So Many Positives in 2016 for Sustainability – Corporate Citizenship – CR – Sustainable Investing — The Core of “Trends Converging!” Commentaries. It’s 2017 — Now What?

by Hank BoernerG&A Institute

Welcome to 2017! We are off to the start of a challenging year for sustainability / responsibility / corporate citizenship / sustainable investing professionals.

We are being forewarned: A self-described (by his constant tweeting) “new sheriff is coming to town,” along with the newly-elected members of the 115th Congress who begin their meetings this week. Given the makeup of the new Administration (at least in the identification of cabinet and agency leaders to date) and the members of the leadership of the majority party on Capitol Hill, sustainability professionals will have their work set out for them, probably coming into a more clear focus in the fabled “first 100 days” after January 20th and the presidential inauguration ceremonies.

The year 2016 began on such a hopeful note! One year ago as the year got started I began writing a series of commentaries on the many positive trends that I saw — and by summer I was assembling these into “Trends Converging! — A 2016 Look Ahead of the Curve at ESG / Sustainability / CR / SRI.” Subtitle, important trends converging that are looking very positive…

As I got beyond charting some 50 of these trends, and I stopped my thinking and writing to share the commentaries and perspectives that formed chapters in an assembled e-book that is available for your reading. I’ve been sharing my views because the stakes are high for our society, business community, public sector, social sector…all of us!

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The specifics: Throughout the early months of 2016 I was encouraged by:

The Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor giving American fiduciaries the green light for considering corporate ESG factors in their investment decision-making. Page 7 – right up front in the commentaries!

The Sustainable Accounting Standards Board (SASB) team completing its comprehensive recommendations for 12 sectors and 80 industry components of these for “materiality mapping” and expansion of corporate reporting to include material ESG factors in the annual 10-k filing. These are important tools for investors and managements of public companies. See Page 17.

His Holiness Pope Francis mobilizing the global resources of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church with his 74-page Laudato Si [encyclical] that includes sharp and sweeping focus on climate change, global warming, water availability, biodiversity, and other social issues. Imagine, I wrote, the power that such an institution can bring to bear on challenges, in the world, in the USA, and other large nations…

This is the Pope’s great work: “On Care of Our Common Home.” I explored the breadth of depth of this in my commentaries. That’s on Page 163 – Chapter 44.

President Barack Obama ably led the dramatic advances made in the Federal government’s sustainability efforts thanks in large measure to several of the President’s Executive Orders (such as EO 13693 on March 19, 2015: Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade).

Keep in mind the Federal government is the largest purchaser of goods and services in the U.S.A. — over time this action will result in positive changes across the government’s prime supply chain networks. Page 50 / Chapter 13.

The European Union’s new rules for disclosure of non-financial information beginning in 2017; As I began my commentary, the various EU states were busily finalizing adoption of the Accounting Directive to meet the deadline for companies within each of the 28 states. The estimate is that as many as 5,000 companies will begin reporting on their CR and ESG performance. Page 27 / Chapter 7.

Here in the USA, Federal regulators were inching toward final rules for the remaining portions of the 2010 Dodd-Frank legislation. Roughly 20% of rules were yet to be completed for corporate compliance with D-F as we entered 2016, according to estimates by the Davis Polk law firm. Page 30 / Chapter 8.

In 2017, one very contentious rule will be in effect — the required disclosure by public companies of the CEO-to-median worker-pay ratio; the final rule was adopted in August 2015 and so in corporate documents we will be seeing this ratio publicized (technically, in the first FY beginning in January 1, 2017). Page 34 / Chapter 9 – What Does My CEO Make? Why It Matters to Me.

Good news on the stock exchange front: member exchanges of the World Federation of Exchanges have been collaborating to develop “sustainability policies” for companies with shares listed on the respective exchanges. At the end of 2015 the WFE’s Sustainability Working Group announced its recommendations [for adoption by exchanges]. Guidance was offered on 34 KPIs for enhanced disclosure. Page 103 / Chapter 27.

The WFE has been cooperating with a broad effort convened by stakeholders to address listing requirements related to corporate disclosure

This is the “SSE” — the Sustainable Stock Exchanges initiative, spearheaded by the Ceres-managed Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR), and leadership of key UN initiatives as well as WFE member exchanges.

NASDAQ OMX is an important part of this overall effort in the United States and is committed to discussing global standards for corporate ESG performance disclosure.  Notd Evan Harvey, Director of CR for NASDAQ: “Investors should have a complete picture of the long-term viability, health and strategy of their intended targets. ESG data is a part of the total picture. Informed investment decisions tend to produce longer-term investments.”

The United Nations member countries agreed in Fall 2015 on adoption of sweeping Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the next 15 years (17 goals/169 specific targets). This is a dramatic expansion of the 2000 Millennium Goals for companies, NGOs, governments, other stakeholders. Now the many nation-signatories are developing strategies, plans, programs, other actions in adoption of SDGs. And large companies are embracing the goals to help “transfer our world” with adoption of mission-aligned strategies and programs out to 2030.

G&A Institute’s EVP Lou Coppola has been working with Chairwoman of the Board Dr. Wanda Lopuch and leaders of the Global Sourcing Council to help companies adopt goals (the GSC developed a sweeping 17-week sourcing and supply chain campaign based on the 17 goals). Page 56 / Chapter 15.

