As an undergrad journalism major, I had no idea about public relations until I ran a campaign for my roommate to run for student council president. He didn’t win, but I noted the influence we garnered, so I took the two courses then available in PR.
Graduating at the height of the Vietnam War, I applied for Army Officer Candidate School, then sought a PR assignment. Finally getting into the Department of Defense Information School, I was assigned as a combat information and press escort officer at a Corps Headquarters Press Camp in Vietnam, and then came back as an information-planning officer where I helped manage a civilian advisory program and other special events.
I then joined Allstate Insurance in their corporate PR Department, with no title, and did miscellaneous communications jobs, until seizing an opportunity offered by an agency I’d previously interviewed with to join their client, Toyota, to manage mid-America PR and advertising. Loved working for a high profile consumer company, handling CEO interviews, dealer opening publicity, financial PR, auto show presence, a press loaner fleet, and internal and trade publicity. It was a chance to run the whole show in a then fast-growing small car company. We beat VW as top import and started to challenge Detroit.
Intrigued by agency work, I joined Burson Marsteller as an AE on Sears home electronics and kitchen planning. Not fun, lots of drudgery, as Sears began to internalize PR support, but learned a lot. Moved onto my boat for awhile, then joined Golin-Harris as an AE on national McDonald’s account, their largest. Also supervised the local Chicago McAccount. Over 7+ years, got to do it all – marketing PR, financial PR, helped create the Ronald McDonald House program, food and nutritional PR, trained staff and learned account relations. Promoted 5 times, to Senior VP and co-account director, creative committee and new business committee. Brought in largest new account to date – Pet Food Institute (Pets Are Wonderful – PAW).
Seeing little chance for more advancement, took offer to join health technology giant Baxter Laboratories (now Baxter International), directing corporate communications. Challenging to go from healthy food to health care. Handled financial disclosure, media relations, coordinated corporate branding and marketing PR among operating divisions, CEO positioning, public TV sponsorships, celebrity patient PR, and agency search. But missed consumer PR.
Hired to head corporate communications for McDonald’s Corp., and later promoted to officer and chief spokesperson for brand and company. What fun. Proactive PR, agency searches, crisis communications, field support, international PR, CEO messaging, speeches and positioning, acquisitions, legal issues, charity support.
Retired early to do not-for-profit board and PR work in environmental/conservation, hunger relief, and medical center foundation fields. Founded Ebeling PR-ize in cause-related communications at Bradley U. and Loyola U. Chicago.
In my talks with PR students, I encourage them to follow issues and industries/companies that turn them on, in which they can believe. Follow the opportunities they find, rather than apply strict career criteria, then turn those jobs toward their interests, skills and passions. Above all, learn to write and think as a journalist, be not afraid to be creative, and work hard and reliably, even if you must play hard too.
Chuck expresses his views about current issues and “PR-kitecture” on his blog, Apple Press.