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Penn State Live
|Oral History with Ron Culp|
1. Interviewer: Well, we’re sitting with Ron Culp at the Arthur Page Society conference in California. And it’s Monday, September 17th in 2007. Thank you for spending some time with us today.
Culp: It’s good to be here.
Interviewer: Great. Well I want to start out talking to you a little bit about how you got into PR and selected that. You graduated from Indiana State University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and journalism…
Interviewer: …in 1970, and you held a series of positions in journalism, local and state government, and then suddenly in ’77 you were manager of corporate communications with Eli Lilly. How did all that transpire?
Culp: It is an interesting story. The fact that I started out as a newspaper reporter you should say. And then a friend who was in politics at the time in Indiana got me involved in a political campaign for a congressional candidate and during that process this candidate brought in a consultant from the east coast who worked on the campaign. Long story short, we lost the primary and as a result of that, the consultant said you know you need to get out of Indiana for a while. And I have a couple of campaigns that I’m working on in New York State. So I want you to come up to Albany. I looked at the atlas to see where Albany was and my wife and I said “What the heck. It sounds like an adventure.” So we went out there to work for a year on political campaigns. This was in the 1972 period when Nixon was running for re-election and Republicans were very much in control. As a matter of fact, as a result of that election, you know the in New York State the governorship under Nelson Rockefeller in both houses of the legislature are Republican. Then what happened is in 1974 Watergate occurs and things change. And so we went from being the majority power where I ran a large public relations organization by then within the New York State Assembly to being in the minority where we had to say excuse me can we get some service over here. And so things changed a lot. Fortunately during that time, we befriended a number of people in Albany including a lobbyist for Eli Lilly. And he said, “You know, I detect that you are probably not as excited about this whole scene as you used to be. When you are ready, you ought to come and talk to us about a job at Lilly.” So I actually went there, thinking that I was going to be working in government affairs in Washington and in New York. And it turns out that when I showed up the real need was in media relations so I went into Lilly as department head of media relations.
2. Interviewer: Was that a difficult transition?
Culp: A big transition. Back then I had lots of hair and I had very curly Afro style hair and I walk in, I knew I had to wear a three piece suit back then, it was a three-piece suit so I had an ill fitting three piece suit. And I have a picture of this my first day on the job when the employee publication comes and takes your picture. And so I’m sitting there with this three-piece suit, very tight. A vest on and an Afro, and they still hired me.
Interviewer: I remember those days.
Culp: Yeah, I wasn’t alone.
Interviewer: Yeah you weren’t any different. Let’s jump to 1982 and talk about Oraflex.
3. Interviewer: Now this was Eli Lilly’s controversial drug that was withdrawn from the US market in 1982 only 12 weeks after it was introduced in the United States. You had been in the British area; I mean it had been sold there for a year?
Culp: Well we had just started selling it there a little bit before yeah.
Interviewer: Now Eli Lilly received a lot of negative press because of the recall of Oraflex and suffered some reputation problems due to [inaudible] deaths of British citizens that [inaudible] death of 11 citizens in the United States. So you had a PR nightmare. Crisis. And you implemented a crisis communications system, which I believe you had designed prior to this.
Interviewer: This was a complicated sequence of events. Can you just tell us about the challenges that you faced and the ethical decisions that you had to make at this point?