Very important coming forth as the year 2016 moved to a close: The Report on US Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investing Trends, 2016 – the every-other-year survey of asset managers in the USA to chart “who” considers ESG factors across their activities. Money managers and institutional investors, we subsequently learned later in 2016, use ESG factors in determining $8.72 trillion in AUM – a whopping 33% increase since 2014. Great work by the team research effort helmed by US SIF’s Meg Voorhes and Croatan Institute’s Joshua Humphreys (project leaders). Background before the report release Page 78.

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The above is a very brief overview of the many positive trends that I saw, explored further, and wrote commentaries on through many months of 2016. I worked to weave in the shared perspectives of outstanding thought leaders and experts on various topics. We are all more enlightened and informed by the work of outstanding thought leaders, many presented in the public arena to benefit us.

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Sharing Thought Leadership

In developing our commentaries we shared the wisdom of many people who are influential thought leaders and who enthusiastically share their own perspectives with us. These include:

  • Chris Skroupa, Founder of Skytop Strategies and prominent Forbes blogger. His views on Page i.
  • Pam Styles, Founder/Principal of Next Level Investor Relations and NIRI Senior Roundtable member. See Page iv.
  • Secretary Thomas Perez, U.S. Department of Labor on ERISA for fiduciaries. Page 7.
  • Dr. James Hawley of St. Mary’s College of California on the concept of the Universal Owner, based on the earlier work of corporate governance thought leader Robert Monks. Page 9.
  • the team at Sustainable Accounting Standards Board led by Chair Michael Bloomberg, Vice Chair Mary Schapiro, Founder and CEO Jean Rogers, Ph.D., P.E. . Page 17.
  • the team at TruCost.
  • the team at CDP.
  • the team at CFA Institute (the global organization for Chartered Financial Analysts) developing guidelines for inclusion of ESG factors in analysis and portfolio management — the new Guide for Investment Professionals – ESG Issues in Investing. Coordinated by Matt Orsagh, CFA, CIPM; Usman Hayat, CFA; Kurt Schacht, JD, CFA; Rebecca A. Fender, CFA. Page 20.
  • the leadership team at New York Society of Securities Analysts’ (NYSSA) Sustainable Investing Committee (where I was privileged to serve as chair until December 31st). Page 21. We have great perspective sharing among the core leadership team (Kate Starr, Peter Roselle, Ken Lassner, Andrew King, Agnes Terestchenko, Steve Loren).
  • experts respected law firms sharing important perspectives related to corporate governance, corporate citizenship / CSR / disclosure / compliance and related topics: Gibson Dunn on compliance matters. Page 25.
  • the law firm of Davis Polk on Dodd-Frank rulemaking progress and related matters.
  • experts at the respected law firm of Morrison & Foerster on executive compensation and related regulatory matters (in the excellent Cheat Sheet publication). Page 30.
  • the experts at the law firm of Goodwin Procter addressing SEC regulations. Page 146.
  • the skilled researchers, analysts and strategists at MSCI who shared “2016 ESG Trends to Watch” with their colleagues. The team of Linda Eling, Matt Moscardi, Laura Nishikawa and Ric Marshall identified 550 companies in the MSCI ACWI Index that are “ahead of the curve” in accounting for their carbon emissions targets relative to country targets. Baer Pettit, Managing Director and Global Head of Products, is leading the effort to integrate ESG factors into the various MSCI benchmarks for investor clients.Page 100.

AND……..

