Interview Segments on Topic: Transition to Corporate World
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, welcome.
Barkelew: Thank you.
Interviewer: I'm sitting with Anne Barkelew in California at the Page Society conference.
Interviewer: And it is Sunday, September 16th 2007, and Anne has agreed to chat with me a little bit about her experiences in public relations. So let’s start early on in your life, in your career. After you graduated from Central Missouri State University in 1957, you began your career as an English teacher and a journalism teacher. And you were a school administrator in Missouri and also in the California school systems. And in 1966 you earned a Master of Education degree from the University of Missouri. How did you land in corporate PR?
Barkelew: Well I think to get my start in public relations you have to go back a little before I graduated from college, because I really believe that I got my start selling cookies as a Girl Scout or calendars as a Brownie. I think that all those experiences are experiences teach you a lot about planning and involving other people and working as a member of a team. But after I graduated from college, I became a teacher because it was what I always wanted to do and it mixed my love of journalism. I’d been a junior high school newspaper editor and a senior high school yearbook editor and I went to workshops at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, you know so I really, I didn’t know exactly what it was I wanted to do in journalism but I so admired a teacher I had that I decided I wanted to be a teacher too. So after doing that in Missouri for three or four years, I then had a chance to go west to California. California requires a fifth year for a permanent credential. And so I needed to go back to school. Now during those five years of teaching, I had so many students wanting to take journalism that I had to divide them into two groups and so I set up a news bureau and I assigned beats and we got on the radio and we got on television. So in effect, I was doing public relations for the schools at the time. I was also sort of a militant teacher and I used to go to school board meetings and say why aren’t we told all these things are going on. So when I took a year off to get my master’s degree I audited a course in school public relations and I was absolutely amazed to learn what you can do on purpose to help people understand more what’s actually happening in the world around them. I had a wonderful professor at the University of Missouri and as a result decided to do my master’s thesis organizing a program of public relations for the Santa Barbara schools, which is where I was teaching. I was on leave from Santa Barbara, California. Well I was going to go back and head the English department at a brand new high school, which is every English teachers dream. And one morning my superintendent at Santa Barbara called and said “We are going to assign you to the district office and let you put into practice what you’ve written in your thesis.” So I, it‘s a wonderful, wonderful opportunity and from that point in my life on I never ever applied for a job. It was sort of one public relations opportunity followed another. But in Santa Barbara, we dealt with the closing of schools that weren’t earthquake safe. You know I learned to wheel and deal. Then I had a chance to go into Los Angeles to help them decide what kind of public information program they should have in the Los Angeles County schools and designed a program them sort of out of the goodness of your heart kind of thing. And ended up being offered the job. So I went in and I took that job and that was my first experience with PR assay and I got accredited. I went through accreditation and Betsy Plank signed my accreditation certificate. So think about that. I mean that’s in the 60s and Betsy you know there weren’t’ very many women in the field and here she was signing it so that was a real highlight. While I was in Los Angeles County we dealt with declining enrollment, court ordered desegregation of schools, legislative mandated collective bargaining for teachers with vicious strikes. And I learned very quickly that it’s a lot easier if you have done some things ahead of time to try to avoid these crises in the schools. So I was on a plane going back to talk to someone somewhere about collective bargaining in schools and I sat next to a man from Munsingwear. And he was really interested in the fact that schools had public relations people. And so as I told him about it, I told him about closing schools he said, “You know we have to close half of our plants. And we really don’t want the unions to come in. Do you think you have some advice for us?” And I said “You bet I do.” And so I flew back later and met with the people at Munsingwear and told them what I thought they ought to do. And they said “Well would you come back and help us do it?” So for six months, I went back to work in Minnesota at Munsingwear and ended up staying, and discovered I loved the seasons again. So I guess, and while I was at Munsingwear then they called from Dayton Hudson one day and said “We have a job we’d like to talk to you about.” So I’m really fortunate that I have had such incredible experiences. But the lesson in it all for me is that, and what I try to tell college students whenever I get a chance, is that public relations if you are good at what you do, you can do it anywhere. It’s the same basic thing. A school principal and a store manager and a plant manger act exactly the same. You know the superintendent of schools is not a great deal unlike the CEO of a company. And you are dealing in the court of public opinion. In fact, sometimes I think public sector, public relations is harder than private sector or corporate public relations.