Oral Histories

John (Jack) Felton

Interview Segments on Topic: Characteristics/Qualities of PR Professionals

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.

Transcript

Interviewer: Who had the most significant influence on your career?

Felton: I think Art McQuaide, who was my first real boss at US Steel. And we were in Salt Lake City and having grown up in Virginia and being very much an Easterner, I got off the plane in a Brooks Brothers suit with a vest and a striped tie and a hat in those days, and the first thing he said to me. “Jack, off with the vest, off with the Brooks Brothers suit. You are in the cowboy west. You’ve got to learn to dress the way we dress out here.” Which I thought, that’s strange. You know it’s still the same corporation. But I learned from him so many things about how to do product publicity, how to deal with people and communities. And in Salt Lake, I was a minor minority for the first time because it’s all 68 percent LDS (Latter Day Saints) Morman church. I am a whisky drinking Presbyterian. And so I would say, look, I am a whisky drinking Presbyterian if that’s a problem, it’s your problem not mine. But we had a wonderful relationship and great cooperation with all kinds of things. And it was a new experience and completely new environment for me. And he led me through that and then stayed with me my whole career. I could call him and say, Uncle Art what’s this? And we were just in Las Vegas three weeks ago celebrating his 90th birthday. And he has a ranch in New Mexico and his daughter had his 90th birthday party in Las Vegas because it’s easy for people to get to. And he thought it was just going to be a small group and when all of us descended, and he had a wonderful time. It was a great time. But he was the real great influence about do things right. Check. Be sure. Check. Don’t assume, and all the things you really need to know when you are young in the career. But he was a terrific guy. Great sense of humor too. Great sense of humor.

Interviewer: We’re back to challenges and accomplishments again. At IPR, what do you think was your greatest accomplishment?

Felton: Again I think hiring the right people. Michele Hinson was marvelous and when I talked with her I knew she was bright and talented and could do things. And so the two of us started out with a grand total of $18,000 and we are now raising almost $1 million in research. And then the next thing was to pick my successor. And I think Frank Oviatt has been marvelous. And he and Michele have just taken it to all kinds of new things. We now have things we are doing in Europe and we have cooperation with all of the PR agencies and I think great respect for the kind of research that’s being done. It was needed, so badly needed and but by having the right people and turning them loose with guidelines. You see what happens and they’ve just done very, very well. So I am very proud of what the literature that’s been produced. We used to say you couldn’t measure public relations. People don’t’ say that anymore because the measurement commission proved the way that we can measure what we do and show the CEO our effectiveness. And that all came out of the getting the right people together and say hey let’s have at it. What can we do here and I think we’re now on a program to build a library of essential information which will be free to everybody in the profession and that essential library is going to be wonderful for people to plug in on all kinds of different categories of public relations because each of us has almost a unique kind of public relations we do depending on the company or organization we work for but we have some essential knowledge, and if we can all get that same track and I think professors at schools like Penn State and Florida are going to be able to use that as a wonderful library too and the fact that it’s available free. I think that’s just a wonderful asset for the Institute so I am very proud of what has happened there and what Michele and Frank Oviatt and the Board of Directors have done. It’s terrific.