In Search of Leadership in Public Relations

At the 2009 PRSA conference in San Diego, three Plank Center board members – Dr. Bruce K. Berger, Keith Burton and Ron Culp –  presented a panel titled “In Search  of Leadership in Public Relations—Putting Research into Practice.”

Download the handout.

SPEAKER 1: Good afternoon. This is the In Search of Leadership in Public Relations: Putting Research Into Practice professional development set four. I’d like to introduce our panelists this afternoon.

First, we have Bruce Berger– doctor, PhD– is a professor of PR at the University of Alabama. He was founding director of The Plank Center for Leadership and Public Relations in 2005 and was named PRSA’s outstanding educator in 2006. Previously, he was corporate VP of PR for Whirlpool Corporation and president of the Whirlpool Foundation. He’s been in corporate PR practitioner for over 20 years.

Keith Burton is president of InsideEdge and leads a global group of counselors who focus on improving organizational performance by building employee trust, improving internal communications, and effecting overall change. Early in his career he was a business journalist, and served as a Dallas correspondent to Time magazine, and an associate editor of Texas Business Magazine. Keith serves on the board of the Institute for Public Relations and The Plank Center for Leadership and Public Relations.

Ron Culp is Ketchum partner and heads the agency’s North American corporate practice. Ron is– Ron’s 35-year career includes serving as Managing Director of the Chicago office of Sard Verbinnen and Company and a senior VP of PR and government affairs for Sears Roebuck– sorry. He also chaired the Sears Roebuck Foundation. Ron’s blog is, which is, which provides guidance for individuals pursuing careers in public relations.

So please welcome your panelists this evening. Thank you.

BRUCE BERGER: Well, good afternoon and thank you very much for joining us today to discuss the topic of what we think is great importance in the field of public relations, and that’s leadership. We have quite literally been in search of leadership in public relations for the past several years through The Plank Center, and today we want to share with you what we have found– what leadership is, what it means in the eyes of public relations practitioners, educators, and students. We think, in fact, this is the most comprehensive work that we have to date on leadership in the field, but it’s really only a start. And what we hope is that your ideas today can help us– help take us the next step and sharpen our focus on this important topic, and to make it more valuable to you.

Our agenda today– for the next 30 minutes we’re going to review some research regarding leadership in the field and share with you the results of 16 leadership studies that have been carried out through The Plank Center. We’re going to highlight nine qualities of what we call excellent leaders and make four overall observations about leadership in the field.

Then we want to get you involved by asking you to take some time with the blue sheets that you have on your table and using the qualities that we describe to think about how you might translate those into leadership development programs, your own development program, or that of your group. Or if you’re an educator, how you might translate some of those things into classroom activities and exercises. We’ll then ask you to share your ideas, and we’ll close out this session by gathering your ideas about next research steps that might be important to you in the field.

We all know and have experienced, in fact, that leaders of organizations, units, and professions. They touch our work lives and our social lives in many ways through their decisions, the effects they have on organizational culture and communication environment and climate, and the influences that they have on our attitudes, our beliefs, actions, and performance, among many others. Thanks.

As Jim Schaefer found– next slide please– as Jim Schaefer found, what leaders say and do has far more influence on how we see our organizations and what we think about them, and perhaps even what we tell others about them, then does what we do or experience in our work or what formal communications in organizations tell us is important or convey to us. People, in fact, have long been interested in the study of leaders and leadership, and this is reflected in a pretty large body of literature that crosses the management and business discipline, organizational studies, human development studies, and psychological studies. It’s also a popular topic. I searched Amazon a couple of weeks ago and had hits for more than 28,000 book titles that dealt with leaders and leadership, so it’s popular.

In the past century, leadership has been viewed in a variety of ways that are listed here. If we look back over the past half-century, leadership has been looked at and studied different ways. It has been seen in research primarily as a set of individual traits or characteristics, styles or behaviors, a set of skills, as a team focus, a set of transaction based on contingencies, and as an ethical or transformational or authentic in its nature. And these aren’t all of the perspectives, but rather a look at how research has evolved in this topic over the last century.

Surprisingly, though, studies of leadership and public relations are virtually nonexistent. We don’t have a literature that deals with leadership in the field. A few studies have explored the topic directly, but most studies have approached it indirectly. And that’s reflected in some of the theoretical perspectives that are indicated here. They draw attention to some of the important aspects of leadership, such things as having a vision for public relations, holding a managerial worldview, reporting relationships, being part of the dominant coalition or the senior decision-making circles in organization, and using a transformational leadership style.

We think it’s important to study leadership and to learn more about it in public relations, because leadership is crucial in and it’s crucial for our profession, our teams, and our organizations. The quality of leadership undoubtedly affects our practice, our image, and our future in the field, just as it does other professions, organizations, and even nations. So, we think that the more knowledge we can gain about leadership, the better our opportunities to improve our education, to produce better leaders, and to add, in fact, more value to our organizations.

The Plank Center for Leadership, which was alluded to earlier, was established at the University of Alabama in 2005 to help accomplish these things, really, to give us a focus on leadership in public relations, and to help us develop and recognize leaders in the field. The Plank Center, which is named in the honor of Betsy Plank– one of our most famous graduates from the University of Alabama and certainly a legend and pioneer in the public relations field– is guided and directed by a National Advisory Board that consists of 15 outstanding public relations professionals and educators in the field. And it seeks to achieve its mission through a variety of the programs and approaches, in fact, that are listed here.

