Speech: Mike Fernandez, 2013 Corporate Honoree

DAVID BEIGIE: Good evening, my name’s David Beigie, and I lead communications at State Farm, and it’s my great pleasure to be here to honor my friend and my mentor, Mike Fernandez. And I was looking at a list of all the men and women that Mike has mentored through the years.

And I won’t read the list to you, but it was remarkable to me the range of ages and the range of accomplishments. From people that were even now still starting out in their career to people that were leading communication enterprises at big brands, me included. And you can read about Mike in your handout.

I just wanted to share three stories that, hopefully, illustrate the kind of mentor that Mike has been for me and for many others. And, hopefully, there’s some lessons in there about mentorship. The first thing is that Mike gave me an opportunity. Twenty years I was in television in the media like a lot of you, perhaps, in the room, and I introduced myself to Mike, and Mike had a speech that he needed written on the business case for diversity.

And he knew that I was covering a trial as a television reporter, and he was like, are you sure you’ve got time with all this trial stuff to write a speech about the business case of diversity?

And I was faking my way through it because, to me, diversity was like, Dave when you do man on the street interviews make sure you get a representation of different age. I was not schooled in some of these higher-minded thoughts at the time. But Mike gave me an opportunity, and it was the beginning of many great things.

The second thing that Mike did for me, and probably for others as a mentor, is that he gave me the opportunity to bite off more than I could chew. And early on we were in the speech writing department together at Kodak, and for whatever reason,who’s he decided to assign me one of the toughest internal clients to write speeches for, I won’t share his name but his initials were S.S., if that tells you anything.

And I remember writing that first speech, and then those days you know printed out, they would have pen marks on the speech and as I was flipping through every page, the pen was deeper and deeper into the paper and then by page seven, I still have it committed in memory.

I’m going to frame it in my office on of these days, but this client said, this speech just stinks and you can quote me on that.

And you know, I was in a puddle of tears at the time, but I learned so much because I had the opportunity to take on big tough assignments. And Mike believed in me to be able to do that.

The final story I’ll share. We also worked together at one of the Bell companies in the later 90s, and we were involved in a labor dispute. And there was one evening where a customer had a young child in distress and tried calling 911.

This was right in the middle of the strike and 911 wasn’t responsive, and the child ended up dying unfortunately. And I was the spokesman at the time for the company, and I was doing interviews all night long and into the morning. And it was really difficult. Mike as a mentor stood by me that whole night through and into the next morning.

He didn’t do anything. He was just there as a steadying force to help me get through a very difficult time. So, the bottom line is Mike believed in me, and I think as we all go off into the world hopefully our parents believe in us. But as we go into the world we hope that will somebody else believe in me, because for any of us to believe in ourselves, it really helps if somebody else believes in you.

And Mike believed in me and believed in many others, and I’m just so glad that I could say personally, thank you and congratulations on this honor. Mike Fernandez.


MIKE FERNANDEZ: I still believe in David. I just don’t get to write his performance appraisals any longer. But this is really a real treat, an honor, and a special thanks to The Plank Center, particularly those of you on the board of advisers, for I’m truly humbled by this act and this recognition. In large part because you just heard it. David said I did nothing.

But no, tonight I’m reminded by the words of one of my favorite mentwho arealso in the room, and that’s my dear wife Pat Fernandez. Before any of our kids would take on a new adventure, before they go off to college, before they do almost anything at all, before they went out that door she would consistently, almost every time say, make good choices.

My vantage with David and other marketing and PR professionals who I’ve had the great joy to work with and mentor, some of whom, as David suggested, have gone on to actually lead the PR or marketing functions of their companies today. They really are proof positive not so much about my mentoring but about good choices.

After more than 30 years as a professional communicator, I am the one who feels much more the mentee than the mentor, because each one of those individuals that I believed in, they provided something greatly in return to me. For these were truly bright and talented people, and we see it from their careers as they have gone on.

And making good choices, when you stop and think about it, in a world fraught with diversions and distractions, challenges and change, it’s not very easy, but as good communicators, public relations and marketing pros, that is precisely our task and uniquely our responsibility. As we sit at the balance between the publics and our companies, in a world where we are all developing paid, owned and, earned media faster than we can think about it, it is all too easy to overwhelm our audiences then truly communicate with them, let alone be understood by them.

It is all too easy to be seduced by social media, responding and interacting at infinitum in cute and clever ways to every audacious come on than to truly serve the interest of our companies, our customers, and the public at large. And it is all too easy, as IPG’s Harris Diamond reminded some of us in a speech last night in Miami, to succumb to the drum beat for big data, but at what point does the line blur? Where is the line crossed from big data to Big Brother?

I can’t stand here tonight and say with confidence that I have it all figured out or where the future will be for new channels, new media technology, or data analysis for the next 30 years. But from what I’ve seen over my last 30 years and confirmed actually by global travels over the last three years with Cargill, meeting with customers, employees, farmers, ranchers, government officials, public policy makers, NGOs, academics, and professional colleagues, including many in this room.

It is at the object of our work in this profession, is not the management of a situation, but of an institution and that institution’s very character. You see the world is increasingly social, not just social media, but customers, consumers, public policy makers, all publics expect more from us and expect to have a relationship with us in the brands and products they interact with.

And that world is open 24/7 and it is global. Citibank used to advertise, many of you will recall, the city never sleeps. Today, the world never sleeps, and the dialogue never ends. Smart organizations and smart leaders as a consequence are not simply communicating on the old-fashioned sense of communications where we drove messages and expected the world to stop and listen.

Or even slightly more advanced, having a dialogue in hopes of improving one’s reputation. Jim Grunig, 30 years ago, referred to it as two-way symmetrical communications model. Today, at Arthur Page Society, with its work on the new model, we call it shared belief. But it is built from active engagement.

Greater transparency and a focus on the longer term, not simply communication. We owe it to the institutions we serve to engage not only our friends, but in many instances our very foes. And rather than seeking to undermine, we must struggle to understand. And at times even find ways for controversy to seed to common understanding and even common action.

And as we sustain that, we build confidence and trust among all parties. My Cuban grandfather would put it “said and done our worlds apart.” This requires real work, this requires real commitment, this also requires much more transparency on the part of most of our institutions than ever before.

That raises the bar for all of us to more readily share what is in our products, how they are processed, where and how they are sourced, and what the environmental impact might be. As Cargill’s chairman Greg Page is fond of saying, and who I would add, I saw on the internet, the summit, at least part of the summit today.

And the talked about the humane citizen CEO. He’d be the archetype, but what he likes to say, and remind me of, and remind our team of, is that in a world where nothing can be hidden, you better not have anything to hide. Think about that for a moment.

The truly great communicators in this new model are as much about tomorrow as they are today. The best of these companies, many in this room. We have some customers in this room, McDonald’s, a few others, find common cause with others, and pursue long term issues like sustainability, responsible supply chains, food security and the like.

Not because they are easy issues, but because they matter. It’s not even that it is in vogue or that a particular NGO or public policy maker desires it. No, they pursue it because they truly want to do what is ethical, sometimes courageous, and most of the time, in the best interest of all parties. In short, they are the activist corporations that have committed themselves to sustain the future.

So yes, at the end of the day, to do well in this profession as I tell a lot of young people it will still require good writing skills, critical thinking, great curiosity about this world, business acumen, and the ability to influence. But first and foremost, it will be about deciding to do something more than just be a good communicator.

It will require greater sense of activism and making good choices. To the Board of Advisors, I hope you have made a good choice in conferring this on me. I am indeed very proud of it and humbled by it. Thank you.


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