John Hill's Two Major Battles: Steel and Tobacco -- and the Person
John Wiley Hill's public relations practices and ethical standards were tested in his service to two major industries -- steel and tobacco -- and these are the primary focus of this chapter. The chapter concludes with Hill's professional views and an appraisal.
By accident of his Cleveland location, an early steel company client, and his friendship with Tom Girdler, president of Republic Steel and adamant foe of labor unions, John Hill became involved in the labor and legal battles of the steel industry from mid-November 1933 until the end of his active involvement in Hill and Knowlton, Inc. His counsel to the steel industry, primarily through the American Iron and Steel Institute, spanned three turbulent decades in that industry.
Hill became involved with the tobacco industry when the presidents of the six largest tobacco companies, frightened by the growing evidence linking cigarette smoking with lung cancer and heart disease, sought Hill's counsel on December 15, 1953. Although John Hill questioned the ethics of the tobacco industry's position, he accepted it as a client when, on the basis of his advice, the manufacturers agreed to underwrite the Tobacco Industry Research Committee (TIRC). This committee supplied research funds to scientists and doctors ostensibly to ascertain the "facts" in the raging controversy.
The TIRC in fact became a public relations front as Hill and Knowlton continued to present the industry's side in the smoking debate as evidence of the damaging effects of tobacco on a person's health mounted. Hill's firm lost its tobacco accounts with his retirement from active involvement in them.