Oral Histories

Anne Barkelew

Interview Segments on Topic: Characteristics/Qualities of PR Professionals

Anne Barkelew Biography

Ann Barkelew is a senior counselor of Fleishman-Hillard Inc., and the retired senior partner/founding general manager of the agency's Minneapolis/St. Paul office. She has more than 35 years of top management experience with Fortune 100 and small - to mid - cap companies. She is the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions including "Public Relations Professional of the Year;" Fleishman-Hillard's Lifetime Achievement Award, a “Public Relations All-Star”, and in 2003 the Arthur W. Page Society’s Distinguished Service Award.


Interviewer: Well, let’s take a second and look at if you were at this point in time getting ready to hire a senior management person, what kind of qualities would you be looking for in today’s world? And would that have been different from what you had been looking for in the ‘80s and ‘90s.What are those characteristics that you look for in a PR professional?

Barkelew: Well I tell you. I just used to shutter when I would be talking to someone and I’d say why do you think you want to go into this field and they’d say because I like people.  And I’d say that’s not a requirement. You know this is not what we do. I want somebody who is smart. I want somebody who has a track record. Now you are talking about a senior position. I want somebody who really has had a variety of experiences. If I can find somebody who has had some public sector experiences I will lean that way, because I think there is great public relations practiced in the public sector and I encourage young people to look at the public sector. The world is not created in corporate America. There is wonderful public relations being practiced in hospitals and in all kinds of nonprofit organizations. I think if you know everyone has read about the bridge collapse in Minnesota within the last month, and Ted Kenova, the head of public relations for the American Red Cross, became a voice that was heard around the world and put really the right kind of perspective, added that perspective to this tragic, tragic, tragic happening. But it was his good thinking, his good sense and his background, his media and the public arena, so I would really tip if I were struggling between several people, to hire someone that’s had some public sector experience. I think that’s a great plus. I want people who are creative, and I guess I’ve always looked for people that have a spark. I want, I want somebody who gets excited about coming to work in the morning. And when I do talk to college students, and I always tell them that, that the job they want is the job where, when they are going in the elevator or walking in the door of where they work, that their heart beats fast. And when it doesn’t’ beat fast, then look for something else to do, because in our field you need that passion. You need that that great love of what you do. That makes it possible, you know, to sort of slug through some of the stuff to get to the good points sometimes. I want people with a sense of humor, but I think and I want people who can listen, I really am bored by people who talk too much and who seem to have the answer to every question, because I used to say that when I taught school at William Shakespeare, did not unfortunately for me high school English teachers did not publish a teacher’s guide. So if you interpret one way who is to say you are not right. You know, so I really like people who are good thinkers and that’s what I look for.

Barkelew: I’ve had a lot of wonderful experiences in my career. And it covered a lot of decades and many different arenas but I thought about with all the experiences I was so fortunate to have what are the lessons that I learned as a result of those that I could offer to the next generation.  And the first one is; I have 12 of them here; and the first one is it is increasingly important to be a public relations generalist. So not just focused on one particular field like financial public relations or media relations.  But it’s very important to be a generalist. The second lesson is that there are great opportunities in the public sector as well as in the private sector and the world of non-profit is another great opportunity for people going into public relations.  The third lesson is the importance of patience as you learn and earn your place at the table.  Young people today want immediacy, they want to talk to the CEO tomorrow, and I always say that the best counselors are ones that know, that know that their job is to make someone else look good.  It isn’t all just how we put ourselves forward so I think that you are going to have to be patient in getting these experiences before you can really make it to the CEO’s office to give advice, even though your advice may be really good when you are so young. The fourth one is how important our function is to the success of the organizations we are part of. It is a critically important function and we must never just set idly by and let it get pushed aside.  We need to speak up and find ways to work with other people.  In my first PR job I kept in the schools, I kept a list of every school and I actually put a check mark beside when I’d get a story in the paper.  I’d have something in a newsletter or do a project in a school, and if I saw there was some I wasn’t doing anything to help, then I’d go find something to do.  So I think finding a way to integrate the function into the whole organization is really important.  Doing your homework is a daily opportunity.  This is not a job where you can just casually approach it; you have to read the paper; you have to read magazines; you have to look at the blogs, you have to know how the internet works and know how to make it work for you. The sixth lesson is that effective public relations leaders are the common denominator in their organizations. I really believe that we are that common denominator. We are the common ground for HR, for finance, for control, for the foundations, for any kind of function. We speak the language that everyone can understand. So to be that kind of go to person I always tell people that there are a lot of decisions made after five. And so this is not a nine to five job or an eight to five job and I found that my CEO used to drop by my office about six o’clock in the evening almost every day.; And we did a lot of decision making at that point in time that was very, very fulfilling.  So, anyway, the seventh lesson is the importance of the relationship with the CEO and the rest of the top management team.  Respect and credibility are earned. They are not just given, and so it is important that you that you have that you build those relationships. The eighth lesson is to be a full-fledged player in business decisions and in planning the future of the organizations means that we have to be leaders. We have to step up and demonstrate our leadership skills and be leaders and today I think that means being really authentic about being real about what we do. So we need to understand the business. We need to really be a full-fledged player. The ninth lesson is to accept the responsibilities of being a doer and not just a delegator. Most CEOs today will say I want to know who’s responsible. And so sometimes you see people at the top and they say well the CEO goes around me. Well the reason is I believe that CEOs stop seeing some people is the fact that we are the ones, that we’re not just responsible, but we also can do that kind of thing.  And I think CEOs want to see us in charge and want to see us as leaders. The tenth lesson is the importance of collaboration, bringing people together. Helping them discover a common language and realizing that it’s what we can accomplish working together on projects, being the, establish a collaborative environment. The eleventh lesson is that it’s hard work. There aren’t always a lot of, not a lot of monetary benefits but there are great non-monetary benefits that come with this job. It is never boring. No two days are ever the same. It is always exciting. And it can always be fun, I think.  And then my final lesson is to never stop learning. You are never too old to keep learning and look at every opportunity as a learning experience.  So those are my twelve offerings for lessons based on my experience in the field.

Interviewer: Well, they are wonderful. I am so happy that you shared everything with us today. It’s been very interesting. I want to thank you so much for taking your time away from all of your friends who I hear bustling about out there and for just sitting down and talking with us. I really appreciate it.

Barkelew: Well, thank you for asking me. I’m honored.

Interviewer: Thank you very much. [end of interview]