Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Heaven’s Newest PR Guy

My friend and former boss at Ketchum, Larry Werner, died yesterday after a three-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

During the time I worked for him at Ketchum and ever since, Larry was many things, but one thing that stood out is that he was known, not in a famous way, more of an interpersonal way.  Chances are if you knew him, he knew you.  He seemed to know someone just about every corner of Pittsburgh and well beyond.  It wasn’t hard to figure out why.

Spend any amount of time with him out and about, and you would have been interrupted by old friends, new friends, acquaintances and business colleagues.  If restaurant staff members had name tags, he used them, and while he had a charming way of sometimes forgetting certain things, I don’t remember him forgetting people’s names and little details about their families.

As a boss, Larry made mistakes, usually little ones and he knew how to laugh at himself when he did.  But at the same time he never made excuses for or even forgave himself for those mistakes.  He expected the same from those who worked for him.  We took pride in meeting his standards.  His standards became our own.  And when we no longer worked for Larry or with Larry, we took his brand of professionalism with us, and many of us continue to do things the Larry way wherever we work.

Larry had the human touch.  This carried over to the principles and ethics that make doing business the right way possible.  He didn’t preach to do the right thing for the sake of ethics, and certainly not for appearances.  Ethical public relations counsel was just an offshoot of putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.  The Golden Rule.  How would we like to be treated?  How would we want to be informed?  Would we feel respected or insulted if we were in the other person’s place?

Looking back, I realize what a privilege it was to work in a number of situations with Larry, seeing how he balanced all of the hard and soft variables that go into managing, into decision-making, client counsel, strategic development, credible messaging, and ultimately, in delivering the highest quality work for clients.

But while all of this is true, so true, there’s something else that goes beyond the Xs and Os of public relations and business.  Any time I’ve been with people who knew Larry, it wouldn’t be long before we’d find ourselves laughing.  The stories of many times with Larry are always memorably funny.

He had thick skin and a self-deprecating wit.  He invited barbs and oftentimes had a great comeback.  And through it all it was honest and done with sincere affection for others.

Larry was liked.  He was trusted. He was respected.  He was admired.  In no short measure he was loved.  Heaven just welcomed its newest PR guy.

On a personal note, over the years I’ve been fortunate to have made many genuine friends through my work.  My friendship with Larry was one of the special ones for me.  As for Larry's perspective on this, well, here's how he put it as only he could: “Of all the people I know, you are one of them.”   So with that, Larry, here’s to you. Until we meet again.

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