  • Thanks to Peter Roselle for his continuous sharing of Morgan Stanley  research results with the analyst community. 
  • the perceptive analysts at Veritas, the executive compensation experts who closely monitor and share thoughts on CEO pay issues. Page 36.
  • the outstanding corporate governance thought leader and counsel to corporations Holly Gregory of the law firm Sidley Austin LLP who every year puts issues in focus for clients and shares these with the rest of us; this includes her views on proxy voting issues. (She is co-leader of the law firm’s CG and Exec Compensation Practice in New York City.) Page 39.
  • the Hon. Scott M. Stringer, Comptroller of the City of New York, with his powerful “Board Accountability Project,” demanding increased “viable” proxy access in corporate bylaws to enable qualified shareholders to advance candidates for board service. Pages 40, 45 on.
  • the experts at Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), a unit of MSCI, which counts numerous public employee pension funds and labor pension systems among its clients; ISS staff share their views on governance issues with the rest of us to keep us informed on their policies and related matters. Page 40.
  • SRI pioneer and thought leader Robert Zevin (chair of Zevin Asset Management) who shares his views on the company’s work to improve corporate behaviors. Page 41.
  • Mark W. Sickles, NACD thought leader, and my co-author of “Strategic Governance: Enabling Financial, Environmental and Social Sustainability” (p.2010) for helping me to better understand and refine my views on the “Swarming Effect” (investor engagement) by institutional investors that influences corporate behavior. Page 44.
  • the experts led by thought leader (and ED) Jon Lukomnik at Investor Responsibility Research Center (IRRC) that, working with Ernst & Young LLP, one year ago in January produced the Corporate Risk Factor Disclosure Landscape to help us better understand corporate risk management and related disclosure. Page 47.
  • CNN commentator and author Fareed Zakaria who shared his brilliant perspectives with us in publishing “The Post American World,” focusing on a tectonic, great power shift. Page 61.
  • The former food, agriculture and related topics commentator of The New York Times, Mark Bittman, who shared many news reports and commentaries with editors over five years before moving on to the private sector. Page 65.
  • our many colleagues at the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) in the Netherlands, the USA, and in other countries, who shared their views on corporate sustainability reporting and related topics; the GRI framework is now becoming a global standard. (G&A Institute is the Data Partner for GRI in the USA, UK and Republic of Ireland; we are also a Gold Community member of supporters for the GRI.) Page 71.
  • our colleagues at Bloomberg LP, especially the key specialist of ESG research, Hideki Suzuki; (and) other colleagues at Bloomberg LP in various capacities including publishing the very credible Bloomberg data and commentary on line and in print. Page 76 and others.
  • Barbara Kimmel, principal of the Trust Across America organization, who collaborated with G&A Institute research efforts in 2016.
  • we have been continually inspired over many years by the efforts of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), and past and present leaders and colleagues there, who helped to inform our views in 2016 on shareholder activism and corporate engagement. Chair the Rev. Seamus Finn is on point with his “Holy Land Principles” in recent years. The long-time executive director, Tim Smith (now at Walden Asset Management) has been very generous in sharing news and perspectives long after his ICCR career. Details on Page 77.
  • our colleagues at the U.S. Forum for Sustainable & Responsible Investment (US SIF), and its Foundation, led by CEO Lisa Woll; and our colleagues at the SIF units SIRAN and IWG. The every-other-year summary of Assets Under Management utilizing ESG approaches showed [AUM] nearing $9 trillion before the run up in market valuations following the November elections. Page 78.
  • Goldman Sachs Asset Management acquired Imprint Capital in 2015 (the company was a leader in developing investment solutions that generate measureable ESG impact — impact investing). Hugh Lawson, head of GSAM client strategy, is leading the global ESG activities. GSAM has updated its Environmental Policy Framework to guide the $150 billion in clean energy financing out to 2025. Page 83.
  • the experts at Responsible Investor, publishing “ESG & Corporate Financial Performance: Mapping the Global Landscape,” the research conducted by Deutsche Asset & Wealth Management and Hamburg University. This is an empirical “study of studies” that looked at the “durable, overall impact of ESG integration to boost the financial performance of companies.” A powerful review of more than 2,000 studies dating back to 1970. Page 90.
  • Boston Consulting Group’s Gregory Pope and David Gee writing for CNBC saw the advantage held by the USA going into the Paris COP 21 talks: advances in technology are making the USA a global leader in low-cost/low-pollution energy production. They worked with Professor Michael Porter of Harvard Business School (the “shared value” proponent) on research. Page 95.
  • researchers, analysts and experts at Morgan Stanley Research charted “what was accomplished in Paris in 2015″ for us; their report identified five key areas of progress that cheered conference participants; I share these in the “Trends Converging!” work. MS Research in the post-Paris days shared perspectives on the carbon tax concept and the status of various nations on the issue — and the actions of the State of California in implementing “AB 32″ addressing GhGs. Page 119.
  • G&A Institute Fellow Daniel Doyle, an experienced CFO and financial executive, sharing thoughts on corporate “inversion” and the bringing back of profits earned abroad by U.S. companies. Page 122.
  • the Council of State Governments (serving the three branches of state governments) is actively working with public officials in understanding the Clean Power Plan of the Obama Administration (the shared information is part of the CSG Knowledge Center). Page 101.
  • Evan Harvey, Director of CR at NASDAQ, has continuously shared his knowledge with colleagues as the world’s stock exchanges move toward guidance or rule making regarding disclosure of corporate sustainability and related topics. Page 104.
  • our former Rowan & Blewitt [consulting practice] colleague Allen Schaeffer, now the leader of the Diesel Technology Forum, explaining the role of “clean diesel” in addressing climate change issues. Page 128.
  • Harvard Business School prof Clayton Christensen, who conceived and thoroughly explained “the Innovator Dilemma” in the book of the same name in 2007, updated recently, characterized new technology as “disruptive” and “sustaining,” now happening at an accelerated pace. We explain on Page 147.
  • the researchers and experts at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has shared important perspectives and research results dealing with the massive shift taking place in the corporate and business sectors as Baby Boomers retire(!) and the Millennials rise to positions of influence and power. And Millennials are bringing very positive views regarding corporate sustainability and sustainable investing to their workplace! The folks at Sustainable Brands also weighed in on this in recent research and conference proceedings. Page 154.
  • Author Thom Hartman in 2002 explored for us the subject of “corporate citizenship” in his book, “Unequal Protection, the Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights.” This work continues to help inform views regarding “corporate rights” in the context of corporate citizenship and beyond. The issue of corporate contributions to political parties and candidates continues to be a hot proxy season debate. Page 160.
  • Author and consultant Freya Williams in her monumental, decade-long research into “Green Giants” shared results with us in the book of that name and her various lectures. Seven green giant [companies] are making billions with focus on sustainability, she tells us, and they outperform the S&P 500 benchmark. Page 170.
  • Speaking of the S&P 500, I shared the results of the ongoing research conducted by our G&A Institute colleagues on the reporting activities of the 500 large companies — now at 81% of the benchmark components. Page 195.
  • And of course top-of-mind as I moved on through in writing the commentaries, I had the Securities & Exchange Commission’s important work in conducting the “Disclosure Effectiveness Initiative,” and a look at Regulation S-K in the “Concept Release” that was circulated widely in the earlier months of 2016. Consideration of corporate sustainability / ESG material information was an important inclusion in the 200-page document. Page 174.