Research about leadership in the field has been an important focus for us. And through grants to scholars that a number of other universities and through the work of some of our own faculty and graduate students at Alabama, we have pursued the subject of leadership.

Through the Center, as I mentioned earlier, 16 studies of leadership and public relations have been completed in the last three years. They focused on various dimensions and approaches to leadership, but overall many of them have looked at the qualities, the values, dimensions of excellent leadership, and they’ve involved about 3,900 PR practitioners, educators, and students through focus groups, through interviews, and through surveys. For this presentation, what we did was to analyze those 16 studies to try to identify any themes or patterns that were there in the findings.

We discovered, in fact, nine qualities, or what we call principles, of excellent leaders, and we drew four broader observations about leadership in the field as well. What we want to do for the next few minutes, in fact, is to share these findings with you. We’ve got a written report that we’ll provide to you at the end of the session– we’ll put it on the table in the back– and that includes abstracts for these studies as well.

Based on this set of studies, we have defined excellent leadership as it appears on the screen. It is, in fact, a dynamic process that encompasses a complex mix of individual skills and personal attributes, values, and behaviors that consistently produce ethical and effective practice. This practice fuels and guides successful communication teams, helps organizations achieve their goals, and increases their legitimacy in society.

Leadership certainly is dynamic and it is complex. And unlike previous studies, we combine in our approach and in a model that we’ve developed skills, styles, values, and behaviors. Ron and Keith are now going to review the nine qualities, each of which is supported by at least three of the research projects.


RON CULP: Thanks, Bruce. The first one we’d like to start off with– and it seems very appropriate for this group in the fact that I spent the last couple of days over at the Holiday Inn with the PRSA students– is led by example. They modeled the way through two-way communication and exemplary behavior. Role models and mentors exert the greatest influence on practitioner beliefs about excellent leadership qualities and values.

And to validate this, I’ve checked last week with the people who work– I work at Ketchum, as you heard from the introduction, and I said, could you tell me about the– without identifying individuals, but I’d like to know how many people when they get their 360 feedback, a leadership survey, and who are the strongest leaders in organizations that run business units? And then could you also tell me in rank order– again, without identifying the individuals to protect a lot of people– how did they stack up as far as the results they delivered? The leaders who came back in the highest category of leadership qualities from those who work for them, interestingly enough, had the strongest results in the organization, just as earlier Bruce’s slide indicated that that is one measurement as far as leadership is concerned. We really noticed that a good leader can deliver results for the organization.

KEITH BURTON: Another good one is participating effectively in strategic decision making. This week I had the pleasure to go to the annual awards dinner for the Institute for Public Relations, and Al Golin was named this year the Alexander Hamilton award winner, which is a very prestigious recognition for lifetime achievements.

I was with Al a few years ago. We went over to meet with Bill Wrigley, the scion of the Wrigley family, and we had a conversation at the time where Bill Wrigley was talking about operationally how you have to think ahead to make sure that processes don’t break. And he made a comment there that he’s used often, and his thesis is fix it before it breaks, which is a very important concept in this world of being a counselor, of being able to, as this point makes, participate in decision making, be at the table, as we’ve said in recent years. Not be in the back room but be in the board room to help leaders like Bill Wrigley and others make decisions about how we have to decide certain things operationally, that will affect our reputation and our influence.

That’s the mark of a true leader, not someone who simply in an earlier day of our work could simply take instructions on what our corporate leadership team would like to do. But rather, who will be there with them, helping to decide the influence that’s important as a part of our work.

BRUCE BERGER: Very good.

RON CULP: The third one exemplifies strong ethical orientation. And this strikes a very, very strong point with everyone, and we’ve discussed it with the students again yesterday. And it’s all about trust. And if you cannot deliver on this score, you’re really in trouble as far as a leader is concerned.

I shared with them and told them that– any other faculty members could request a copy from me, but I’d be glad to send anyone in this room if you give me your email address– the ethical standards quiz that Ketchum gives annually to all of its employees. You have to pass that test or you’re not going to be employed. And it’s a rigorous test. It’s updated every year.

So, if you pass it one year, we’re going to test you again next year but there are new questions. And everyone in the organization, from the CEO down to the lowest level person in the organization, takes the test. And, again, they have to they have to pass.

It was interesting– there was a group from Illinois State University that asked to take the test. Yes?

SPEAKER 2: How many have you fired?

RON CULP: That’s a very good question. And because we’ll end up– I’ve asked that question more than once, and I don’t know. And I probably– they’re probably encouraged out of the organization, but I don’t know if the test itself– flunking it drove them out.

One good reason is because you get to retake the test. I mean, so what will happen is a lot of us will go in saying, we’re going to try and take the test without studying it, because we have a study document to go with it as any good instructor would have. And so, then you go back and you study the test, and then you should know the answers.

But I think that anyone in an organization– that a red flag would go up about their ethical standards, they’re not going to be in the organization very long. And this is one way of helping identify somebody who we ought to keep an eye on. Good question, though.

And so, the Illinois State University PRSA group asked to take the test, and their instructor arranged it. And I boldly suggested that I’d give an internship to anyone who scored 100 on it, 100%. And I didn’t have to give away an internship, but I may stop doing that kind of an offer.

But it certainly instilled a lot of interest, and we had a tremendous response to the test. Again, we’d be glad to share it with anyone in this group if you’re interested. I told the students I would not share it with them, but I would give it to their instructors.