Culp: Sure. What actually Oraflex was, and the generic name was benoxyiprofin, and this was the very first pharmaceutical product that any drug company had ever decided to launch through a public relations campaign. So that’s a first itself as well. And so what had actually occurred, the drug hadn’t, it was ready to be sold in the United Kingdom but what happened is a one of the medical doctors who was testing the drug wrote a report in the British Medical Journal Lancet that said “Oh by the way, I had a number of patients on this drug, elderly patients, and all of them had initial relief from arthritis but they all died.” And so this report was published just days before we were supposed to be going to the Waldorf Astoria in New York for a major news conference that we already had everything set in in here. So the day before, I’ll never forget the day before the news event, we met in Chicago with senior management, concerned about the fact that this had taken place - this report was out there, but hearing the medical doctors on our team that this was a fluke. We called this meeting together. The chairman of the company Richard Wood, Gene Step was the head of pharmaceutical in [inaudible] who is the medical director at Lilly and a bunch of other executives and I will never forget Gene Step turned to Ian Shedin, Dr. Shedin and said, “We’re about to send Ron and his team to New York to launch this product. Is there any reason that you know of that we should not proceed?” And he said, Dr. Shedin said, absolutely none whatsoever. This is and he used the medical terms for the fact that this wasn’t a scientific study that was done, blah blah blah. And it contrasted with the work and the investigations that we were doing with the new drug application in the United States, so we proceeded. We showed up at the news event at the Waldorf and it was a roomful of people. You know, cameras from all around the world. All the major media was there. And we had patients who had been on the drug and people who could not get out of bed six months ago who were walking. The photographer for our event used to have to crawl to the bathroom in the morning in pain and he’s down on his, on his knees and hopping around taking pictures at the event. I mean, it was a phenomenal little product I think. But what happened is, we launched the drug, phenomenal news stories. Unfortunately sometimes occurs you know the media will get out a little ahead of where we really intended for them to go, and they were declaring it a wonder drug, and anyone who had arthritis anywhere in the United States was clamoring to get this drug. Sales totally took off, and people and doctors were not reading the package literature that clearly said that if you have impaired renal function, if your kidneys aren’t working, or if you have sensitivity to the sun, that you should stay out of the suns if you take it. All these other factors were not taken in. So what happened was the side effect profile just escalated and it seemed, it seemed like it was on the market longer than 12 weeks but it was a fast 12 weeks. We had a Congressional hearing, we had FDA hearings, and it was literally 24/7 media calls. And I forgot a very important part of that. My wife was pregnant and expected to deliver our first son at that time. And I, we were in the delivery room in the labor room. I’ll never forget. And my boss called and said a newspaper in Greece was calling from Athens with you know they were on deadline. And media worked a little different back then. And [inaudible] very excited about it. I can’t necessarily say that feeling may still exist but it certainly did. We did what we were supposed to do up to that point.
4. Interviewer: You had mentioned your concern about clashes between the two organizations and the employees. Did you find that there was any kind of a clash conflict between you as the communicator who wants to get information out internally but also out to the media about what’s going on, and the corporate lawyers who maybe the totally opposite on that and want to kind of hush, hush. We don’t need to tell the media anything right now.
Culp: Well it’s good put because I’ve been in those situations. In this case, it really wasn’t. It didn’t operate that way. And I do contend, and what I always encourage investment bankers to do is bring the communications people in early. I said, you’ll avoid the conflict because the communicator is going to understand why they can’t. Sometimes, sometimes there is a legitimate reason why you can’t communicate something. Or the timing issues are all resolved. And importantly, the communicator being there. I’m able to say okay here’s what we need to do timing wise. They aren’t thinking of timing of communications. They just want to get the deal closed. So as a result of being there, it made a total difference. Because contrast that to other deals I’ve been in where the phone rings. “Oh by the way, we’re going to be acquiring a new company and you’ve got to put out a press release.” And then I’m full of 50 questions. And then my staff has 50 more and I don’t have the answers. And that is just not the way it should be done. So I think the opportunity to actually be on the front lines and even though it was excruciatingly painful to give up holiday weekends and the like, it was the smart thing to do in the end. It just, you knew what was happening. You knew the rational behind it and you were better able to articulate it to your own staff what they had to do. And then the staff loved it because they knew you had a seat at the table and that you were involved in all this discussion. You knew the characters that they were making these decisions. And if you need an answer, I got a call back a lot faster that they said somebody in PR is calling. Thanks.
5. Interviewer: Lessons learned. Good. Okay, let’s talk a little bit about agencies and corporate PR. I don’t know if you think that. Tell me if you agree with this or not. I’m stating here that recent years PR agencies have grown in size and number while corporate PR staff seemed to be dwindling. Then perhaps that is because of all the [inaudible] and the positions that have been [inaudible]. Now it’s about one year since you became senior vice president at Ketchum Midwest.
Interviewer: Have you experienced any challenges now that you’re in that agency environment that really weren’t’ evident when you were in the corporate PR environment. And has that been difficult? That frenzied?