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All of the above and more were important contributors in my collected “Trends Converging!” (in 2016) work. I am grateful to many colleagues in the corporate community and in the capital markets community who shared knowledge, wisdom, expertise and more with Lou Coppola and I over the recent years. They have helped to inform our work.

We thank the knowledge and valuable information willingly shared with us by our valued colleagues at RepRisk, especially Alexandra Milhailescu; Measurabl (Matt Ellis); The Conference Board’s Matteo Tonello; Nancy Mancilla and Alex Georgescu at our partnering organization for training, ISOS Group; Bill Baue at Convetit; Herb Blank at S-Networks Global Indexes; Robert Dornau at RobecoSAM Group, managers of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index family; Barbara Kimmel at Trust Across America.

Also, Professor Nitish Singh of St. Louis University, with his colleague VP Brendan Keating of IntegTree, our on-line professor and tech guru for the new G&A on-line, sustainability and CSR e-learning platform.

And, Executive Director Judith Young and Institute Founder James Abruzzo, our colleagues at the Institute for Ethical Leadership at Rutgers University Business School; Matt LePere and the leaders at Baruch College / City University of New York; and, Peter Fusaro, our colleague in teaching and coaching, at Global Change Associates.

And thank you, Washington DC Power Players!

Very important: We must keep uppermost in mind the landmark work of our President Barack H. Obama (consider his Action Plan on Climate Change, issued in December 2015) with the Clean Power Plan for the USA included. His Executive Orders have shaped the Federal government’s response to climate change challenges.

And there is U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, again and again hitting the hot button sensitive areas for the middle class — like income and wealth inequalities and Wall Street reform — that raised the consciousness of the American public about these issues.
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Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and her views (published in The New York Times) in her “How to Rein in Wall Street” op-ed.

And I thank my G&A Institute colleagues for their support and continued input all through the writing process: EVP Louis Coppola; Ken Cynar, our able editor and news director; Amy Gallagher, client services VP; Peter Hamilton, PR leader; Mary Ann Boerner, head of administration.

So many valuable perspectives shared by so many experts and thought leaders! All available to you…

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And Now to 2017!

And so what will happen in these many, many areas of forward-momentum in addressing society’s most challenging issues (like global warming) with “deniers and destroyers” lining up for key Federal government positions in the new administration and in the 115th Congress?

I and my colleagues at G&A Institute will be bringing you news, commentary and opinion, and our shared perspectives on developments.

If you would like to explore the many (more than 50) positive trends that I saw as 2016 began and proceeded on into the election season, you will find a complimentary copy of “Converging Trends!” (2016) at:http://www.ga-institute.com/research-reports/trends-converging-a-2016-look-ahead-of-the-curve.html

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Please do share with us your own thoughts where you think we might be headed in 2017, and your thoughts on the 2016 trends and their future directions — for 2017 and beyond. Do tune in to the many experts that I included in the various commentaries as they adjust to the New Normal of Washington DC.

I plan to share the individual commentaries with updates in 2017. Do Stay Tuned to G&A Institute’s Sustainability Update blog (you can register here to receive notice of new postings). You can sign on to receive the latest post at: http://www.ga-institute.com/sustainability-update-blog.html (Sharing insights and perspectives for your sustainability journey.)

Best wishes from the G&A Institute team for the New Year 2017!

 

 

G&A’S Peter Hamilton: A Former NBC Page Comes Home – Remembering NBC Page Days … and An 80th Anniversary Department Reunion

HAMILTON – The author – former NBC page -- as Manager, Corporate Press,  NBC Press and Publicity, 1982 (Photo credit: NBC Press & Publicity Department, 1982).

HAMILTON – The author – former NBC page — as Manager, Corporate Press, NBC Press and Publicity, 1982 (Photo credit: NBC Press & Publicity Department, 1982).  Now Senior Vice President, Public Relations Governance & Accountability Institute.

by Peter Hamilton – Head of Media Relations and Communications, G&A Institute

It was lightning in a bottle. It remains the “West Point of the Airwaves.” “It” is the NBC Page Program – once formally known as “NBC Guest Relations,” an area where aspiring entertainers, newscasters, sales executives, PR managers, radio and television (and movie) producers — and in general anyone who wanted to get a “foot in the door” into the network in any capacity — would seek to gain entry.

Before they became famous, the Page program boasted such luminaries as Regis Philbin; Academy Award winner Eva Marie Saint; television’s Captain Kangaroo, Bob Keeshan; “Charlie’s Angels” Kate Jackson; TV personality Peter Marshall; actor Efrem Zimbalist Jr., and certainly many others. There were countless other behind the scenes stories as pages waited to carve out their career.

NBC page Pat “Ziggy” Ziccarelli became an extra in the first “Godfather” movie and was said to have stolen the wedding scene as a dancer. NBC pages in the locker room who were part of a comedy team were hoping to win Joan Rivers’ favor as the word was out she paid $5 a joke in supporting comedian/pages.

More recently the role of the NBC Page has been immortalized on the “30 Rock” comedy by Jack McBrayer, who plays a “cheery, ambiguously immortal character,” “Kenneth the Page.”

I was lucky enough to be a lesser light in the NBC page program, but, like other colleagues, the NBC Page program opened my world. And what a ride it has been!

