Ron Culp Shares Thoughts: Five Replies to a Q and A

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Today, The PRDude continues a time-honored (well, sort of) tradition: A Q and A with a fascinating figure from public relations.

But rather than run down the very, very impressive list of credentials earned by subject Ron Culp, I’ll make it easy: Visit Ron’s online biography and spend a few minutes reading about this consummate pro. You’ll learn how he cultivated a truly remarkable career highlighted by stellar professional achievements and outstanding volunteer contributions to public relations. And, now, the author of the very popular Culpwrit blog has charged forward to nurture the next generation of communicators.

From the “full-disclosure department,” Mr. Culp has graciously re-blogged some PRDude posts over the past few years, and I’m honored to know that along with public relations, he also has a fondness for the towns and lakes of southeast Wisconsin.

Here’s Mr. Culp’s erudite responses to five questions.

1. You’ve successfully navigated the corporate and agency sides of public relations.  What were specific public relations challenges faced in each arena?

Ron CulpAfter working for four major corporations, I discovered that the critical communication processes are remarkably similar no matter if you’re producing pharmaceuticals, office equipment or consumer products. At Sears, I was blessed with an extraordinarily talented team of public relations pros who got to know every aspect of their respective businesses. As a result, the PR team became an integral part of the business. Leaders running major business units sought out counsel on everything from product promotion to internal communication. This relationship with my team allowed me to know critical information about every aspect of the business, which provided me with a unique vantage point within the organization. Without a doubt, the bigger the company the greater the challenges and we were inundated with “opportunities.” Due to the size of the business and promotional nature of the store, we worked with a large number of agencies–nearly 50 at one point during the “good old days.”

Only after I joined the agency world did I fully appreciate challenges facing consultants, especially those who only receive one-off tactical projects. Their access to information is often limited to what is shared by the corporation so they must make assumptions that are sometimes correct and often wrong. Agencies that enjoy longer-term relationships with clients normally deliver the best and most cost-effective results. Agency client directors and teams who fully understand their respective businesses and convey a sincere client-first commitment become top-of-mind when additional assistance is needed. Creating that special esprit de corps is one of the key challenges facing any agency leader today.

2.  Public relations, like advertising, could point to “legendary” figures who shaped the profession from its founding days to not too long ago. Who’s at the pinnacle in today’s digitally-driven world?

We wouldn’t be where we are today without the legends who got us to this point of respectability for what our profession can help organizations achieve. I remain in awe of the contributions to the profession by some of the greats that I’ve been honored to know and work with over the years–Al GolinHarold Burson, David Finn, Dan Edelman and, of course, Betsy Plank. Today, I think the leaders of most large agencies and the CCOs of many of the top corporations are led by incredibly talented and innovative individuals. While there is consensus around Richard Edelman being a current day pioneer thinker in our profession, several of his peers and certainly corporate leaders like Jon Iwata (IBM) and Gary Sheffer (GE) also are significant players in raising the bar of respect and influence for our profession. 

3.  You made a very cool transition from leading a major agencyDepaul logo to leading the PRAD Master’s program at DePaul University.  How did you land that gig and what’s your biggest take away?

While heading Ketchum’s Chicago office, I signed up with the Plank Center for its academic fellows program that places PR profs in a dozen or so corporations and agencies during the summer to gain real-world insights to then share in their classrooms. Luckily, my office was assigned Teresa Mastin from DePaul. At the end of her two weeks of engaging with the Ketchum team, she asked me if I would consider teaching a class. I agreed to do so for one quarter and instantly got hooked and was happy to become an adjunct. When they asked me to help find someone to fill a newly created position of professional director for the grad program, I volunteered after another candidate I tried to help recruit turned down the offer. While I’ve enjoyed every phase of my career, I can honestly say this is the most rewarding work of my life. My DePaul colleagues and I draw incredible inspiration from seeing our students land their first jobs and then excel in them. Realizing that we’re helping train the future of this amazing profession provides a great deal of personal satisfaction.

4.  You’re a fellow blogger with the very popular Cuplwrit.com blog for “guiding the career in public relations.”  What prompted you to enter the blogging community?  And, what advice do you have for fellow PR bloggers?