KEITH BURTON: You notice as a fourth area, possessing complex communication in rhetorical skills, I like to think that throughout its history, the Silver Anvil– a word competition– has always been in my mind one of the great standards. And if you know those attributes of a Silver Anvil winner, it’s strategy, creativity, and accountability. You have to do all three of those really well.

In our business, if you really are going to be a leader today, you have to possess these skills of being able to technically understand our profession, how it’s changing. You have to understand the strategic implications of work, certainly going beyond just simply being a communicator or a public relations leader.

As Al Golin said in his video the other evening– and I hear him say often as well and others who lead– it’s having more of a liberal arts and a broader orientation in our world today to understand everything that influences what we do as part of this work. It’s the relational aspects of this work. People who cannot work with others and build strong relationships and advocacy among often disparate groups inside and outside of an organization will not be successful as a leader.

And then finally on the political front, how many of us in this new change we’ve seen with the new administration have been struck by the fact that we now have these divisions as well as new groups that are building blocks together, building these new blocks of advocacy in work. I think we have to be effective in being able to understand these things, so knowledge and skills mean more than just simply the basics. It means being able to do all of these things quite well.

RON CULP: The fifth one being possessed clear self-knowledge. And I was really struck yesterday– in the New York Times there was a Q&A interview with Jeffrey Katzenberg from DreamWorks, and he said that he really discovered a lot about himself after he got fired from Disney in a very high-profile firing. And he indicated that at that point, he understood and he got the feedback that he was one of the ultimate micro-managers. And now he is now– he says he’s a strategic micro-manager now. So, his self-awareness certainly came up.

I think that a good leader in public relations especially understands to surround themselves with people that fill in some voids that they may be missing. We find that, both in corporate jobs I’ve held and at Ketchum, that we do Meyers-Briggs surveys. And all of a sudden we find that somebody has the analytical skills you need, somebody who’s really the creative out-of-the-box thinker. And all of a sudden you find yourself, when you look at the leadership team, if you’ve succeeded, you’ve got everything reflected, the diversity of ideas and brainpower around the table. But you have to understand that, what am I missing and what do I need to make sure I surround myself with?

KEITH BURTON: I’ve had the pleasure of being in Chicago now for almost 20 years, and I had the conversation with Ron as a colleague– who I’ve loved knowing and working with– that when I first came to Chicago many years ago, there were very what I thought were strong corporate communications leaders. It was a different time and age, or really was it? The conversation we had was around, again, this desire that men and women who are in a position where they’re distinctive and different, they really enjoy leading. They’re not of the weak of heart. They’re willing to stand forward with a CEO, work with the board, work with contentious groups outside of their own organization to do what is right, doing what is ethical and right, and making decisions.

And often as I said the other evening, traveling on the road that is less traveled, doing the right things that are important. So, they become a source of energy for their teams. They’ve become a source of power, obviously, for various stakeholder groups that look to an organization to support the needs that exist in these communities.

And they’re also a source of learning and determination. One of the most important things that we do today as leaders is to help others broaden their own leadership, to move forward and do new things. And so to challenge them– take a Kevin Saghy, for example, who is a young leader from our profession and move him to a different level is something that Ron enjoys doing, I know, as a part of his work.

But it’s not just the young leaders. It’s also the mid-level professionals who are moving up, and the recognition that we have– if I can say this as well– that we live in a very diverse world and our leadership should not simply be among like-minded professionals. It should be among, as a strong leader, those who understand the role of diversity and the work that we play in this area to help provide a broadening of diversity in the companies that we serve.

RON CULP: Great point. The seventh principal would be employee transformational inclusive leadership styles, and this is one that really is near and dear to me. And I’ll tell you a, story, even though it’s not a PR story, but having come out of retailing where I worked at Sears, I’ll look at what’s really happened in the transformation of that company, or the lack of transformation that’s happening in that company. It all starts with a vision of the leader, and that motivates people, inspires people to do their best.

So, you have the head of Sears now, Eddie Lampert who is the CEO– he owns most of the company, or at least 45% of it– and he’s a very distant management style. He operates on video camera from his office in Greenwich and to Hoffman Estates, Illinois, and he talks to people on video camera and visits the office once or twice a year. And there’s something lacking in that as far as inspirational leadership, because you know when you’re talking to people one-on-one it’s a lot different than when you’re either on the phone, or certainly when you’re talking on a webcam.

So then contrast that to Jim [INAUDIBLE] who is at Costco, the CEO of Costco. Phenomenal story– the guy says, I’m not going to pay myself more than 10 times what the lowest paid person in Costco is paid, so he’s making around $450,000 a year. And this guy is in the stores. He’s motivating and he has shared his vision.

So, then you jump forward– and I just checked their out their latest earnings reports for the two– and you see that Q3 Sears same-store sales were down 6.7%. Costco’s sales were up 5%. More importantly probably to a shareholder is that Costco– the Q3 income– keep in mind, things are not really good in the retail world these days– so their Q3 was down 3%. But contrast that to Sears Q3, which was down 85%. I think leadership has a lot to do with it.

KEITH BURTON: I love stories because they always bring things to life. I was out in Seattle a few years ago, and I was doing work with And my client there was Jeff Bezos, who many of you know from his leadership of that organization, and he had a very difficult decision that relates to this eighth point.

He had to decide to shut down some of his operational centers that he had only recently at that time made covenants and communities for tax abatement’s and easements in these communities to operate in new ways as he’s expanded these distribution centers. And so, because he had made a commitment to declare a pro forma profitability for the first time in the company’s history, he had to reward the market as opposed to reward these other commitments that he had made. It was a very difficult day.

