Tell us about your current career outside of being a adjunct faculty member at Columbia College.
I've done writing and PR consulting for the better part of the last 25 years, for most of that as an independent. My clients have included Fortune 100 companies and smaller firms and range from media relations to speech and copy writing. In addition to working with several long-standing clients, I'm a partner with adjunct Mark Perlman in P&G, Strategic Communications.
What was your first “real-world” job?
I was a reporter for the Lerner Newspapers, a large group of weekly and Sunday newspapers that covered the Chicago's north and northwest sides and western, northwestern and near northern suburbs. I started off when I was still in college (Illinois Institute of Technology) covering village board meetings and went full time when I graduated. In addition to reporting, I wrote headlines and captions, cropped photos, edited copy, did layout and wrote an occasional editorial. I went from there to Associated Press, the Chicago Tribune and Reuters (including five years based in Hong Kong and London as a correspondent and financial editor).
What are professional accomplishments you’ve achieved over the years?
In public relations, my favorite accomplishments involve communicating a client's information to its audiences, as when I was a leader of the executive communications team at Argonne National Laboratory that provided the communities around that facility with information that smoothed Argonne's application to the National Institutes of Health that led to construction of the Howard T. Ricketts Regional Biocontainment Laboratory on the site. I have written or edited several books, notably "The First 50 Years," a commemorative history of the Society of Actuaries, which won PRSA's bronze anvil and the Publicity Club of Chicago's golden trumpet in 2000, among other awards.
I highly recommend the value of active networking and served as president of the Suburban Chicago chapter of PRSA, the Independent Writers of Chicago and the Chicago Speechwriters Forum. The key to affective networking is participation, not passive attendance. I have also participated on advisory boards for organizations in the nonprofit and legal arenas.
As a journalist, I covered a range of events, from appearances by Ronald Reagan and the Pope to airline crashes and the war protests of the 1970s. I was active in the computer editing revolution when it began at the AP, the Tribune and Reuters, including training colleagues in the days before playing Minesweeper was a way to learn how to use the strange little animal called a mouse.
What drives your professional career?
I'm driven by a desire for clarity. Clear, available information is important when presenting client messages and when working with aspiring professionals. Success is in the details -- making sure all the audience's questions are answered and that punctuation and grammar are correct.
I remember during my tenure at Lerner, covering communities that were opposing Chicago Public School efforts to bus students from poorer neighborhoods to communities we covered on Chicago's Northwest Side. The paper's editorial policy was in favor of that integration effort, but we gave objective coverage to the opponents, and this elicited letters to me expressing pleased surprise that we had fairly expressed their opinions.
Three pieces of advice that would be helpful to any student.
Read as much as possible. Learn to distinguish what is well done from what is not and look at examples of things similar to what you'll be called on to do. In public relations, this means material from the media -- newspapers and news web sources like Associated Press, Reuters and broadcast outlets.
Understand that a writing or strategy assignment has more than one correct answer that will fit its parameters. If it didn't, everyone would come to the same solution.
Don't let creativity obscure your message. Our job is to communicate, and if layout or a unique idea makes our audience scratch its collective head, then we need to start over.