Oral Histories

John (Jack) Felton

Interview Segments on Topic: PR Education/Training

John (Jack) Felton Biography

John (Jack) Felton was vice-president of corporate communications at McCormick Spice Company in Baltimore MD from 1977 to 1994.  Following his retirement from McCormick, Felton became The Institute for Public Relations (IPR) chief executive.  Prior to his corporate career, he served as a first lieutenant with the U.S.A.F. Strategic Air Command during the Korean War.

Felton joined the University of Florida faculty in 1993 as the Freedom Forum Distinguished Visiting Professor. He is a former two-term president of PRSA and winner of its highest award, the Gold Anvil, in 1992.  In 2002, Felton received the Arthur W. Page Society’s Distinguished Service Award in recognition of his contributions to strengthening the role of public relations.


Interviewer: What do you think about the recent college graduates. Are they prepared for informed ethical decision making? Or do they need some more training?

Felton: I think any of the sequences the students take in college in the field of public relations needs to have a very strong ethics course. And it needs to be taught by someone who has some pretty hard and fast ground rules about what’s allowable and what isn’t. We take great care and teach them PR and the law, so they don’t get in trouble with that part of PR. And we teach them very carefully about how to do financial reporting, because we don’t want them to get into trouble for doing that. But we lack, I think lots of times the ethic question of, is this the right thing to do? Is this the right way to do it. Am I doing something good for bad reasons? Or am I doing something bad for good reasons and I think we need to sort that out. I don’t think children today get the same kind of parental teaching that maybe some of us got and I think parents are busy and they assume the schools are going to teach good behavior and how to behave and sometimes that doesn’t happen. And so I think any course at any college that has a curriculum for public relations needs to have a very, very strong (course) that everyone has to take. And I think by having the students have that kind of a focus we say to them look it’s important in PR that we tell the truth. That we act it out. That we do the Arthur Page Principles because that’s what it’s about. And the minute you lose the trust you know you’ve just forgotten. And with consumers with your shareholders with your employees if you lose the trust you’ve just lost the battle practically. It’s so hard to get it back. And I think one way to do that and enforce that idea of keeping the trust is to say look here’s what ethical behavior looks like. And you present them with some problems. Here’s the problem. Would we do this? Would we do that? Which is the right way to go here and it gets some interesting discussions in the classroom. Because someone will say but we can’t make this big of a profit that way. Well I said is bigger profit more important than keeping a loyal customer. No so I feel very strongly that. And one nice thing I think we’re seeing a lot more people do what I did. Go back and teach. I felt I was giving back. I’ve had such good training and such good mentors that I thought the least I can do is go back. I was offered a semester as a, I love the title, Distinguished Visiting Professor. Oh boy for a semester at Florida. And I liked it so much and the students seemed to enjoy me so much that I stayed on for ten years. I turned around I couldn’t’ believe I had been there ten years but you learn from the students and we’re getting such bright well trained young people now. And Betsy Plank and others have worked so hard to get the young people trained and I think we’ve got good programs in place at many, many schools. So I think we’re going to have better PR people as a result. But I think it’s good for old timers who can go back and say that theory is right but here’s the way you put it and if you do it this way the CEOs going to cut your ears off but if you do it this way you can you can get it through and you can win and I think that’s what we need to go back and do and say . The theory is right but here’s how we make it work.