Back in the day, for the uninitiated, a “page” was an usher for those television shows requiring live audiences; there was a tour guide component to this, as NBC in New York City (and certainly later in Burbank, California) would host members of the general public on a behind-the-scenes tour of NBC’s television facilities and when the network had radio, its radio elements. The NBC Tour for years has been a “must see” for anyone visiting in New York, and was reintroduced in 1983 after a facility refit after years of being a visitor focal point.

Graduating from Niagara University I headed for New York and NBC.  As a page I got to work “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” when it was in New York; and as a tour guide, my tour group got a special thrill when Ed McMahon would come out of his ninth floor office to meet and greet my group (he was not an official stop on the tour, but he was a television institution!). And then there was that special time I got to take actress Anne Francis (of “Forbidden Planet” and star of “Honey West”) on a private tour of NBC with her daughter.

I wrote about the experience in my only foray into book publishing, in an article within a book about the industry from Workman Press in the late 1970s. My article: “Confessions of a Former NBC Page.” Good luck if you can find it!

Most recently the page program was described by Lester Holt on the Today Show as to be more difficult to enter than Harvard. (“the program receives about 16,000 applications each year and accepts less than two percent —making it more difficult to get into than Harvard.” The Today segment here.)

It is that competitive. I grasped this immediately this year when some pages conducted me through a labyrinth on the sixth floor of the NBCUniversal complex in Rockefeller Center in midtown New York City where I and others were to be interviewed for a pre-taped segment to be shown at an anniversary event celebrating the NBC Pages.

Today’s NBC pages are smart, they are energized and know their history of the building, its voices and ghosts, and rich NBC television (and radio) history that belies their young years.

The role of the NBC pages has expanded over the years. To say they are simply show “ushers” does not give them justice. As NBC itself explains:

Pages have the opportunity to learn on “assignments” throughout NBCUniversal. Typically lasting three months, these challenging and rewarding positions provide hands-on work experience, while exposing Pages to NBCUniversal’s diverse opportunities.

Pages also participate in company-driven initiatives and events.  On the East Coast, Pages work on the Olympics, the NBCUniversal Upfronts, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, late night shows including “Saturday Night Live” and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” as well as NBC News’ election coverage. On the West Coast, Pages assist with the Television Critics Association Press Tour, the Los Angeles Upfronts, pilot screenings, film premieres and the Golden Globe Awards.

During their year at NBCUniversal, Pages make important contacts and connections. They are encouraged to network with employees throughout the organization and schedule informational interviews.  Pages also learn from senior executives and talent through regularly scheduled Speaker Series events, where guests discuss their careers and experiences in depth.

It is fair to say I am very much connected with the RCA/GE Building in the heart of “Radio City,” Rockefeller Center.  It has always been a happy place for me, as I explained to my video interview hosts.  It has been a periodic but important part of my life:

  • From the time I was a member of the Howdy Doodie “Peanut Gallery” (yes, I am showing my age, but it was the hottest ticket in television in the mid-to-late Fifties)….
  • …to a time I saw the game shows “The Price Is Right” (with host Bill Cullen) and “Say When” (host Art James) and taking the NBC Tour  as a grammar school student…
  • …to actually representing the network as an NBC Page and Tour Guide and later writing TV and radio publicity for the network.

I have always felt a strong bond with “30 Rock.”

SPECIAL GUEST REGIS PHILBIN – Special guest Regis Philbin was a highlight of the 80th anniversary NBC Page reunion in Rockefeller Plaza. Joining him was John Moran (left) stage manager/technical support for the Late Show With David Letterman. Regis was a celebrity guest at the 50th anniversary in December of 1983, an event the author covered in one of his last assignments for NBC. (Photo credit, Ed Berenhaus, former NBC Page/ currently Advertising and Promotion Consultant.)

SPECIAL GUEST REGIS PHILBIN – Special guest Regis Philbin was a highlight of the 80th anniversary NBC Page reunion in Rockefeller Plaza. Joining him was John Moran (left) stage manager/technical support for the Late Show With David Letterman. Regis was a celebrity guest at the 50th anniversary in December of 1983, an event the author covered in one of his last assignments for NBC. (Photo credit, Ed Berenhaus, former NBC Page/ currently Advertising and Promotion Consultant.)

So there I was at the foot of 30 Rock at an event celebrating the 80th anniversary of the NBC Page program in New York on September 25th with a gala reception. The evening’s special guests were NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke and NBC Page alumnus and on-air personality Regis Philbin (formerly of “Live With Regis and Kelly” and now with Fox 1 Sports network’s “Crowd Goes Wild!” sports talk program).

NBC Page alums were lucky enough that night to be hobnobbing with a constellation of stars in the audience at Rockefeller Center Page celebration. Among the attendees: NBC News’ Brian Williams of Nightly News; the Today program’s Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb and Al Roker;  CNBC’s  Carl Quintanilla, host of the cable network’s “Squawk on the Street” morning program; and a raft of the next generation of television news segment producers, a good number of them who had roots in the NBC Page program.

All tallied, there were about 300 in attendance. Most of these were NBC page alumni from across the decades, including yours truly.

OUTDOOR REUNION – The 80th anniversary NBC page Reunion attracted hundreds of former pages from over the decades. The event was held in the Rockefeller Center café area. (Photo credit: Ed Berenhaus)

OUTDOOR REUNION – The 80th anniversary NBC page Reunion attracted hundreds of former pages from over the decades. The event was held in the Rockefeller Center café area. (Photo credit: Ed Berenhaus)

Given our training and our experience, once a page, always a page. We were not star-struck; because we were accustomed to working with on-air talent. There was an almost collegial give and take between the NBC page alums and the current stars. We were family, and we felt as if the event were a “welcome home!” event. Because it was.