Culp: I'm actually surprised that the similarities between the two are as great as they are. Everyone always talks about the differences. I think people in agencies think they work harder than people in corporate, and corporate think that, you know, the agency people have the best deal. And in now that I’ve been in corporate PR for about 30 years and only 4 years total in the agency side, the similarities are very strong and I actually told somebody over dinner the other night that I think I’m working harder now than I did when I was at Sears in PR. And my wife quickly corrected me and said “no.” Take it from me, you are not. And because she remembers that late, late nights and the like, that I was consumed. So must be age that I think I’m working harder today, but it’s the similarities are, are greater. Back to your point about whether or not the dynamics are changing between corporate, the pendulum is shifting. By all means, when I went to Sears the PR function was well over 100. And that we had somebody whose responsibility essentially was to know everyone in the building and he was kind of a goodwill ambassador at large. Former store manager, nice guy, didn’t really have a job for him but he’d been working here a long time so let’s put him into PR. And so my job was to restructure the function that put people in various roles, where that made sense. So we reduced the staff significantly, and as and I still probably had a bigger PR function than I needed to get the job done. So we continued over the next ten years to tweak and make sure that you know business really requires bottom line results and we had to produce you know work that would add to the bottom line success, and the reputation success of that company and how many people does that take? And it certainly didn’t take 118 people so and I think that’s happening at all other, and has happened at all other companies. So with the downsizing of the corporate function then all of a sudden when a new product introduction or an acquisition comes along, you are looking around saying we’re all strapped because we’ve now been right sized so let’s call an agency in to help support us for this single mission perhaps. So that’s what really changed and why agencies are thriving today. And why I think there are. There have always been smart people in agencies, the benches are getting stronger and stronger in agencies.
6. Interviewer: Do you think that is going to continue?
Culp: I see no end in sight. I think agencies are, and this is amazing because when I first started out in this profession, I thought you had to have a job as a reporter to get into PR. So and the first several jobs I had in corporate America I would have my HR people screen résumés and I’d be looking for a media experience. And it even start and it probably went the first year or two at Sears and then all of a sudden the light went off and I’m like, you know, these agency people I think have some good ideas. And now I go the opposite. What agency do you work for? If you are going to come and work for an agency, it really helps to have some agency experience, and I only see continued upside on that. And I actually see some corporations, especially smaller ones, just totally outsourcing that function. You know they are going to say okay this person might be responsible for communications, but the kind of stuff that we need is, is broad enough in scope that we can’t build up all of these disciplines in communications, but an agency can just kind of do as a turnkey for us.
7. Interviewer: So now that you’re in that environment, what qualities and characteristics are you looking for when you hire someone?
Culp: First thing I’m looking for is somebody who really is interested in doing the work. We get some resumes of people who really look good on paper. They’ve taken all the right classes, gone to all the right schools and everything else. One of our most recent hires is from Northern Ohio University. Probably wouldn’t have been on anyone’s radar. But because this young person was able to come in and, and through his total passion for this profession and through his incredible research coming in. The other thing, we just have to go read an old issue of Fortune magazine when we were going to, about the company that we were going to talk to. Today they are able to research so much better and have, you know, prepare themselves far more effectively than we were able to, so I think asking the right questions coming into a situation. Not reciting that I know everything about your company or your agency when you come in for the interview but just knowing about it. Knowing what their specialty is. We had people when I was at Sarah Lee Corporation that would come in and talk about how they just love you know the cheesecakes, And that’s fine. But then, now are you aware of the other products we have? And they weren’t aware at that point that we had a Haines and Leggs and Playtex and all these other consumer products because, you know, they grew up eating Sarah Lee cheesecakes so they thought they were coming to a cheesecake factory. And that wasn’t the case. Today you know they’ll come in and they are aware of the various products and they are able to have a conversation, a business oriented conversation, with you about it. So I think you know passion and understanding of the business and wanting to do that rather than you know it’s either between PR and advertising. No it’s not between PR and advertising. You know you are going to come in and then you are going to know what you want to do and you are going to have to put a case together why you are going to be the best person for this PR opportunity. And ask good questions.
8. Interviewer: You mentioned the research and how important that is. Do you think the web has something to do with that? What kind of an influence do you think all the unique technologies have on new professions in the field?
