PR Legend: Jack Koten*


This post is part of The Plank Center’s Legacies from Legends in PR Series that was begun in recognition of the 40th Anniversary of the Public Relations Student Society of America in 2007.Koten Photo

Served as SVP at Ameritech (part of AT&T). Koten was co-founder and first president, Arthur W. Page Society and member of its Hall of Fame (1985). Editor of “Building Trust,” a collection of essays by 23 prominent CEOs on how they encourage ethical behavior among employees. Member of the advisory boards for The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations and the Arthur W. Page Center.

So you want to make a difference! There’s no reason why you can’t. The opportunities are enormous–and increasing daily. They range from helping community groups to influencing behavior worldwide. The greatest opportunities are for those who seek a mission, not a job. They will have a career that is always challenging, never dull and constantly changing–a recipe for an exciting and rewarding life. Are you ready for such a challenge? Do you have a passion to succeed?

A good place to start is mastering the many communication tools available today–both written and verbal. As media proliferate, the demand for original thinking material grows in quantity and value. Knowing a subject and having something creative to say is essential. (Many can describe problems; few can offer realistic solutions.) Seeing something from a different perspective and providing a fresh viewpoint that others understand distinguishes a person as exceptional. It’s not necessary to be a genius–just enthusiastic.

There are many good role models.

Modern persuasive communications can be traced to the 1760s when Sam Adams and a small group of inflamed revolutionaries initiated a wave of public discontent that ultimately led to the American independence. They were aided in 1776 by the writings of Thomas Paine in his persuasive Common Sense, which further incited a dissatisfied public to revolt against the establishment. In the inspiring Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson eloquently set forth the precepts of individual freedom and democracy. The authors of the Federalist Papers- James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay- laid the groundwork for the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1789. Never underestimate the power of an aroused minority.

Opinion-forming communication continues to play an important role in shaping the course of history. There are:

  • More communication tools than ever;
  • More people seeking knowledge (informed and uninformed);
  • More leaders (of all kinds) who understand the capabilities and value of persuasive communications.

But as Arthur Page, founder of corporate public relations, declared, “Prove it with action.” Public perceptions are determined 90 percent by what is done, 10 percent by what is said. Individual success depends first and foremost on developing a reputation for being truthful, accurate and dependable. The CEO of one of America’s largest technology companies told me the best advice he ever received came from an uncle who advised, “Never lie. You’re not smart enough. Liars never overcome their negative reputation.” Follow your moral compass. Do the right thing. Always.

The CEO of a global company for whom people clamor to work recommended, “Treat others with respect. Don’t check your personal values at the door.” For those interested in long-term success, the golden rule never fails.

Success also depends on looking at the perimeter 360 degrees around you (of the organization). Know what your boss’s boss (at any level) thinks. Good research eliminates surprises. Advertising guru David Ogilvy explained, “Too often research is used like a drunkard uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination.” Learn from failures (unavoidable unless you never try something new).

Those who are articulate and persuasive can make a difference – and have a rewarding life in the process. But in the end nothing will change if you don’t have energy, passion and enjoy making things happen.

Koten Sig


Published: 2007
* Deceased (1929-2014)


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