And he sat with his leaders, and what he said to them that day struck with me and it resonates always. He made the comment; our reputation is what people say about us when we’re not in the room with them. And he was very true in that statement.

Our reputation is that. It’s the quality of what we leave. It’s the legacy and the footprint. It’s the shadow that we’ve heard talked about before as opposed to the actual. It’s the shadow that we feel.

And on this particular point, I think those leaders, as Ron just talked about, Ed Lampert, and he talked about the leader of Costco, Jeff Bezos was the same. He was a leader who firmly believed in getting out, leading by example, having passion. I think that really is true of people in our profession, too. We look for men and women today who will lead this profession.

And I can tell you who some of them are– you may know them as well– who you look to and say that’s someone I want to work with. That’s somebody that I can follow. I have a real commitment and a belief, and I share their values and their beliefs. So, a real key thing– I know that Bruce has found in this leadership as it’s been done by both he and other people– that I believe in, having that passion or that sense of passion for the work.

RON CULP: And our ninth point is service agents for change. This one has some risk associated with it if you don’t have permission to do so. So, you– a lot of people will go in saying, well, I’m supposed to be pushing change here. Well, make sure that you, as a leader, you earn your stripes and you gain permission to do so.

I had the good fortune of working for a CEO that told me it was my job to ask questions others were afraid to ask. And that made my job the most difficult and the most fun job in the organization. And I found over time then people will come to me and pre-raise questions and things that might turn into issues.

And I think the exchange and the ability to bring change in an organization just took a quantum leap forward when you felt comfortable that somebody in the organization was allowed to do that. All of a sudden it moves just from you as the head of communications to other people in the organization said, well, if he gets away with it, then I can. And all of a sudden, everyone started opening up and it was a really rich dialogue. And I, again, attribute that to the leadership of an organization that says you have the permission to do that.

KEITH BURTON: We’ve been doing more work of late around job descriptions and performance management inside of organizations where communications teams exist. And I’ve been on a push for several years now that communicators, as they work with HR and operational leaders, really need to have accountability standards for the work they do in helping to equip others. I would list the summary of nine qualities that you’ve heard us talk about almost in a way that would say to you, as you think about your work, can we enable others to be more effective leaders by asking them to follow these very, very important attributes and traits that we talk about, these nine qualities?

Whether we’re building them out in a job description, or we work with our teams internally to make sure that we measure and evaluate men and women who will exceed to a new level based on the work that they do in these areas– very important to do. I can tell you there are a half dozen companies that are doing it. They’re leaders in their field because they are doing it, and it would make an organization much better if they followed these standards.

BRUCE BERGER: We also in our research having identified nine qualities, we sort of stepped back and there were some broader observations that we made about leadership in the field based on the 16 studies. And the first one, in fact, is that excellent leadership combines six dimensions which are indicated here. These seem to us to be really at the core of leadership. We started with more dimensions and qualities, in fact, as we began our research, but through a process of surveys and interviews we’ve distilled them into these six dimensions.

The model depicts them. You can see in this center column here suggests that they help produce excellent leadership. The orange figure also tells us pretty clearly that culture and structure, which, in fact, was the strongest pattern and theme in the research. The power of culture and structure to influence the effectiveness of leadership and the quality of excellence in leadership, which is why it’s so important also to push back cultures not only forced on us, but we create culture as individuals. So, we can push back.

The work that’s been done here in the structural equation modeling has been done by a young woman by the name of [INAUDIBLE] Ming, who was really one of our– a brilliant scholar who graduated, got her PhD from Alabama last year. And what her analysis indicates is that the six dimensions, in fact, are all pretty tightly interrelated. They’re mutually supportive. All of them contribute to leadership.

We don’t know exactly how they relate or the relative weight of each, or, in fact, if they change– if some of them change given changes in the environment or social system. But we think the model at this point provides a pretty good basis for further research and perhaps beginning to think about how we structure management development programs and leadership development programs.

RON CULP: Good. The second observation that we drew from the 16 studies– and there could be some debate on this from other professions– but the research reveals a 50/50 divide. The two most often noted were– PR leaders, one, must possess both compelling vision for what PR can be, and, two, complex communications skills and strategic understanding of new and traditional media also is required.

When I started out in the profession, I worked with a couple of people who were referred to as presiders over the function. And then there were a bunch of people who actually did the work, but they were very elegant and able to make compelling arguments to the board and the rest of us did the work.

Today you have to do both. You absolutely have to be able to share the vision with management and your own staffs, but you also have to– if all of a sudden the smaller staffs that exist elsewhere are busy, you’re going to be putting out whatever fires need to be put out. So, it really does require that training and skill set be raised for everyone in a leadership position.

KEITH BURTON: Further observation number three for professional women and men and practitioners is just simply about excellence in PR leadership. An observation I would make about this that I found interesting, Bruce, as I reviewed this originally was how our profession’s changing. We recently did a diversity survey inside of our own company, and what we find is that what we think to be the actual percentages of men and women in an organization today is pretty much right, about 80% of our professionals inside of the larger Golin/Harris organization are women.

And so, when I look at this number, I wonder is it that women rate the value of leadership more significant than men do, or is it that we need to do a better job making sure that all audiences really value this leadership? Or is it simply due to this composition issue? I think it’s an interesting question for us, but shared perceptions here provide a very good base for us to think about as we view leadership now and in the future.