For me, it was a special evening. And the memories took me back over the years. As an  NBC Page and Tour Guide in 1970, I made good use of the rich experiences in the “Guest Relations” (page) department.

In my time you could only stay as a page for 18 months. Either you got “upstairs” in launching your career or you were out. I stayed in the Guest Relations Department in various managerial capacities beyond being a page for nearly five years.

While a manager I was in charge of hiring. I did the best I could to nurture those I had hired and to help them get upstairs. Simultaneously I wanted to get upstairs myself; for five years I knocked on the NBC Press & Publicity Department door because I wanted to write television and radio publicity. That was it for me. Others wanted to produce sports; others wanted to be sales executives (one I hired became advertising executive for Anheuser Busch, in charge of a billion dollar budget); still others wanted to perform in television or on Broadway.  One of those I hired announced one day he was leaving for Las Vegas to become a gambler. Less than tall at about five foot five, while I was wishing him luck as he was leaving I imagined him in the future ending up with a six-foot showgirl on each arm somewhere down the road!

It took me awhile, but I finally “got upstairs” in the NBC (then known as the RCA) Building. The amazing great white-haired bear, NBC Press & Publicity honcho Gene Walsh opened the door for me first as the associate editor of NBC Newsline, the new in-house newspaper that was a resurrection of the old “Chimes” newspaper for NBC employees. One of my first stories was the history of the famed Rockefeller Center Christmas trees. I then worked my way further into the Press Department as an NBC-TV and Radio publicist — and then into what would be a four decade career in public relations and publicity.

Being a page for me opened the door for what I will always believe was a thrilling, rich experience as an NBC publicist:

*NBC Television Network: publicity for all corporate functions, NBC’s prime time schedule and all NBC operating and staff divisions.

*Television Show Handler or Unit Publicity, including some great shows as “St. Elsewhere,” “Hill Street Blues” and some less-than-acclaimed failed shows and pilots. (Hey, it was television. That’s the business).

Other highlights:

*“America Alive!” – Publicity with host Jack Linkletter and travelling co-hosts Bruce Jenner (former Olympic decathlon champion, now Kardashian stepfather); Pat Mitchell (the current President and Chief Executive Officer of The Paley Center for Media, formerly the Museum of Television and Radio) in New York City and the former President and CEO of Public Broadcasting System (PBS); and Janet Langhart (now spouse of former defense secretary William Cohen).  This 60-minute show in the late 1970s was live television, a daily talk show that included consumer tips, relationship advice, entertainment news and reviews, and comedy bits.

For a publicist, working with live television was often dangerous, because anything could happen, and sometimes did. But that was a holdover from TV’s Golden Years, when practically all of it was live television.

* “Saturday Night Live”: working with John, Dan, Chevy, Gilda, Larraine, Garrett, Eddie, Joe, Julia and the others (The memories of a publicist on this show, of course, are legion: Eddie Murphy and “Larry the Lobster,” John Belushi and Joe Cocker mimicking each other outside the elevators on 8th floor and Andy Kaufman missing his plane and not turning in his script on time.)

Overall they were just great people; and this show had me working with top television reporters across the nation. I started on the show as a backup publicist with fellow NBC Press colleague Les Slater the week after the October 1975 premiere with host comedian George Carlin. The show could often make news; and I would repair to my office after the show, write up a story and take it and some unexposed film from the dress rehearsal over to nearby Associated Press in the dead of night, imploring AP editor Pat Conroy on the graveyard shift to give us a wire break.

* “The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder”: publicizing Tom’s interview with mass killer Charlie Manson, the first ever at the time; covering the closing of Hurley’s bar – a touchstone in Jack Paar and Johnny Carson monologues and an entertainment industry hangout – and meeting Steve Allen, Dave Garroway and a host of stars from television’s Golden Years; Tom’s newsmaker interviews; producer Pam Burke’s steady hand of the helm of the show; new incoming producer Roger Ailes (now chairman of Fox News) and his imprint as the show expanded to 90 minutes.

HURLEYS – Hurley’s was a long time entertainment watering hole of old New York, favored by “NBC inmates,” as an Associated Press television writer wrote. It closed October 12, 1975. Its last night was covered by the “Tomorrow Show” with Tom Snyder. In its window was an old photo of Jack Paar, the famed early “Tonight Show” host. Paar wrote: “When the boys in the band ask who this is, it’s time to send them back upstairs!”  The AP reporter noted that the occasion at the time of the writing “already had the troops from NBC and elsewhere in profound grief.” (Photo credit: NBC Press & Publicity Department, 1975). The closing of Hurley’s as covered by the Tomorrow Show, was the author’s first assignment as a television publicist. He was asked that week to join colleague Les Slater as a publicist on the then-new “Saturday Night Live” in its second week after the premiere show hosted by George Carlin.

HURLEYS – Hurley’s was a long time entertainment watering hole of old New York, favored by “NBC inmates,” as an Associated Press television writer wrote. It closed October 12, 1975. Its last night was covered by the “Tomorrow Show” with Tom Snyder. In its window was an old photo of Jack Paar, the famed early “Tonight Show” host. Paar wrote: “When the boys in the band ask who this is, it’s time to send them back upstairs!” The AP reporter noted that the occasion at the time of the writing “already had the troops from NBC and elsewhere in profound grief.” (Photo credit: NBC Press & Publicity Department, 1975). The closing of Hurley’s as covered by the Tomorrow Show, was the author’s first assignment as a television publicist. He was asked that week to join colleague Les Slater as a publicist on the then-new “Saturday Night Live” in its second week after the premiere show hosted by George Carlin.

