By Edward M. Bury, APR, aka The PRDude
Last month, The PRDude published a post that chronicled one of the highlights of his long (and hopefully influential and distinguished) career: Being featured in a question-and-answer blog published by a fellow blogger, public relations pro and best of all — fellow dude.
Here, I take the role as the guy — make that “dude” — posing the questions. My interview subject is Nick Kalm, founder and president of the Chicago-based Reputation Partners Public Relations, a boutique firm that, well, here’s what I harvested from their web site: “At Reputation Partners, we are trusted corporate reputation consultants who earn our clients’ trust by providing effective counsel, delivering the highest quality work and generating meaningful results.”
The agency just celebrated its 10th anniversary, quite an accomplishment for any business in these ever-changing times. Here’s an edited version of my conversation with Mr. Kalm.
1. Public relations can be a stressful way to make a living and is not for everyone. What compelled you to pursue public relations as a career?
I kind of backed into it at first. I was a political science major in college, and my career goal was to work in Washington for a Congressman or Senator. When I couldn’t find a job in Washington, I returned to the New York City area and found a job in public relations working in the pharmaceutical industry. There really are a lot of similarities between public relations and working for the government. You have to reach a broad swath of the public and try to convince them to be in favor of something or against it.
2. After a very successful career at the nation’s largest independent public relations firm (Edelman), you decided to launch your own firm. What three reasons (or more, or less) prompted that decision?
At Edelman, I had a great career working on behalf of some very large multi-national public and private firms. I attended an event for entrepreneurs and was encouraged to start my own firm. I was 41 years old at the time, and said to myself, “If not now, when?” I knew I could always go back to the agency or corporate world. But, so far it’s turned out great.
3. Say I’m seeking PR counsel. Why would I select Reputation Partners over the firm down the street?
Clients go to big PR firms because they need strategic thinking and the depth and breath of experience those firms can offer. You can get that from Reputation Partners, but at a much more cost-effective rate. We provide the same level of services and are focused on delivering the same kind of results. We provide all of our clients with senior-level management attention.
4. The PRDude has been championing the practice of effective and ethical public relations. Do you believe our profession needs to do a better job of promoting good PR versus hucksterism?
It’s a great question. I think there are many different kinds of public relations practices. Not to put what we do on a pedestal, but there are practitioners out there who aren’t as ethical or of the same level of quality. There are a number of slippery characters in the business, and they’re dragging down the entire profession. We’re not defense attorneys. Companies don’t have a right to PR counsel. There are some entities that should not be represented by public relations firms for ethical reasons. I see this happening at big and small firms alike: They tell the client what the want to hear and promise results they can’t deliver.
5. Back in the day, there were lots of “PR legends,” men (and some women) who pioneered the practice. Who’s at the forefront of public relations today?
They really are few and far between. Earlier you mentioned Edelman. I think Richard Edelman is one of the few intellectuals running a major PR firm. I can’t think of anyone else who comes close. Ours is an industry that suffers from a big perception problem. I think there are few programs on college campuses that focus on public relations. Some colleges, of course are doing a good job preparing students for careers in public relations. We work in a very important profession that impacts people in their day-to-day lives in a very meaningful way.
Do you have questions for Mr. Kalm? Or The PRDude? Pose early and often.