RON CULP: The strongest finding, the one that we got the most reaction to that– the consensus landing on was organizational culture– and this is certainly not going to be a surprise to anyone this room– has greatly influenced to the extent that PR leaders can be effective and excellent derives from top management support and their models about the behavior and the culture for communication within an organization. Absolutely there will be barriers in some organizations. I’ve had the fortune to work for five excellent CEOs. Three of them were also excellent communicators, and they understood the function and support of the function.

So those were the best bosses to work with, I think we’d all agree, and where we ran into– especially with a new CEO– in a culture that had lots of barriers in front of it as far as, no, you can’t say that to employees. They really can’t hear that kind of information. And we would try to cascade information into the system.

The roadblocks were everywhere. No one wanted to hear that information because they’re not accustomed to getting it that way. And so, I had the permission from that CEO to say, how are we going to get by management at the next level down? We can’t fire everyone, but we have to be able to get our messages to the troops if we’re going to turn this ship around.

And so, he gave us permission to do something that was pretty revolutionary at the time. We invited the New York Times to come in and spend a week with the CEO, watching him try to transform the company. And what happened is Judy Dobrzynski wrote a 5,000 word– the longest business story at that point ever in the New York Times– that started on page one and ran two pages inside, talking about what we were trying to do at the company. And that story then became the new vehicle to communicate to our employees, and we duplicated it and made sure that everyone in the organization had a copy of the story.

So, then we started changing the organization from the bottom up and where people were privy to what the CEO wanted to achieve, and they then forced management above them. So, we got people on board in a rather unconventional way. I don’t necessarily recommend it, because you do anger a lot of people in the rank and file management structure. But in desperate times you have to find ways to communicate, and I applaud that CEO for his creativity and allowing his team to do something like that.

KEITH BURTON: Now we’ll become a little more interactive. We’re going to ask you to pose some questions. Before I do, I have a question for you, and I’ll actually pose this probably to Dr. Berger as a part of our work.

There was a story that appeared in the Chicago Tribune Sunday before last, and the story was on the whole issue today of reverse mentoring. And while we think of leadership in classic or traditional terms, one of the ways that we should and must think about leadership today and tomorrow with this new social and digital media common that is a part of our world is that many of us who are more traditional, who have ascended into the roles that we are in, may not be as facile with these media as some of the younger men and women who are coming up. So that, as a result, does that create a change in the leadership model? Does that bring a different focus around how we think of who leads in the profession versus leading from the top?

It’s a good question to ask, and one, Bruce, I’m not sure if that came up as a part of the work that you’ve been a part of it. But it’s obviously a question that you see in the classroom as well as you think about this work.

BRUCE BERGER: Yeah, and reverse mentoring did come up in a couple of instances. I think it’s really a terrific concept. We sometimes have students at the University of Alabama teach classes or teach faculty about using newer media. But we didn’t know much about that, and I think leadership– we have to be careful.

Leadership, we shouldn’t look at it just as a hierarchical situation. It’s not necessarily people at the top. There can be leaders at any level in the organization in all kinds of teams.

And I remember in working at Whirlpool, one of the– they had what they called a star system which I was intrigued by. And it was 500 people in the company who were basically considered leader, and some of them worked on the plant floor. One of them was the CEO, but there were people at all levels in the organization who were seen by their peers or people who worked for them to be significant leaders. So, we have to be careful, I think, in terms of how we see leadership.

KEITH BURTON: Good. We had another question over here, sir.

SPEAKER 3: Yes, going back to the previous example of the New York Times, what– how did you assess the potential risk of a bad story? It was a daring move, I can imagine that. There was also a chance that it could’ve gone terribly wrong.


SPEAKER 3: How did you assess–

KEITH BURTON: Did everybody hear the question? The risk and the rewards of a New York Times piece.

RON CULP: Good question. What we did is we had been talking with the reporter on and off for more than a year and knew her from a previous life, and so we felt pretty comfortable that she– and we were able to sell in the fact. And we had a get-acquainted session with the CEO and the reporter where they talked. And you could tell that they hit it off in such a way that– I would never recommend it for a cold call to a reporter. It would just be very dangerous.

But good point. You have to do it very carefully and know who you’re dealing with. She could have indeed written a negative story. And because the New York Times– well, all media today, really, have to look at the negatives as well. Well, we knew and accepted there were a lot of negatives, and so we knew that would be in the story.

So, if you’re prepared for that to be– a matter of fact, some of the negatives that she pointed out were less than what we probably would have thought she would have reported. So, we knew there’d be a career wisebalance, but if she got the main message about what we were trying to do in transforming the company, we thought it was worth the risk.

KEITH BURTON: As we take your–

SPEAKER 3: So, the value exceeded– the benefit exceeded the risk?

RON CULP: Absolutely. And we were at that point probably– it was Sears. It was at that point in the company’s history that we knew that it was a desperate time, and we needed to make sure. And what’s interesting, the company did enjoy six years of amazing growth following the turnaround.

KEITH BURTON: Next question, and I’ll repeat your question for the benefit of the videotape that we have going.

SPEAKER 4: Yeah. You were talking about how some of these leadership traits can actually be seen in younger people today, and that leadership does not necessarily go along with age. At your agencies, Keith and Ron, how quickly are you advancing young people with leadership skills today and is there an expectation more so today than yesteryear to have these opportunities more quickly.

KEITH BURTON: I’ll answer first. The question is, given the fact that leadership doesn’t always occur at the highest level, as we look at young men and women coming up, how quickly can they advance? How do they demonstrate these qualities? And I’ll tell you increasingly that I’ve been in the agency business now since 1984, so I’ve seen them frankly advancing very quickly over recent years for a number of reasons.