I knew very little about blogging some eight years ago when I was approached by three Ketchum interns suggesting I consider starting a blog to provide advice for young people pursuing careers in public relations. Dressed as if they were going to an important new business pitch, they presented a persuasive PowerPoint case on why I should blog. They ended with the clever name, which was the brainchild of Kevin Saghy (now on the Cubs PR team). I have been blogging ever since, and I haven’t missed a week in all that time.

My advice to fellow bloggers is to find your passion, and post something regularly. Put dates on everything you write since this will remind you of the need to post at least once a week. 

5.   In 50 words or thereabouts, offer thoughts on the direction PR is headed.

Public relations (and I prefer those two words over the host of others that attempt to camouflage what we do) has never been in a stronger position as a profession. There is growing demand for talent, and colleges are turning out future professionals who are better trained than ever. However, as corporate and agency expectations for our services grow, there are two factors that concern me–writing and business intelligence. With few exceptions, educational institutions place too little emphasis on writing and business basics. Young professionals who can write usually are good thinkers, and those who understand how businesses operate are going to have highly rewarding careers.

# # #

Want to know the thoughts of other PR heavyweights?  (Figuratively speaking, of course.)  Here are Q&A posts from:

  • Gerry Corbett, APR, Fellow PRSA and 2013 Chair and CEO of PRSA
  • Nick Kalm, President of Reputation Partners Public Relations
  • Chris Ruys, President of Chris Ruys Communications
  • R. J. Sirois, former PR pro turned successful real estate broker

I Shook Hands with a PR Industry Titan, and a Strategy to Re-Launch the APR

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

The title of this post is quite long.  So, I’ll be relatively brief.

Al Golin

Al Golin, Founder and Chair of Golin Harris.

On November 21, I had the honor to shake the hand of one of the undisputed titans in public relations: Al Golin, founder and chairman of international communications firm Golin Harris, identified graphically by its lower case “gh” logo.

Mr. Golin was being honored by PRSA Chicago, along with Bridget Coffing, SVP and Chief Communications Officer for McDonald’s Corporation, at the Chapter’s annual fall Senior Leaders recognition reception.  The gathering, which attracted perhaps 70 of my town’s foremost PR practitioners, was held at the prestigious Racquet Club 0f Chicago, an old-line business and social club headquartered in the Gold Coast neighborhood.  That meant I had to don and jacket and tie, and be on my best behavior.

Not a problem, as I have colorful ties and sport jackets to last decades; and, I revisited guidelines for proper conduct at tony venues.  (For the record, I own a tennis racquet, but don’t think I could afford Racquet Club dues.)  Back to reality.

After some comments and a well-produced video about the 57-year-old relationship between GH  (or is it “gh?”) and the fast-food giant, I had an opportunity to meet Mr. Golin and shake his hand. He was very gracious, listening to my tenure in the agency world 20-plus years prior;  I noted my big take-away from his comments was that even after 57 years of outstanding service to an iconic global brand like McDonald’s, the GH team has to earn the client’s continued business every day.

I wish all of us in the industry would take these words to heart.  Every day.

APR_logo

Hey agency people: Wouldn’t this look good after your name?

Onto a few thoughts on the Accreditation in Public Relations credential.  Noted in this recent post following the 2013 PRSA Assembly, the APR is in need of an overhaul — a major one, in fact.

Leadership at the Public Relations Society of America is asking Society members and anyone who’d like to speak their mind to offer ways to revitalize the APR, which turns 50 next year.  Here’s my strategic contribution: Make a concentrated effort to promote Accreditation to the segment of the public relations business with the largest concentration of potential candidates — public relations agencies.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? During my six years on the Universal Accreditation Board, I took special notice of the business affiliation of newly Accredited professionals. The large majority were not from the agency arena, but from non-profit organizations, government, education and healthcare companies.

As an incentive to champion Accreditation, offer agency pros — or any organization or group for that matter — a “group discount” on the cost of the examination if, say, five or more employees enter the process at the same time.  To do their part, agencies could allow APR candidates two hours each week to study and prepare for the three-step process.

Need more?  Here are three benefits for each side:

Agencies:

1. Account team members who have demonstrated the knowledge, skills and abilities required for modern strategic public relations.

