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

The Service of Self Alone: A Song for the Times

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

Yesterday, the citizens of Illinois (including this citizen) voted in a primary election for important statewide offices, including the office of governor.  I won’t comment on the nominees from the two major parties, an incumbent populist who has a long career in public service and a political newcomer who made a fortune in the venture capital business.

I trust both have good intentions, and I believe both want to do what they Illinoisbelieve is needed to help Illinois rebound.

In listening to acceptance speeches last night, this was a common thread: Illinois needs jobs. The unemployment rate here, currently at above 8 percent, is among the highest in the nation and the highest in the Midwest.

As regular followers know, The PRDude blog was started in 2009 as way to chronicle my search for “that next great job in public relations.”  Along with commenting on “the lighter side of public relations, marketing, communications and other stuff,” I frequently comment on the employment market and what it’s like to seek work during these challenging economic times.

Below are lyrics for a song — you know I write songs, too, don’t you? — that was inspired by my most recent job search. The title is a line from The Book of Common Prayer.

The Service of Self Alone

Save me, save me St. Theresa
From the service of self alone
Guide me, guide me to fulfillment
Down the narrow pathway home

Chorus
Righteousness and perseverance
Brought me to the place I’m at
Do you hear me St. Theresa?
Should I sound a trumpet blast?

Watch me, watch me St. Theresa
As I try another door
Help me, help me knock the loudest
Louder than the man before

Chorus

Refrain:
Me and many, many others
Are forced through no fault of our own
To toil not for some wage or purpose
In the service of self alone
In the service of self alone

So help me, help me St. Theresa
The weeks have turned to months again
Give me give me hope and one good reason
To carry on and not pretend

Copyright Edward M. Bury 2014

Hopefully, this song, which has a ska beat, will resonate with those who are seeking work. Hopefully, I won’t be inspired to write a song like this again.

A Few Things I Will Miss Doing Each Morning Since …

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

This summer has been delightful here in Chicago, especially from a weather perspective.  That makes for ideal conditions to take advantage of all things relaxing and outdoors.

These past few weeks, I’ve started my day on the front porch, lounging on the wicker furniture Susan restored.  I leisurely enjoy my coffee and can read as many articles as I want from the Chicago Tribune, which we still have delivered.

Here's a street in Avondale. It's not the street I live on, but it's representative of our neighborhood.

Here’s a street in Avondale. It’s not the street I live on, but it’s representative of our neighborhood.

I’m accompanied by birds — cardinals, robins and sparrows — and am serenaded by their calls.  The morning sun, filtered by the linden trees to the east, is warm and inviting.  From our front porch, I greet neighbors — retired folks like Joanne, long-standing friends like Bree, Hispanic kids, hipsters sporting tattoos and straw fedoras — heading to work, off to school or walking their dogs.

In essence, I see the neighborhood come alive; it’s peaceful and tranquil, and a reflection of how Avondale has evolved from one sometimes plagued by gang punks, loud cars and graffiti to one of tolerance, quiet and normalcy.

This is the view from outside the office building where I now work. Can you guess where it is?

This is the view from outside the office building where I now work. Can you guess where it is?

Well, my cherished morning routine is over.  Now, I’ve joined my neighbors. I now have someplace to go.  I landed a new full-time position.

Thrilled to be back in another great public relations position? Without question.  Excited about the challenges ahead?  Bring them on. Looking forward to continue growing and learning?  As my friends from Wisconsin would say, “You betcha!”

To those who offered support during my search, sincere thanks.  (A special shout out to my friends at PRSA Chicago for the opportunity to stay active in the profession through my volunteer work coaching APR candidates.)  To those who are searching for the next career opportunity, I offer this advice:

  • Always preserve your integrity.
  • Always remember you have value in today’s job market.

And, as for my coffee-and-newspaper routine: There’s still Saturday and Sunday, and there’s half of summer left.