It was said that Hurley’s (in a low rise corner building next to 30 Rock) had an extension of the NBC switchboard behind the bar. It was because legend had it that acclaimed NBC Symphony maestro Arturo Toscanini wanted to keep tabs on his string section when they weren’t in Studio 8H.  The speculation was that the maestro wanted to know where his strings were on their downtime in case he needed them! When Tom Snyder passed away in 2007, the accompanying wire service obit photo was one of Tom interviewing Manson in 1981, a photo we had serviced from NBC Press.

*White House specials: being in the Reagan Oval Office with the President and working on the “Christmas in Washington” and “Dear Mr. President” specials.

You had to let the White House know what you were doing and why; and thanks to the mentoring of my bosses in NBC Press who kicked my tail around until I got it right, I was fully prepared — and so were the President’s aides. What confidence my NBC Press bosses had in me! The US Secret Service appeared to be impressed as well. At one of the “Christmas in Washington” specials, one of the agents asked me whether I were “new on the job!”  Maybe the suit fooled them!

With “Dear Mr. President,” “Here’s Boomer” producer A.C. Lyles managed to package a network special involving his friend, former actor/now President Ronald Reagan. (Lyles has the distinction of being the longest running Paramount Pictures employee). He was known as a prolific producer of Westerns during the 1950s and 1960s.

With “Dear Mr. President,” children from across the nation wrote into the President asking how government worked, and this publicist accompanied the children, bouncing around on a small school bus, meeting the President, Chief Justice Warren Burger, Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker  and others. I wrote about each child from each city, so the local press could pick up the publicity (I was a publicist after all, an operative trying to help build an audience but I also tried to ensure that the children might have some great memories.)

*”Friday Night Videos- publicity support for NBC-TV’s late night answer to MTV. Worked with publicists of some of the top acts of the early 1980s.

*”Nashville Palace” – a Nashville-based  limited run NBC music/variety show (1981-82) featuring country music and comedy skits, with guest hosts that included country and western legends Roy Rogers and Dale Evans; Roy Clark; Slim Pickens; the Oak Ridge Boys; Tammy Wynette and George Jones. Special thrills: interview with my boyhood idol Roy Rogers; and a Nashville dinner with Slim Pickens (countless Westerns and riding an H-Bomb in “Dr. Strangelove”) and an NBC photographer watching a telecast of the September 1981 Sugar Ray Leonard/ Thomas Hearns fight.

*NBC Radio – working on the story that had NBC News projecting the winner of the 1980 Presidential Election at 8:16 p.m. on NBC Radio Network. Radio was particularly thrilling. Seeing veteran newsman Edwin Newman on the phone with KFWB Radio Los Angeles from Studio 5B (the NBC Radio News studio explaining what the Reagan election meant, telling the station about NBC news’ projection of the Reagan win, was very exciting — and history-making). The network learned from it. By calling an election at 5:16 p.m. Pacific Time, the “call” most likely was dissuading the West Coast from voting. So today, the networks call national elections after the West Coast poll closings.

* NBC’s foray into a new young adult radio news and concert network, “The Source,” where I got to promote concerts of such groups and performers as Yes, Grateful Dead, The Police, Rossington Collins, Judas Priest and many others); and the expansion into TalkNet, a talk radio network; and working with the eight owned and operated (“O/O”) radio stations, including the resurgence of the four station FM group from “automated broom closets” as they were described, into live studio killers.

Each station of course, had its advertising, promotion and publicity operatives, but there was a period when I was divisional publicity chief of a stable of AM and FM radio stations and its stars including Don Imus and the King -Of-All-Media, Howard Stern, who with his then-wife I accompanied on a walking tour of New Orleans when we were introducing the NBC FM Stations group. “Howard” was no shock jock that afternoon; he was as unassuming and polite as any other tourist visiting St. Louis Cathedral and other New Orleans sites.

Earlier, when Stern was at “W4 Radio,” (WWWW, Detroit), an AOR station (album oriented rock; the station’s call letters are now WDTW-FM) I was in town for the national radio convention. I was listening to Stern from my hotel room and phoned the station taking him to task for not including Gilda Radner when he was proposing celebrity Detroit names for the city’s streets.

Our publicity prompted Geoffrey Colvin of Fortune to write a story, “Fred Silverman’s Secret  Success” about NBC Radio because we were told he was impressed with all that buzz coming out of NBC Radio.  (Silverman was President of NBC after being wooed over from previous programming positions at CBS and then ABC.)

*The NBC Radio Network: helping to chronicle the ongoing affiliate station growth of “America’s First Network,” as NBC Radio Network was described and working on publicity material in support of “Confrontation” ( the predecessor of CNN’s “Crossfire”) with Pat Buchanan  (yes, that Pat B.) and Tom Braden (who wrote “‘Eight is Enough”). I also worked with David Brinkley’s radio commentaries.

I was lucky enough to come full circle as a publicist with NBC. One of my final projects as I was leaving the network to join the global advertising agency Young & Rubicam was in writing all the publicity material for the 50th anniversary of the Page and Tour Guide Department in December 1983. The work on this was a labor of love.

