Phoenix to greatness

Arizona Republic, The (Phoenix, AZ) - Saturday, October 20, 2007
Author: RICHARD KELLEHER , The Republic

There was a one-hit wonder band from the 1970s called Devo. The band's premise, which may be accurate, was that humanity was de-evolving.

When radio first started, people looked to it to enlighten mankind. Today we have Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh and other hosts of idiots populating our airwaves. In the 1950s, at the beginning of the Golden Age of television, people looked at television as a means of educating the masses. Today, we have shows where fat people weigh in and people sing on a show I call "American Idiot."

The Internet did not rise to popularity until 1995. At that time, people said it would open doors to art, literature and become the library of the world. Today, porn sites get more traffic than any other sites on the Internet. So much for evolution.

Recently, I learned one of the Valley's media greats, Vince Maietta, a former photographer for The Business Journal, and someone I worked out with in the mid-'90s at Beauvais' gym on Eighth Street south of Camelback, had died in July.

Several years ago I lost another friend, Perry Baker, another media veteran who grew up in Tucson and worked for Congressman Mo Udall.

I commiserated with the two as we went searching for decent public relations jobs in Phoenix. Most of the public relations jobs went to females who six months ago had been secretaries instead of these two media titans. There is de-evolution in Phoenix's public relations craft!

Years ago, there were outstanding practitioners like Jim Ramsey of Hughes Helicopters, "Swede" Johnson of the University of Arizona, who moved to my alma mater, University of New Mexico, then to Coors where he served as head of PR.

Most of the PR jobs in Phoenix are in government -- state, county and cities. This is nothing new. Government has supported public relations since PR's emergence in the early 20th century. Government plays it safe when it hires. Government agencies in Arizona tend to hire the former legal secretary than wizened pros like Maietta or Baker.

There are exceptions, like Mike Phillips, media relations manager for Scottsdale, who was city editor with the Scottsdale Progress and worked for The Denver Post, as well as Mayor Phil Gordon's press secretary, Scott Phelps. Practitioners who when they say they are going to get something for you follow up on their word and get it done rather than letting it fall through the cracks.

On the same day I learned of Maietta's demise, local businessman Roy Mixon pontificated on how organizations play it safe when hiring. He pointed out it is the "rogues" that move an organization forward, not the employees that play it safe. One of Mixon's axioms is activity is not the same as accomplishments.

While government agencies spend citizens' tax dollars hiring "safe" PR practitioners, ones with a teaching degree rather than journalism, and someone who has held an elected office over someone who has been on the assignment desk at the city's largest television news outlet, rogues like Baker and Maietta go through long periods of unemployment when they could be moving an organization ahead.

I will hold fond memories of these two professionals. I'm glad we still have some pros among us, like Ron Bergamo and Bill Shover, former head of The Republic's communications department. Shover literally built Phoenix, being instrumental in creating the Fiesta Bowl and bringing the first Super Bowl game to Arizona. Communications "rogues" who are still contributing to making Phoenix one of the greatest cities in the world.

Richard Kelleher , M.B.A., is a media relations specialist living in northeast Phoenix. He can be reached at richard