One Job Over 40-Plus Years: A Conversation With My Brother Dan

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

There are a lot of “new normal” developments these days.  Gasoline will always cost more than $3.  Some segments of society, like teenagers, now only walk while texting.  And, most people will hold the same job for a couple of years and then move on.

An article published in Forbes magazine last year reported that a very high percentage of Millennials plan on keeping the same job for less than three years.  This trend can prove troublesome for companies because high turnover costs in terms of retraining, recruitment and lost or diminished productivity.

But, it’s not surprising that people born in the late 1970s/early 1980s — the Millennials or Generation X demographic — don’t stay in one place too long. After all, we’ve become a highly mobile society, and we get information on the run on mobile devices. Besides, what self-respecting, tattooed Millennial would want to toil years for some conglomerate when he or she could get funded through Kickstarter and launch a tech start-up?

My brother, Dan Bury, relaxing on his deck and enjoying retirement after more than 40 years with "the phone company."

My brother, Dan Bury, relaxing on his deck and enjoying retirement after more than 40 years with “the phone company.”

Employment didn’t always last about as long as the latest version of the iPhone.  My brother, Dan Bury, is testimony.  For more than 40 years, Dan had one job: With the “phone company.”

Yes, this was your father’s — at least, mine –“phone company,” once part of a monopoly called the nationwide Bell System that was broken up in 1984 following an anti-trust lawsuit by the federal government.  Now retired, I asked Dan to share some thoughts on his career.  Here’s an edited version.

The Apprentice: A guy from the neighborhood worked at Illinois Bell doing light delivery. He said they were hiring, so I went downtown and took a test.  I was over-qualified for that job, but did qualify for being a PBX (Private Branch Exchange) installer.   I worked for about a month, but then I had to report for a draft induction.  I went downtown for a physical at the Selective Service office and was told I had high blood pressure and a hernia, so I was rejected.  I called my boss and went back to work. This was in 1970.

I served a four-year apprenticeship, working with a journeyman, in the Humboldt District in Chicago. Then I got my union card and became a journeyman.  We worked in factories, offices and retail outlets installing large switching equipment. We could be on the job from two weeks to eight months.  The jobs required a lot of wiring.

From Bell, to AT&T, to Lucent, to Avaya: After the 1984 divestiture, I bell imageswent to work for AT&T.  The equipment really improved and the jobs were a lot shorter in duration.  In 1996, AT&T was spun off to Lucent Technologies.  It was the same job, but for a different company.  My benefits and 401k came with me.  Then, I moved on to Avaya.

Throughout my career, I was still a member of Local 134 of the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers).  When I started at Bell in 1970, there were 2,600 guys in our local; when I retired in 2011, there were only 15 guys left.

Back when I started, there were no other phone companies.  You couldn’t get a job without a union card.  Anyone who tried to get on a job without a union card didn’t have to be told to stay off the job; they just left.

Now, Dan has more time to do things like enjoying a summer day in his kayak.

Now, Dan has more time to do things like enjoying a summer day in his kayak.

From Hands on Training to Online.  I took any kind of training the company offered.  I’d get to leave Chicago to attend classes in Dallas, Denver, New York and New Jersey.  The training certainly was better in my early days.

Toward the end, the training was not that good, and it was mostly online.  It’s hard for someone my age to learn online when I was used to learning on equipment that you could touch.  Now, the younger guys are being trained on the new equipment, not the guys with 30 or 40 years of experience.

If I had to look for a job in my field now, I’d have to be retrained because everything’s so much more advanced. The first equipment I worked on had switches that you’d plug into a port; now, you’d dial in and do the work remotely.

Thoughts for Those Seeking a Career. If you find a job that you like, dedicate yourself to it.  I never had the idea to move from job to job.  I really enjoyed my early years with the phone company. I was not at the same desk day after day; there always was a change of schedule and meeting new people.

