In May, 2005, I had the pleasure of sitting in the audience when Mike Wallace took the podium as keynote speaker at the annual “Big Apple” awards celebration of the Public Relations Society of America – New York Chapter. Then 87 or 88 years old, he must have been the oldest speaker PRSA-NY had ever had. You could hear a pin drop as he spoke.
In the public relations industry, Mike Wallace was one of the most respected and at the same time, most feared journalists ever. He could reduce public figures to blubbering idiots with just one simple question. Even the rumor that Mike Wallace had a research crew investigating a company was enough to send executives and PR departments into a tailspin. ABC News’s George Stephanopolis commented that Wallace became more famous than most of his subjects by mastering the “in your face” interview. ABC News reporter John Donovan, in a story about Wallace, noted that Wallace “had a gift for making the unaskable askable.” Just one example: he had the nerve to ask Nancy Reagan how much President Ronald Reagan got paid for visiting Japan after he left office.
Much has been written about this legend of TV journalism in the last few days, but from a PR perspective, the best piece I’ve read was by Larry Thomas, president of Latergy, a video services firm. I direct you to his article in a communications industry publication CommPRO.biz, “Remembering Mike Wallace: Lessons from a Master Interviewer,” which summarizes the influence Wallace had into five key lessons for public relations, corporate communications and investor relations professionals . Thomas ends his blog by saying, “RIP, Mr. Wallace. I’m glad I was able to see you (on TV, not at my office door).” I can certainly echo that.