Tough Calls

Martin, Dick
February 2004
Tough Calls - Business Book Summaries;2004, Vol. 1 Issue 1, p1
Book Summary
Book summary
For decades, before its 1984 breakup, AT&T, affectionately (and sometimes not so affectionately) known as “Ma Bell,” dominated the corporate landscape—as much a symbol of American culture as the proverbial, very American, apple pie. Since 1984, this once venerable icon has run the gauntlet of troubles—fierce (and sometimes unfair) competition, economic turmoil, and fierce (and occasionally unfair) media scrutiny. Tough Calls is Martin’s inside look at how AT&T has attempted to cope with this “perfect storm” of unprecedented challenges. With unflinching candor, he presents a well-documented “what-if” replay of the company’s strategies, battles, defeats, and victories immediately preceding, and during, AT&T’s Armstrong era, offering a trenchant analysis of what worked, what didn’t, and why. Focusing on the mistakes of the company’s business leaders, professional investors, analysts, and the media, he rethinks his choices in his position as executive vice president of public relations, employee communications, and brand management. And, on that basis, he shares some hard-won lessons in managing public relations for AT&T during one of the most tumultuous periods in its long history. Nonetheless, this personal interpretation of a very personal experience provides a compelling, comprehensive, and critical analysis of a broader issue—the importance of public relations to corporate life. Martin uses AT&T’s recent history to demonstrate that public relations cannot be left to the so-called public relations specialists, but must be a function of general management and embraced by the company’s leaders. His message to all—PR departments, marketing divisions, CEOs, executive teams, and management at all levels—is that public relations is not formed in news releases or publicity stunts but in day-to-day operations and long-term strategic choices. It is a courageous, perceptive, and persuasive examination of what happens when business leaders and their stakeholders (who should function as watchdogs) forget why public companies exist—forget that the purpose is not to pay court to news clippings and the gyrations of the stock price, but to build business systems with the goal (and promise) of serving the public interest. And, it is a mandate for the kind of “ambidextrous leadership” that addresses the legitimate interests of multiple stakeholders, “not sequentially, but simultaneously,” and treats profits and stakeholder goals as “complementary, not contradictory.”


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