The workplace today  is much more cutthroat than it was before.  I went above and beyond for some customers, and they still weren’t happy.

Those are Dan Bury’s, thoughts on his career as a skilled technician.  Drop us a line (I mean, “reply to this post”), with your thoughts.  Do you plan to stay in one position for many years?

New Advice for PR Graduates This May

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

One of the most visited of the 167 posts published by The PRDude graced the blagosphere around this time last year.  In the post, I offered graduates of college public relations programs some advice on how to establish themselves in the profession.images advice

Offered were goals, strategies, objectives and tactics — thoughts structured within classic components of an effective public relations plan.

And, I even made this offer:  Reach out if you wanted any advice or direction.  (For the record, I’m still waiting; but the offer stands.)

A year later, I’m a little older and hopefully a lot wiser.  And, since I also am images dad advicesearching for that next great job in public relations, I’ve had time to think.  Here are a few other thoughts, wisdom I’m passing down to public relations colleagues-to-be.

  1. Learn the Definition of “Public Relations.” You’d be surprised at how many people out there in this great world — some who claim to be “public relations professionals” — still maintain that public relations is publicity.  Or, “just like marketing.”  After all, it’s easy to “get good PR.”  Right?  This profession keeps evolving, largely through continual new directions on the digital front.  But the fundamental purpose of public relations as a strategic means to communicate and build relationships has not changed.  Learn more from PRSA.
  2. Learn to Write (Beyond Tweets, Posts & Blogs).  It’s been a long images advice chairstime (hey, more than a long time) since I enrolled and completed a for-credit college course.  So, I’m not sure if students today are required to take a semester of English Composition 101 or some other fundamental writing course.  My 101 instructor was a guy named Professor Brosnahan, a very strict proponent of the written word.  He would scrawl a big red “F” on your composition for any error — spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax, logic.   In this era of tweets, IMs and posts, the true public relations professional will have solid writing skills that transcend 140 characters.
  3. PR = Business Practice = Not Free.  As a public relations professional, you’ll be required to manage event budgets, approve vendor expenses, price out media distribution services and many other tasks that require money.  That’s part of business, and public relations is a business.  Furthermore, businesses are in business to make a profit; and, even non-profit associations with public relations departments run them like a business.  Learn the business side of the industry and how to manage a spreadsheet.

One more thing: As noted, I’ve had an open door policy for those who want direction on public relations careers and opportunities.  In the past year, I’ve fielded emails and a few calls.  Only one guy actually followed up on the offer to meet. There’s lots to be said about the desire to get out of the house.

Your thoughts?

Reasons to be Cheerful, Parts 1, 2, 3 …

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

4, 5, 6.

And perhaps more reasons, many more.

As I continue with my next challenge — finding that next great job in public relations (and/or a similar communications position) — I decided to spend a few minutes on this glorious spring Sunday in Chicago taking stock of life as of today.

I was inspired by a song from the 1980s (remember that decade?) from a U.K. band called Ian Dury and The Blockheads.  The song in question is entitled Reasons to be Cheerful. It’s kind of a sing-song composition featuring a rapid-fire recitation by Mr. Dury of a few dozen, well, reasons to be cheerful.  One could make an argument that Mr. Dury may have had some influence on the many forms of rap and hip hop, but that’s the subject for another day and time.

The late Ian Dury, British band leader, artist and cultural icon.

The late Ian Dury, British band leader, artist and cultural icon.

Mr. Dury, who fronted the band, certainly lived life on his own terms.  This is illustrated by the image that accompanies this post.  The Blockheads are probably best known for a tune — Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll — that encapsulated reasons lots of people were cheerful in the 1980s, and probably are still today.

(NOTE: The PRDude is not endorsing or offering any commentary on sex, drugs or rock and roll at this time.  Remember: This is a blog about public relations and “other stuff.”)