Number one, we’re not always– I have to tell you, we’re not always making our recruits and our hires directly from the public relations profession. We’re increasingly hiring from a broader liberal arts perspective as well. And so, as a result of this, we’re blending in our people with traditional public relations practitioners.

I think that also provides further impetus to learning among the ranks as men and women come up. It used to be that one would think that if you came into an agency, you basically had a four-year run through each of the tracks, or basically 12 years to move into a very senior role. And while we like to think that age has some bearing and tenure has a bearing on work, in point of fact, there are so many great young men and women who are moving quickly.

The real difference is they want to learn. They have a passion for it. They are willing to come in and they provide balance in their life. They’re not simply just about the work. They’re about a greater balance, giving back into communities, and doing what great leaders do.

RON CULP: Great. What we do, we have a tool that we develop that basically discusses– has a wheel, and around it has all the various possible opportunities within the organization. And what managers are supposed to do is sit down with each of their team and discuss, just where do you see yourself wanting to be? What do you want to build on and where do you want career-wise, and how can I help you reach it?

Obviously, things in the– because of the economic times have been a lot tougher in the agency world, what I find that we are doing more so, though– we’re paying more time in looking at the young talent because we know this too shall pass and we don’t want them to. So, we’re looking and spending more time focused on junior talent in the organization and their career paths to make sure that they know that there is a future in the organization and that their careers move pretty quickly.

We have– to your point, it used to be like, oh, well you’re going to be here for three or four years before you move up. And how many promotions have you had, Kevin, since you joined us?


RON CULP: Three. And how long did you join us? How long ago?

KEVIN SAGHY: 2 and 1/2 years ago.

RON CULP: 2 and 1/2 years. So, it’s Kevin Saghy, who has had an amazing impact on the organization. Highly regarded, one of the hardest workers in the organization, proving himself to be a leader of this profession and in his job. Count executive who we rely on and somebody who other people could role model.

So, Kevin’s doing an outstanding job, and not just because he’s here. Kevin’s also joined by a lot of other people in our organization that have figured out the same thing. You work hard. You do good work, and you’re smart and it’s going to happen for you.

And with no time frame on it. I only thought it was twice, So it was three? Congratulations.

KEITH BURTON: Next question, quickly.

SPEAKER 6: Yes, I have a question. My name is [INAUDIBLE], My question is this. In leadership, we talk about building relationships. And with our bottom marketing and Twittering and texting, I notice that the young people moving up often lose this element of a face to face for communicating and building a relationship. How do you address this?

KEITH BURTON: Quickly, I’ll address and I’ll ask my colleagues to address it as well. The question is, in this new age of social and digital media, how do we build relationships as a part of these skills that we talked about earlier? Again, back to the mentor that I think so highly of, Al Golin. He has a great comment that he makes in this area. You can’t let high tech replace high touch.

And I think that’s such a vital thing for young men and women to know. They come into our offices every day. They’re facile with instant messaging. They use all of the social media that we know. Often, they tutor us in these processes.

But we have to help them understand that they must build relationships, and understand with empathy, with a great value around what an organization is doing, how they can support the men and women that they work with day in, day out. They must model what they see from us, as well, and we must help them in that process.

I think to Ron’s point earlier about developing people, whether it’s the Ketchum College or the work we do with our Institute within Golin/Harris or any of the great agencies do, it’s to help men and women go beyond the technical end to these areas, to understand that very vital process in the work that we do.

RON CULP: A real issue. We do not communicate enough. The young people– what we have to do is encourage them to find ways of interacting with larger groups of people, brainstorming sessions and the others to bring them out.

What’s interesting is we will put out an all office announcement that there’s going to be a brainstorming session. Then we have to go door to door to drag people into it. So, what we do is then we start going higher in the pecking order to drag people into the meeting. And we want that diversity of ideas and strata within the organization there to make it meaningful. Otherwise, it’s the same four people in the session.

And so, it becomes very difficult, because you’re faced with having utilization goals and billability goals and everything else, and first thing you’re saying, is that brainstorm billable? And if so, Kevin will be there. And Kevin will come anyway.

But other people will say, you know, I’m really crashing. Otherwise, I’m going to have to work until, god forbid, 6 o’clock tonight to get my work done. And those trade-offs are there, but it, again, takes the leadership to get involved and say, come to this.

And then we also try to do a lot of social activities. We have a beer cart that goes around the office at 5:00 o’clock– at 3:00 o’clock on Fridays. There would be no one to serve it to at 5 o’clock. And so, it’s just finding ways to get people to come out and talk to each other.

And then at meetings, we try to make sure that a cross-current of people in the organization present, that if the leadership of the office isn’t going to do all the talking, that we’re going to turn to the people who are actually doing the work to talk. And then people who are– all of a sudden they’re encouraged and they start asking questions. They follow each other into discussions afterwards. So, again, it’s creating the culture that that encourages it and allows it. And if we’ve got to eat a few hours to make sure this happens, then we’re going to.

SPEAKER 5: So, you see the value of face-to-face. You don’t think any type of social media will replace–

KEITH BURTON: I think it’s important, but I have to tell you something. Do we see the value of social media is a question– there is a replacement for that. The replacement has to be stronger influence on face-to-face complemented by these media.

