It Takes More Than a Clean Shirt

Alex Greenwood
2 min readNov 20, 2020

Tom Rath: I don’t know anything about public relations.
Bill Hawthorne: Who does? You’ve got a clean shirt and you bathe every day. That’s all there is to it.

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is a 1956 American drama film based on the 1955 novel of the same name by Sloan Wilson. The film focuses on Tom Rath, a young World War II veteran trying to balance his marriage and family life with the demands of a new job while dealing with the after-effects of his war service.

In the film, Gregory Peck’s character Tom Rath is essentially told that having a “clean shirt” is the most necessary asset for working in public relations. (Sorry the clip has been taken down from YouTube.)

Contrary to the opinion espoused in this great film, Public Relations is more than just a clean shirt and bathing regularly (though it helps). Public relations is a profession that ethically identifies, develops, and creates strategies to communicate the key messages of the client. Just like any profession, from appliance repair to law, it is a useful, indeed indispensable part of the world of business.

The Public Relations Society of America defines it as a ‘strategic communication process.’ The aim is to build beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.

In other words, if you’re in business or have an organization that depends on engagement with others, then you have a message; whether it’s about a product, service, organization, or cause. You also have thousands of potential avenues to deliver that message: television channels, radio stations, blogs, micro-blogs, podcasts, and publications.

A Public Relations professional should have the strategic and tactical experience to tailor your message and identify the right channel for the best possible impact–ethically and tastefully.

I’m curious about your impressions of Public Relations–as a profession or its practitioners. I’m under no illusions that you have a 100% positive impression of our industry. Frankly, I’ve seen plenty of people who have no business being in PR. That’s why I work hard to earn your respect and demonstrate the positive aspects of Public Relations. To be candid, we in the Public Relations profession need to be better at spreading our own message…at telling our own story.

I think a conversation between people outside the profession and those of us working beyond simply wearing a clean to shirt to make it better is a good start.

So, leave me your comment–let me know what you think about “PR”: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Alex Greenwood

PR Consultant, Speaker, Podcast Producer/Host, Editor, and Award-Winning Writer of the John Pilate Mystery Series. Accomplished belly laugher.