2. Employees who will be committed to lifelong learning.

3. Perhaps lower turnover, as employees might want to hang around an agency that nurtures Accreditation.

Account Staff:

1. Earn a credential that lets one evolve from strategist to tactician.

2. Join the ranks of thousands of PR professionals from all disciplines who are Accredited.

3. Hold the credential needed to participate as an elected officer within PRSA.

Okay, this wasn’t a “relatively brief” post, but one more thought.  If I have the opportunity to meet Mr. Golin again, I’ll ask his advice on how to re-energize Accreditation.

PRSA Midwest Conference 2012 Remembered … In Bullet Points

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

It’s all over. And, there was no shouting to speak of.  Just a lot of tremendous and insightful seminars, commentary, discussion and camaraderie from the 150 public relations professionals from the Midwest and beyond who attended and/or presented June 19-20  at the 2012 PRSA Midwest Conference held here in Chicago and hosted by my colleagues from PRSA Chicago.

The short report: Everyone, from those more senior practitioners like this blogger to those preparing to establish themselves in the profession should have gained a lot from the 1.5-day event.  The accolades: To the organizing team from PRSA Chicago, our hosts at the Loyola University Water Tower Campus and the men and women who took time away from work and business to be part of the dialogue.

Here are a few bullet point thoughts:

  • Companies and organizations should “build up a repository of good will in case you need it during a crisis.” That was one of the comments from opening keynote speaker Al Golin, founder of GolinHarris. Sound words for sure, and a strategy I think can that can be supported through blogs, social media and an up-to-date web site. With all due respect — and there’s a lot of it for Mr. Golin — I did not totally agree with his thought that a public relations professional’s gut instinct usually is on target when providing the client counsel regarding a challenge or threat.  I think direction should be built entirely on strategy based on research, with a little “gut” thrown in.
  • “The world is changing at a pace previously unseen,” was a take-away from the lunchtime presentation from Antonio Hernandez of ComEd Communications as he addressed the power company’s “The Power of Campaign” communications plan and strategy.  There’s no debate from me on that subject; and, the impact of change driven by technology was a common thread addressed by virtually every other presenter.
  • Following hurricane Katrina, insurance giant Allstate was bashed for reportedly being slow to react to policyholders in need, even though they were the first insurance company on site in New Orleans. The company’s “When Good Hands People Give Back” campaign, as detailed by Victoria Dinges, VP of Public Social Responsibility and Enterprise Communications, demonstrated the good things to reverse the negative perception. Plus, I learned a new acronym:  ROR (return on reputation).
  • David Grossman, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA, has cultivated a national reputation as a leader in internal communications. At his presentation Friday, Mr. Grossman presented 10 principles and lots of other great insight.  Here are two thoughts that resonated with me.  (Disclosure: Mr. Grossman and I served on the Universal Accreditation Board for one year.)  1) Leaders today need to advance a vision with an “artifact,” which could be something as simple as an FAQ page. 2) Middle managers are overloaded with work, don’t get enough training and often are led by superiors who are less qualified.

There’s lots more I could report. But I’m sure you could visit the chapter website soon to download presentations from the above and dozen or so other great speakers and panels.  Personally, I’m proud of the work done by PRSA colleagues here, and honored to have played a small role in organizing this conference, the first ever hosted in my town. And, I’m energized and looking forward to incorporating some of what I learned into what I do every day.

Finally, I didn’t add any conference images to this post.  You’ve seen people giving presentations before. But right after Friday’s concluding session, I dashed off for an overnight visit with a friend in Southern Wisconsin, a place I blogged about last December. Needed fresh air and a change of pace.  Here’s what I saw.

A trail at the Bristol Woods preserve off county highway MB. I walked the entire 2.8 mile route. One benefit of the drought: No mosquitoes.

Ah, a visit to Wisconsin would not be right without a stop for a brew at a family-run tavern. This one was at Highway 45 and Route 142. Stimulating discussion, and the Old Styles were just $1.75.

There goes the diet. This was a breakfast croissant sandwich. Enough for two. Maybe three.

My “secret” place to park and just watch this tranquil creek. Where is it? Reply to this post and I’ll tell you.

Did you attend the PRSA Midwest District conference last week?  Share your insight.