Culp: Yeah it’s such an advantage and it’s also a disadvantage if you don’t use it, because I have no patience now for somebody who doesn’t understand what you are all about. Somebody who hasn’t done the basics checking the website, really reading the website. And you come in and then all of a sudden you ask a question that clearly is uneducated. You could get away with that, because in the olden days, because you know you just didn’t have the access to the information. Today almost all the answers are out there. And so it really helps you prepare to come in. The young people I’m seeing today that are just totally aware, they walk through that door knowing everything they should about the agency or the company that I was working with at the time and that’s just unbelievable. It’s all based on the technology changes.
9. Interviewer: I was going to shift into the issue of trust. What do you feel is the key to building trust and credibility in an organization?
Culp: Spring that one on me. I think that you mean from the PR function or the organization itself?
Interviewer: Let’s look at the PR function.
Culp: Because it’s very important because a lot of PR functions don’t have trust within organizations. It’s far better than it used to be where it was my PR guy was how we were introduced. And where my goal always working with CEOs in the past would be how do I get them to stop referring to me as the flack or the PR guy who is going to come in and spin something into the person who he wants to call in because he has an idea to bounce off of the PR person. How is this perhaps going to be perceived by our various audiences? And so that really evolves over time. I didn’t start there and the first several jobs I was definitely the PR guy that they’d turn to, to say, you know clean it up. And you know it, we were always saying gosh if we were only there initially this wouldn’t have happened. You know because we knew how this would play. And so in some cases we were brought in after the fact because gosh maybe we should have told you about this, and so the trust factor. It really is driven from the top of the organization. Unfortunately, a lot of people come in, in PR functions and they have great idea and they could be very good counselors but senior management has not yet bought in. And so that’s why I think a lot of people are very much hung up on reporting structures because it makes all the difference in the world that the CEO hired you. If the CEO is committed to what the PR function is supposed to be, then all of a sudden you are able to have a whole different level of credibility within the organization. That allows you to work with people and gain their trust differently than when they just view you as the spokesperson or the mouthpiece of the organization. And you will never have the credibility because they are worried what are you also telling the media. What else you are saying and so the only way they believe you is if they know that you understand the business of the company and that you are able to defend and build on the reputation of that company that they all see you as a peer versus you know the person who just tell him what to tell the media. And so I think that trust is just gained over a lot of experience. None of us started unfortunately right out of the shoot with the high level of trust because there was a lot of misunderstanding what PR is about. So it’s just literally getting in and consistently building on top of one success or a problem but you had answers that helped to the next level. And it’s just a constant building process to gain trust. It can’t happen over night. Can’t be willed.
10. Interviewer: Do you believe it’s important for a corporation to have a mission statement or a credo and should ethics training be provided for the staff of agencies as well as corporate PR?
Culp: Wow two questions. The, the credo I think is important for a company, especially an iconic company that, that has, has a mission beyond maybe selling a product, you know that there’s some reason to exist. Overall mission statements I’m not a big fan of. I’ve spent, I started to say hours but I spent days, weeks, and months developing mission statements that you could easily try to have a guessing game as to what company, it wasn’t identified by the company it represents, because they are all the same essentially. So I think you need, you need something internally for people to rally around, but a mission statement is usually too long and boring and self-serving to the point that no one, It doesn’t have credibility. So at Sears we had we threw out the mission statement and said that we created something under Arthur Martin our new CEO called three Cs. And we rallied a new organization around three basic things that we wanted them to do. We decided that if you make this a compelling place to work that that’s going to turn into a compelling place to shop for our customers and therefore that turns into a compelling place to invest for shareholders. So we called it the 3 Cs. And sometimes the three ‘Compellings.’ And we, that caught on like lightening, we had mission statement after mission statement after mission statement before that for 117 years. And within three months of the 3 Cs you could go into any store in the United States and ask any level employee what that 3 Cs stood for and they could tell you. And what happens? Sales increase and the stock goes up because you got a single focus for the organization and everyone agreed that it was so basic that I don’t have to have a lot of words to explain it. So I think if it’s kept simple it really works.