And I’ll give you case in point. Every study we’ve done at InsideEdge for the past 10 years and before that for almost 20 years of work I’ve done in this area, we’ve done the studies. About 90% to 92% of every audience we’ve talked to tell us as we do the surveys that they’re strongest length of trust is based on that one-to-one relationship, or that one to group relationship. It’s in every culture we go into.

So, it’s important though– and I know Bruce would recognize this as well in his corporate work– we often think that corporate communications professionals, their job is to help others understand the value of it. But it’s also to help others know that their role is to communicate. It’s not just our role. It’s the role of the men and women who lead as managers to get out and to do this communication in their work, so we have to do a more effective job in helping people to understand this.

Another question as we move through here quickly. Just one more. Over here in the front.

RON CULP: Oh, let’s go all the way back.

SPEAKER 6: Three observations. First of all, you are talking about positive signs of leadership and looking at the collapse of major corporations in the United States recently, what went wrong there, in say, in the General Motors or the others? What went wrong with financial companies?

Why, in the legal actions that are taken against these companies, were public relations never even mentioned? Were they so low down on the scale? So, what happened in those companies in fostering leadership. That’s the first one.

I think the second one is a point that you made– it’s very important– just now. That the American free market prizes competition. And what you’re trying to do is to say that co-operation is probably better. But that’s hard when you get very young and ambitious people who want leadership, to understand that to co-operate and find ways of solving problems peacefully is the most important thing.

And the third one is that I thought when I was coming here I was going to hear about leadership in the profession as a whole, and I was thinking of who have been the leaders. [INAUDIBLE] And he was an individual. He didn’t belong in a firm. He didn’t work in a corporation. The only one who did was Arthur Page. And he, I think, embodied most closely what you’re talking about here. And the other one was also [INAUDIBLE], of course. And I know quite well about how he was a leader. But he wouldn’t fit in to any of those– well, he would fit in some.

But I think the question is, which perhaps you can emphasize more, that it needs ambitions of the future. It’s the ability to see how public relations can change. And that’s, I think, the key to a really great leader.

KEITH BURTON: You asked for three pieces, and I hope I’ve taken notes well. What happened with GM and others– Bank of America obviously was in the news today, as you probably saw. Why did these companies not have public relations leaders who kept them from the brink?

How do we balance out collaboration in a very competitive culture like we have in the US, where men and women compete more often than they want to collaborate together? And then third, some don’t fit the model. And to your question, what is leadership as it relates to having a vision–

SPEAKER 6: Yes, sir.

KEITH BURTON: Right. And in that vision, some don’t always come from that fixed model. They may come from other walks of life. And as a result, they bring a sense of vision which is transformative in the work that they do in this field.

SPEAKER 6: It’s a transformative thing, which may not come in an organization no matter how–


BRUCE BERGER: You want to add mine?

KEITH BURTON: I’m going to ask Bruce quickly just to respond, and we’ll move on after this quick response.

BRUCE BERGER: I’ll respond to part of that in the sense of the kinds of leaders that you mentioned. Vision is incorporated in here. It was in one of the qualities that we emphasized and those who felt that was, in fact, an important difference in terms of having a vision for public relations in the larger world.

The people you mentioned, I think, as well were very transformational in terms of the way they approach things, in the way they work with others. And if we had time to sort of work down a list, I think they would embody some of those. And remember what we’re dealing with here is we’re talking– in the nine qualities we’re talking about an ideal type. In the best of all possible worlds, what our research suggests now is that leaders would embody these nine qualities.

That does not mean that you can’t really be an excellent or really good or outstanding leader if you don’t have all of those qualities. What it says is the more open you have or in the greater quantity of them that you have, perhaps you’re going to be a more excellent leader.

RON CULP: Thank you.

KEITH BURTON: Thank you for your questions.

RON CULP: On to the fun part where we get you guys involved here. What we’d like to do is these blue sheets in front of you– and Bob, you’re going to have to move to another table maybe.

KEITH BURTON: If you’re at a smaller table, please do move.

RON CULP: But you don’t have to you. You can talk amongst yourselves. Bob’s going to.

So, what we’d like you to do is looking at the nine qualities and four observations that we’ve had, we’d like you to jot down so we can put into practice here the points that come to mind if you’re a practitioner that maybe I could put into play or should put into play. If you’re an educator, of how this might work into the classroom situation.

So that– what we’d like to do at the end is down here on the second half of this sheet, we’d like to capture some ideas so we continue this research thinking and challenging, so we can build on what you have to share on your thoughts about leadership. And we would love then to be able to have just maybe the next six or seven minutes, jot down your personal thoughts. Then spend about four minutes as a group coming up with some.

We’re going to then jot those down on the bottom half here. We’ll collect them, and you give us your email addresses and we’ll share you the collective thought, send you a copy of the presentation today, which also– the document we’re actually leaving you with summarizes and provides the actual names of the studies. So, if you would just jot down your thoughts. So, we’ll ring an imaginary bell in about four minutes, and then we’ll get some discussion going around your thoughts.

I usually [INAUDIBLE]

BRUCE BERGER: Four educators– just to point. We went through the– another person and I went through the list of nine to think about what could we do in the classroom to utilize this quality. How might we work that into some kind of an educational approach, an exercise that would highlight that particular quality. And that’s really what we’re looking for, I think, in a sense with educators. How does some of these things translate into the classroom?

