Jack O’Dwyer, one of the pioneer journalists who created a category of “covering the PR industry,” recently passed away. If you haven’t been in the business for decades, the significance is probably lost on you.
But here’s why you should care.
Real innovators don’t come along every day. Jack saw an opportunity and, relying on his 10 years of financial reporting at major U.S. papers, launched a newsletter to cover our business.
In many ways, he was like our late partner, Larry Birger. Crusty and gruff on the outside but with a giant heart. He was classic old school newsman, but always willing to take a meeting, hear your pitch, and cut you some slack if he thought you deserved it.
I knew Jack well. We would meet now and then, have lunch, and chat. Like any good reporter, he always had a million questions—about firms, about individuals, about trends. He had a soft spot for those he liked, and he was always good to us. In earlier years, he probably gave our firm more coverage than we deserved.
Jack wasn’t the first person to cover our industry. He was actually the second, the first being another former reporter, Denny Griswold. But when Denny died, the New York Times turned to Jack for background information on her and ended up quoting him in her obituary.
Old-timers will tell you Jack was a stand-up guy.
Which leads one to wonder. Do we have enough of these kinds of people around today? Do we call it like we see it? Do our colleagues know where we stand?
You should care about Jack for two reasons.
First, we tend to give short shrift to pioneers. We could do well, however, by paying more attention to them. If we ask them, they could give us a wealth of not just information, but also inspiration.
How did they see an opportunity when others did not? How did they square their ambition to do something different against the risk of financial failure? How did they keep their values intact and still gain the self-respect of the audience they needed to be successful?
You should also care about Jack because our business, our industry, isn’t very old. Compared to legacy professions like medicine and law, we’re really young. So, a sense of the history of public relations shouldn’t be summarily dismissed.
Jack was history. His office looked more like an old time Broadway publicist’s than anything else, with papers stacked up all around, files on the floor, and research notes all over his desk.
PR students probably are tasked to read up on Ivy Lee and other early practitioners. But those who chronicled our profession’s beginnings, its struggles, its growth and importance ought to be a part of our history as well.
Most of us benefit from a boost having been given to us by someone who came before. If you deserved it, Jack would give you a boost.
If Jack were here now, he’d say “Rubin, cut it out. That’s enough. Let’s have a drink.” Then he’d pull a bottle of scotch from his filing cabinet and pour two glasses.
Here’s to you, Jack.