Now with reference to your question on ethics training, I think ethics training is critically important but it can’t be sophomoric, that it has to be almost fun and it to get engaged with because it makes you think more than, “Don’t do this. Do this. Don’t do this.” That’s not the case. But take examples of things where there may be a lot of gray area and then how would you respond, and see how people respond. Not as a test to say “You’re stupid. You don’t get it.” But to have them understand that a lot of ethical issues we’re facing are really gray areas. There were ethical issues in the Oraflex debate that we had around a table of people. Should you when you know that 11 people in the United Kingdom have died, should you proceed with launching the product? When you might have had some personal concerns about it. And was it sufficient that your medical advise, advisor said no absolutely not. Or should you say let’s just give a little bit more time, and so those kinds of issues. You could have played that. But, so, so getting people to really think, I think it kind of raised the level on where the ethical standards are and it doesn’t become like you know mom and dad saying no you can’t do that. But engage them in what are the proper ethical standards and I think it, it helps people understand that it’s not black and white.
Interviewer: That's right. The case method is an important pedagogy in education.
Culp: Oh good.
Interviewer: You’re right. Oh and here’s a real important question. So is it credo or credo? Because I’ve heard everybody pronounces it differently.
Culp: Well and you are not going to get into trouble for pronouncing it either way because I use both.
11. Interviewer: Right I used I think I used both today even. Yes. All right who had the most significant influence on your career? And how did that relationship affect your professionalism? How did you develop as a mentor.
Culp: Well I have many. I am lucky to have many and I am a mentor to many and I think that comes from the fact that I, I would be hard pressed to pick one, but I can.
Interviewer: What does it mean to you?
Culp: Well I go back to people in my childhood who always encouraged me to do things but and things that you know they probably were amused about but they saw that there was some creativity link or something there, so they were encouraging me to do crazy things. So the local newspaper editor, who when I was 11-12 years old said why don’t you write a guest column for the newspaper? And I wrote these crazy, you know, thoughts. And then, and she said you ought to just continue that, so that’s why I decided I wanted to be a newspaper reporter when I went to college. And then in college I had a couple of professors, Claude Billings was one of my professors, and Claude just kept saying you know, just kept pushing me where the opportunities might go with in journalism for me. And then after I went to work at the first newspaper, John Rutherford was my news editor, I disliked that man with a passion. He was the meanest person on the news desk. But boy did I not misspell words. This was before Spell Check you know. And you are coming in and you are basically saying I had to look that word up in a dictionary. Change the word. And so if you misspelled or anything, or if you had a fact that wasn’t right, but I look back at John as being a huge influence. But on the PR side it probably was a gentleman by the name of Jack Raymond. Jack was a former New York Times reporter that then went off to set up his own small boutique in New York and John was an advisor to the CEO at Lilly, and Jack was an advisor for the CEO at Lilly. So Jack always talked to me when he came to town and we’d go to dinner or lunch and at one point he comes in and says “I really have an idea for you. You’re in Indianapolis, Indiana a fairly small market, and you have essentially the top PR job that you are going to get at Lilly. So you need to get into a broader network of PR to be discovered in this profession. So let’s keep our ears open for opportunities in New York.” And so that then led to my getting a job at Pitney Bowes as director of public relations and Jack and I stayed in touch for years and years. And as a matter of fact, I talked to him I called him about two years ago and I decided to go on this little tour of thanking all of my mentors that were still alive. And either in writing or I would call them or I would go have lunch. So I was going to New York and I had lunch with him and I thanked him. AT the time he was in his late 80s. And then last year I mentioned him at the Page meeting in a speech that I gave about mentoring. And I sent him a copy of it. He called me and we had a great conversation and I’m glad we did that because I just heard from his wife about two months ago that he died and I feel better having said thank you when I did than wishing I had.
12. Interviewer: So are journalists the watchdogs of businesses?
Culp: They used to be. They still think they are, but they are not. It’s far broader than that now. Everyone’s the watchdog. We’re so empowered now with the ability, I mean, I blog. You just have so many avenues to get points of view out there so we’re so engaged that you never know where it’s going to come from. They still play a huge role but very often they are following somebody else’s lead on the story and they, they are no longer where they used to be and they know it. They are frustrated, as some corporate people are, that it’s not as easily controlled messaging as it used to be.