Back to reasons to be cheerful, here are some to share:

1. Support from Friends: Since I began my current search for a new position, I’ve received dozens of messages and calls from old friends, new friends, online friends and family offering support and encouragement.

2. Project Work: In the past few weeks, I’ve landed some terrific writing assignments, including a major article on commercial real estate and assisting an organization develop and execute an effective social media strategy.

3. APR Training: Through my involvement with PRSA Chicago, I and a colleague are nurturing three local public relations colleagues on the process required to earn the Accreditation in Public Relations.  We’ve held four classes and our candidates are really grasping what strategic public relations is all about.

4. Blood Pressure Drop. With more time to focus on my future and relax, my blood pressure has dropped to a “normal” 120 over 80.  Plus, I’ve started to exercise more and cook healthy meals most nights for Susan and I.

5. New Web Site Project: You heard it here first:  I’m in the process of launching a new web site that will let me pursue two of my passions: Online communications and enjoying a particular beverage that will remain nameless at the moment. Work is underway, and I’m projecting a late June unveiling. Stay tuned.

6. The Future: I’m optimistic about my future, the future of my city and our nation’s future. (As for my beloved Chicago Cubs, I’d say “wait until next year AND the year after that.”)  The Labor Department just released a favorable jobs report. While Chicago still has many problems, I think we’re becoming more aware of ways to solve them.  And, I sense that the President and Congress are ignoring the extremist views from both the right and left and want to meet on common ground.

I could add more, but six is plenty for now.

As for reasons not to be cheerful, I can’t think of any. How about you?

Triple Play: Two Weeks Into My New Job Search, Job Poll Results, PRSA Chicago Chapter Meeting

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

Today, folks you get a three-fer: That’s three blogs in one.  So without further delay:

1. Two Weeks Later: Here’s where things stand two weeks after The PRDude was compelled to embark on another quest (no, I’m not a fan of romance novels; just thought the language was cool and appropriate) to find that next great job in public relations.aprlogo

  • I’m still looking; have some strong leads.
  • I remain committed to the value of effective public relations in modern society, and to my value as an ethical public relations practitioner.
  • The Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) credential continues to help define me in the industry.
  • A surprising number of friends and colleagues have offered support, and many have recognized Edward M. Bury, APR as the author behind The PRDude blog!

Hey, I’m just getting started.  But if you have any leads here in Chicago, please feel free to share.ethics_poster

2.  Job Poll Results: Last time, I asked followers of this blog to take a short poll to offer insight into where the job market was heading. The most recent figures released last week by the U.S. Department of Labor showed more jobs were created than projected in February of 2013, dropping the national unemployment rate to 7.7 percent, the lowest in the Obama Administration.  Here are the results:

  • The job market will continue to improve — 4 votes
  • The job market will get worse — 1 votes
  • The job market will stay the same – 0 votes.

So, the “ayes” have it. (I know: It was only five votes total; but the poll remains open.)  If I had the option to vote, I would say the job market will get better. But like any rational person, it’s got a long way to go.  Stability in the national economy, an end to bi-partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill and the absence of turmoil overseas will help job growth.

3.  PRSA Chicago Chapter Meeting: This morning, I joined colleagues from PRSA Chicago — the fourth largest Chapter in the nation — at a breakfast meeting held to let the membership know how we’re doing financially and what’s planned for 2013.

More than 40 attended, and I was proud to participate with my friend and colleague Joyce Lofstrom, APR, to report that we have four professionals from Chicago who have committed to earning the APR. Chapter leaders reported that we’re doing well financially; the 2012 Midwest District PRSA Conference held here proved very successfully; and, that programming designed for young professionals, mid-level professionals and senior leaders (my category) is diverse, robust and based on research designed to meet member demands.  I’m proud to play a role in this tremendous organization.

To conclude:

What advice do you have for me to land that next great job in public relations?

Do you think the job market will improve, get worse, or stay the same?

What value do you receive from your PRSA Chapter?

Join the conversation.