The event was large; the search was on for 8,000 former NBC pages, and the venue had to be in Studio 8H to accommodate what would be people coming out of the woodwork. (Studio 8H was former home of the Kraft Television Theatre; NBC News’s moon shot coverage, the NBC Symphony Orchestra; and “Saturday Night Live,” among many productions.).

The press kit elements for the 50th anniversary of the NBC Page program in December 1983 included:

  • The Umbrella story: Guest relations’ 50th: A Celebration of Tradition
  • Guest relations 50th: Gene Rayburn remembers
  • Charlie Spencer’s Huge Task: Locating Hundreds of former Guest Relations/page staffers.
  • Ken Howard’s (start of “The White Shadow”):  Guest Relations memories
  • Brandon Maggart remembers
  • NBC Press Chief’s Alan Baker on working with columnist Walter Winchell
  • Memories of former GR people in 1984
  • GR West Point of the Airwaves: guest relations people go to war WWII
  • GR manager Peter Tintle remembers
This is a grainy photo of Peter M. Tintle, Manager, NBC Guest Relations   and   Peter M. Hamilton, Asst. Mgr.     Probably 1974 or early 1975. Look at that suit… ‘70s, ya think?

This is a grainy photo of Peter M. Tintle, Manager, NBC Guest Relations
and Peter M. Hamilton, Asst. Mgr.
Probably 1974 or early 1975. Look at that suit… ‘70s, ya think?

About “Mr. Tintle”: he was a page who never left the department. I remember “agreeing” with Tintle to bring Rick Carson aboard as a page. It was tongue in cheek. There never was a question of bringing Johnny Carson’s son into the program. Rick would go on to become a Tomorrow Show producer on the West Coast before tragically losing his life in an auto accident.    We all had last names on our uniforms. Rick’s name on his page uniform was “Rickcarson.” The public never caught on; and Rick Carson moved unencumbered by a famous name around his job and the public.

*The rise of “Guidettes” and “Pagettes” during WWII. Women join Guest Relations.

*1956 reunion: 200 monkey suit boys converge for reunion.

Flash forward to 2013.

As I knew NBC was planning a reunion, I asked William Bartlett, NBC Executive speechwriter and historian, if he wanted a copy of the 1983 press kit. He agreed and I’d like to think NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke used some of my material at the September 25th event. A good amount of background material Mr. Burke used was from our press kit. “Saturday Night Live” was gearing up for its season premiere in Studio 8H, so we were precluded from the big studio and instead the event would be held in the Rockefeller Plaza Café (by the skating rink).

And so, during the 2013 NBC Page 80th anniversary event, I was fully enjoying myself, not enjoying/working the event as I did in 1983 with a handful of press kits, looking for reporters.

At the 2013 event I reconnected with a former page whom I hired, who now works as an associate director for NBC Nightly News. She wheeled me around to today’s NBC News stars, graciously describing me as the individual who helped her start her career. I asked her to please tone it down because otherwise she would make me cry.

But really, she and others have made me proud. It was all her, I explained.

When she interviewed with me and manager Peter Tintle, after we hired her, at the event I told her I said that all she did was to show up. Her intelligence, grace and presentation at the time made her a prime candidate to represent NBC to the public. And now she’s helping to convey the news to the public.

LOOMING PRESENCE – Long known as “30 Rock,” depending upon what decade you spent time there,  the building known as both the RCA Building or the GE Building has cast a commanding presence over the New York skyline and has figured prominently as a symbol of NBC News’ global headquarters and home to thousands of NBC employees for 80 years. (Photo credit: Ed Berenhaus).

LOOMING PRESENCE – Long known as “30 Rock,” depending upon what decade you spent time there, the building known as both the RCA Building or the GE Building has cast a commanding presence over the New York skyline and has figured prominently as a symbol of NBC News’ global headquarters and home to thousands of NBC employees for 80 years. (Photo credit: Ed Berenhaus).

The time came for me to depart into the night from the Rockefeller Plaza gala celebrating the pages. My time – all of the pages’ time at NBC in the Guest Relations Department – could well be considered lightning in a bottle. And just like that shining point in time years before when we all came to 30 Rock to seek our fortunes, our time was over.

How lucky all of us have been to have played a small role in the collective consciousness of the American public, having some small role in the history of NBC Television (and formerly) Radio. I would imagine all of us went home the night of September 25th with a knowing smile, and a proud one at that.

How lucky are all those pages and tour guide alumni to have had such a rich history of their own! And today’s pages are only now building their memories.

What an amazing cultural touch point!

What did the page department mean to me?

  • I always remembered I was representing NBC to the public as a tour guide and page.
  • The page program opened my world.
  • It opened new opportunities for me and hundreds of others through the years.
  • This was the “West Point of the Airwaves,” as others have described it

 

Truly, this was lightning in a bottle. To be a part of that?  Oh my.

 

# # #

 

We’re proud to say that Peter Hamilton is one of our team members (our communications director) serving the public relations needs of our clients.  We love his “Saturday Night Live” tales – they brighten our day.

- Hank Boerner, Chairman – G&A Institute

 

When I think of all that Peter has accomplished in his lifetime it makes me very proud to have him as a part of our team.  It’s exciting to learn from him everyday, and great to imagine Peter sitting backstage with guys like John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and Chevy Chase – what a life!

- Louis Coppola, Executive VP – G&A Institute