13. Interviewer: Are there any other changes that you observed in the practice of PR during your career?
Culp: I think the biggest one is I thought it was stressful when we only had two news cycles a day. Some 20 years ago 25-30 years ago, definitely was easy. You knew that by the time you answered the question at noon for an afternoon paper or at 5 o’clock to 7 o’clock for the morning paper, that your job was done. And you had that window, that luxurious window of time between the media calling and you have to get an answer. And now it’s totally instant. Absolutely you have to be on top of so many more issues. You also have to be able to admit that maybe you don’t have the answer. Faster than we used to in the past. Oh and the wonderful thing about the current technology as well, that I think has helped expedite the movement of information, is we didn’t have voice mail when I started out. And an assistant or the person at the desk next to you would take a little message and it would be put on your desk and then you’d sort through the messages and see who you were going to call back. So you know just a quantum leap in all kinds of technology and communications that has changed the fact that this is instant. No longer two news cycles a day. And I think that’s what the, the quantum change in what all of us are doing versus where we used to be and we thought we were busy before. Not at all. Exactly. They have no idea.
14. Interviewer: Well, we’re going to just move here into the final section. You’ve been involved with educating or working in classrooms…
Interviewer: ..with some students.
Interviewer: Just tell me a little bit about that. I mean, where, what students have you been working with? What universities, and the things that you do there?
Culp: Well I like going back to my alma mater, Indiana State, and talking with students there because just like most of them today, I was first generation college and so I think that’s very important to, wherever you can help encourage young people to excel, and the fact that this world is a pretty exciting place to go into and don’t settle for something smaller than what you deserve or want to see. So I like going back and talking with those students and am quite involved. I’ve, along with my wife, given a grant to the school to create something called the Real World 101 where young people are able to find out what it’s like to really be entering the work world, everything from social etiquette issues that they need to be aware of, to interview situations, to resume writing, etc. And because a lot of schools had budget cuts and had to stop doing those kinds of things. When I was in school there was a course that my wife and I loved that Mary Alice Banks taught, one of our favorite teachers. A one hour course called Social Orientation. So we knew which way to use the soup spoon, which everyone should know. And you know how to set a table to how to act when you go to a funeral, a wedding, whatever what a receiving line is like. So all those sorts of things I think are just kind of a distant past at a lot of schools. So, we’re trying to bring that back into our alma mater. I’ve recently gone to Illinois State University, talked to a conference on ethics at Illinois State. Did the same thing at Northern Illinois, DePaul University, Northwestern, and it is a, it’s exciting for me because you see young people who are trying to figure out exactly what they want to do career wise. I was there as a junior and senior. I didn’t know there was anything about public relations, never even heard of it. I thought, you know, I was going to be a journalist and so I think exposing young people to all kinds of ideas, you know and just encouraging them to do something that they are going to have passion about is fun. And then to see how they are going to react and the kind of questions that they have and they are very engaged. And then there are some who aren’t. But it’s society, so it works beautifully. But I get very energized and I love being back in the classroom. I don’t think I could do it full time, It’s a tough job. But I love going. I just was at Marquette University recently and spoke to a couple of classes up there and my son went to Marquette and I just felt that. you know it was a kind of a way to give back a little bit and for the great education that he got, and to revisit the campus that we used to see when we’d go see him.
Culp: Well, kind of unrelated. He’s in, he’s done the first part of my career. He’s gone into politics, so he’s working in Washington, DC for a Congressman.
Culp: And my other son is going into the other part of my career and he is on the editorial side working for a magazine here in California.
15. Interviewer: Okay good. Well let’s talk about the centers. How important do you think centers such as the Plank Center at Alabama and the Page Center at Penn State. How important are these things to the industry and what should we be doing?
Culp: Funding them more than we are currently, to start. They are critically important, I think any time, this profession more than most is, is kind of going under its own momentum, but we haven’t done enough to build up an infrastructure, a base of knowledge that future leaders in this profession are going to be able to draw from. I’m constantly, you know, looking back at historical points in time. What happened back then? A lot of that doesn’t exist and just having resources to be able to say that I think I can tap into the Plank Center because I’ve got a leadership issue. Maybe an organizational issue that I’ve got to tackle as a leader in my organization, and what has happened historically there. So there are some resources out there, but there aren’t enough so the data and the knowledge that we are going to be pulling together through these two Centers, I think, are going to be critically important. Same thing for the Institute of Public Relations, they all should be encouraged. They are all under funded and we have to find ways of really beefing up what kind of support that they are getting.
