It’s the annual awards season for the public relations profession, and Chicago PRSA put on an impressive show last night. I was enjoying the rapid-fire recognition of so many creative PR campaigns that when it came time to accept the Professional of the Year award, I significantly edited my planned remarks so we could get on with the show. But since I had written a speech and hate to see words go to waste, I thought this might be the appropriate venue to share these excerpts:
I wish my late mother-in-law could have heard my introduction this evening. Between you and me, she would have preferred that I begin my career at the Citgo service station in Hammond, Indiana. True story.
Like many others in the outside world, my mother-in-law never quite understood this thing called public relations. She’s not alone. We’re still struggling with the definition ourselves. Explaining what we do has never been easy, and we don’t get much help from Prime Time depictions of us ranging from Samantha Jones to unethical spinmeisters protecting unscrupulous businessmen and politicians.
PRSA has done a credible job of crowd-sourcing a definition that works just fine for now. Rather than getting hung up with semantics, we simply need to focus on what truly counts—doing great work for our clients and organizations while maintaining the highest ethical standards. That’s the course I’ve tried to follow throughout my career.
PRSA president-elect Abby Lovett more than adequately summarized my 40 years in the trenches and command posts of public relations, so I’ll simply expand a moment on my current life-changing role at DePaul. My more academically disciplined colleagues refer to me as a “pracademic.”
Being able to share real-world experience in the classroom has been one of the high points of my life as we help develop future talent of this great profession. While the financial largess of academia might leave something to be desired, the psychic rewards are immeasurable. Thanks to the many professionals who have joined me in the classroom, student 360 feedback has been very positive. One student beautifully summed up what we’re attempting to do at DePaul: “Bottom line: In this economy, people are going back to school to get jobs, period. This course offered what all of us want and need–direct access to leaders in the PR field. This class alone made me feel as though I got my money’s worth at DePaul.” In my previous nine jobs, I worked for many great bosses but I never got a performance review that good.
Between DePaul and my PR career blog which I’ve been writing for the past five years, I feel — as the late, beloved Betsy Plank would say — that I’m answering to a “higher calling”. As you know, Betsy was the grand dame of PRSA, and she also founded the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations to build bridges between academics and practitioners so they can better work together to train future leaders of our profession. I know Betsy is smiling proudly tonight as one of her many acolytes humbly accepts this special award from his peers.
Tonight is yet another reason I love Chicago and our amazing PR community. Thank you for this honor. My mother-in-law would understand and be proud.