KEITH BURTON: This table points out again, just for the benefit of the video, the power of strategic decision making, which goes into all of those elements we talked about earlier to the last point that was made on vision. But more importantly, to the point about ethics and values and the role they play in the strategic decision-making part, whether you’re, as you say, part of an organization educationally, or a part of a private organization. Doesn’t matter what the foundation is, the principles are the same.

Let’s go in the back here. There’s three people in the back right by the door. Yes. You’re waving your hand. What did you come up with back here?


KEITH BURTON: So, the point that was made in the back is that we have two academic leaders and another– someone from the private sector, I’m assuming, who’s also with you in the back– the power, again, of role models or mentors and models as we talked about, we’ll come back to. And also, the issue of ethics or the ethical construct, how to work within this today is a very powerful part of that work. Is that a fair way to discuss this?

How about over here in this other side of the room at the very back? There’s a larger table at the very back. Is there someone there who can represent what your team said?


KEITH BURTON: Good. So, values and action survey, or using a tool that could help. Whether it’s on these 24 attributes that you mentioned that may be available online. There are other books that are available like this where you can actually analyze, and then further– and this will be music, I know to, Dr. Berger’s ears in a minute as we talk about it– taking these nine qualities and perhaps breaking them out, selecting certain ones, and doing additional research where you may be in this area to see how they apply. Is that a good description?

RON CULP: Great idea.

KEITH BURTON: What about anyone else? Does anyone else want to volunteer just thoughts that you had at your table for us? Over here. Yes.


KEITH BURTON: So, you did a grouping there– be, no, and do based on the way you saw these attributes to try and organize and think about them as you may communicate them.

SPEAKER 8: Yes, sir.

KEITH BURTON: Very fair.

RON CULP: Great.

KEITH BURTON: I know there will be other points that could be made, but rather than going through these we have one other part of our exercise just in the last couple of minutes that I wanted to ask you to participate in. And we can always, after we finish the session, have a side conversation around what else you may have come up with.

In the area of coming up with additional research topics, in this area of research projects that could be undertaken, let me ask this group, what thoughts do you have in that area? One thought was already made in the back that we could take these nine qualities and do additional individual research around them.

Anyone else want to bring up possible ideas for research in this area that could be undertaken? Don’t be shy. Over here. Yes, sir.

SPEAKER 9: We got a specific one.

KEITH BURTON: Place a greater emphasis around the PR profession, specifically in future research, even beyond what’s been done here. Other– yes, sir. Right here.


KEITH BURTON: If you didn’t hear the point that was made here for additional research, we talk often about public relations, but can we break out and show public relations as a real agent of change where we have behavioral or other norms that come as a result of this? Or as a conscience, being able to sit at that table and help make decisions where it actually made a difference. So that’s really your point. Look for more examples in this area. Is that a way to describe it?

SPEAKER 10: Thank you, yes.

KEITH BURTON: Back in the back.

RON CULP: Great idea.

KEITH BURTON: Yeah. The point is, what do you do with structure and culture to provide additive power to leadership? So as learning and development, is there something we do in dialing up learning and development is your point. Is there something we do in recruitment, although leadership is really never taught. Leaders are developed.

But is there something in our recruitment where we look for certain qualities with people? That’s really the point you make here. Yes, sir.


KEITH BURTON: The power of storytelling is the point that’s made here. If you’ve not read the book, there’s a great book called Lessons of Dead CEOs. Have you ever read the book? It’s a wonderful example of storytelling– Stephen Denning, who’s become the father of storytelling in our work on the internal front.

I think it’s an excellent point. Do more work in this area where we have these lexicons that then guide us in our value development and in our ethical development. Over here.

RON CULP: Thank you.

SPEAKER 12: Two linked ones. What can we learn from bad leadership, because my experience is that bad leadership is much more rife, it’s a new and expanding research area–


KEITH BURTON: And we have more examples.

BRUCE BERGER: We have a lot of examples. That’s right.

SPEAKER 12: I have learned enormously from bad leaders. And I think we have to. I think it also links– I think we need to do more on leading from below, because let’s face it. PR are not leaders within the hierarchy. There are few who lead their own agencies.

BRUCE BERGER: Wrap it up.

SPEAKER 12: –we’re not in. And you’re kind of caught between the double meaning of leadership as a hierarchical position and as a way of being. And I think that that makes– it’s a tricky one in any leadership research. But I think it’s particularly lax, because we’re still here. Please let us sit and talk to you both and then we can leave.


SPEAKER 12: And there’s an ambiguity in that, that a good leader does participate. But the CEO won’t let you in.

KEITH BURTON: As we return to Dr. Berger here, just two quick points. We learn more from bad leadership often than we learn from good leaders?

SPEAKER 12: Not learn more, but I think it’s an area of research.


SPEAKER 12: And I mean, the initial research is that bad leadership exists because of bad culture. And I think that that means that everyone in the organization has to take responsibility for bad leadership.

KEITH BURTON: Good. Thank you, Bruce.

BRUCE BERGER: We’ve burned our time here. I want to say just a couple of things before we break. Thanks again for joining us. We’re going to continue our work on research Into Leadership through The Plank Center. We’d love to have your thoughts, love to hear from you as we do that.

Before you leave, please, if you’re willing to tear your blue sheets in half, leave us the bottom half with an email address. I will collate all of your ideas and email them to you. On your way out the door, we have a leadership report. It’s kind of a summary of what we presented this afternoon so you’ve got to take away from the class as well.

And thanks. We hope you’ll continue to talk about leadership because we will. It’s a really vital topic, so thanks again for coming.

RON CULP: Thank you all.

KEITH BURTON: Thank you.