Interviewer: Yeah I am hopeful in the future that the Plank Center and the Page Center will be able to collaborate on some things that. It’s very interesting here about the leadership. I think it was about, Jim Murphy was talking about the Plank Center there’s a booklet that they put together about leadership [inaudible]. And then of course the Page Center and the oral history collection that will be online and searchable by students and scholars. So hopefully we are beginning to build that base for the future.
Culp: Yeah, it’s very exciting, I think what both centers are going to be bringing to the profession and it’s just so critically important. That’s the other thing I try to tell the young people is go back. I know it’s going to be boring to you sometimes to go back and read about something as prehistoric as the Tylenol issue. But you do learn from it, and one thing you learn from it is, times were different. That was the most brilliantly handled crisis communications event of maybe a 20-year period of time. Well today, none of that would work in this environment. But you are going to understand what’s changed and you are going to better understand why it’s different today and why it has to be different if you understand the past.
16. Interviewer: Okay, which of your accomplishments are you the most proud of?
Culp: That's the toughest one. I think that probably if I call it an accomplishment, it’s all of the people that tell me I have helped mentor them, and I think looking at where they are in their careers. And I wouldn’t look at some of as having been mentored to them. John Harris who now heads public relations at Sara Lee or Ann McCarthy who heads PR at Western Union, a whole number of people who are now put in leadership positions in corporate America. I didn’t think I was a mentor but obviously I hear from them that
Interviewer: maybe you [inaudible]
Culp: Yeah they think differently. And I think when you are doing it without that being your goal, it kind of is very enriching. I am going to start a website, a blog, on essentially helping guide people in PR careers which is an idea, interestingly enough, by young people that I’ve been working with. And one of them wrote the plan, saying here’s what you ought to do. And so they brainstormed with me on how it’s going to work and I’ve got a bunch of ideas going into it. So I think that probably helping raise the level of, of the talent that comes into the profession by identifying this is a real leader. This profession and whatever we can do to help make sure that they make it. And I believe the same thing is important. My second passion is making sure that we do a better job of increasing diversity in the profession. And so we have a model that we set up in our office to make sure that every minority who comes to work sees a career path that is achievable, and we identify someone at senior level and somebody at the entry level and places in between that they could see how they moved through the organization. And I think that that’s something that hasn’t been too apparent in this profession and we need to do more of that as well. So those are kind of the dual things that I look at that I’m further along in mentoring than I am in increasing diversity understanding the profession but I think that both are, hopefully are going to be things I look back at and say I feel very good about what I’ve done.
17. Interviewer: Well the last thing I wanted to ask is do you have anything else that you would like to share with the future PR professionals this next generation?
Culp: Yeah I think the key thing that it would be very important is to remember people along the way who are helping you and then once you take the next step is to remember them then too., So I’ve stayed in touch with you know college professors, with Nan McGlenn until she died, the editor of the hometown newspaper and all these people along the way because it means so much to people to know. And it’s not like you are bugging them by you know contacting them about everything or asking them for help. But oh by the way I thought you’d be interested in knowing that I just graduated from college. By the way I just landed my first job as an account coordinator at an ad agency. Whatever is happening. You remember them maybe in a card at the holidays. Just, just stay in touch with the people who have helped you along the way, because there’s something about the karma that happens. You know when a lot of people are thinking good thoughts about you, that helps you succeed in your career.
Interviewer: That's good advice. Well, I want to thank you very much for taking time to share some of your experiences with us. Thank you.
Culp: Well I enjoyed it very much. Thank you. Good trip down memory lane.
[End of interview]
Topics of Discussion
- Arthur Page/Principles/Society/Center
- Characteristics/Qualities of PR Professionals
- Code of Ethics/Mission Statement/Credo
- Corporate Character
- Counselor/Counseling Advisor
- Crisis Management
- Ethical Decisionmaking/Behavior
- Ethical Leadership/Corporate CEO Responsibility
- International/Global PR
- PR Accreditation
- PR Agency or Corporate PR/Outsourcing
- PR Education/Training
- PR and Technology/Change
- Selecting a PR Career
- Transition to Corporate World
- Women and Diversity in PR