Thoughts from a PR Giant

Published on: Apr 1, 2016 by Michael Snyder1 comment

“I think we know someone in common.”

These calming words from a Los Angeles A-lister drained away the social anxiety. It was the late 1980s, and I was meeting PR giant Carl Terzian for the first time at the California Club in Los Angeles. Terzian, already a national PR legend, commanded deep respect in Southern California. In contrast, I commanded respect in small corners of my mind. It was my first experience with the Terzian charm. And it was impressive.  So far as Carl Terzian was concerned, everyone is personally unique. It was hard not to like him.

Carl terzian, PR
The indefatigable Carl Terzian, “PR Dean of Southern California”

Terzian already had found out that I was originally from Indiana (I was living at the time in southern California). If by chance I grew up in Hoosier politics (which I did), he surmised that I probably had a direct family connection to Richard Lugar, once the Mayor of Indianapolis and now (at the time) an influential U.S. Senator.

Amazingly, he was correct. It was like he could see around corners.

“I met the Senator when he was between jobs,” Terzian joked. He went on to explain how in the 1970s he tapped the nearly inexhaustible Terzian network to connect the then-future Senator with key regional and national leaders – from Indiana and beyond. That simple act, including setting up meetings and speaking engagements, played a critical role in Lugar’s first Senate election. It led to a lifelong friendship.

Personal friend of Terzian, whom he "met when he was between jobs"
Personal friend of Terzian, whom he “met when he was between jobs”

Building relationships was part of just about everybody who Carl got to know. I invited Carl to address a marketing class that I was teaching at Pepperdine University. His reputation preceded him – it was jam-packed and spell-bound students stayed afterwards for more than an hour. Every year since my first meeting, just like clockwork, a hand-addressed letter from Carl would arrive in my mailbox right on my wedding anniversary. In it, datelined from some major city Carl was visiting at the time, would be a one-page hand-written note, full of amazing detail. I still have every one of them.

Then, late last year, a letter didn’t arrive. And I knew something must be wrong.

Carl Terzian was an amazing human being. He touched thousands of people and changed their lives. On March 19, after a full and prosperous life working for more than 5,000 clients over a nearly 50-year career, this self-proclaimed “secular minister” of Lutheran cloth joined the PR choir invisible. His client base (past and present) included then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, the Los Angeles Dodgers, a previous Mayor of Los Angeles, multiple southern California and national law firms, several universities, major hospitals, and on and on. He was an influencer among influencers.

Everyone who met Carl has a Carl story. Here are four Terzian teachings; his friends will know them well:

  • “Focus on people to find fulfillment, not money.”
  • “Your greatest asset is who you know, who sits to your left and right.”
  • “Don’t lose the personal touch.”
  • “Know what you are passionate about.”

Carl practiced what he preached. Joining influential private clubs in the Los Angeles area, he used those memberships to conduct thousands of private breakfasts, lunches, dinners and general meetings with key national, regional and international figures. He brought them together. And great things happened.

To Carl, humility was a virtue. His influence remains.

–Michael Snyder, Managing Principal, The MEK Group

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