Oral Histories

Roger Bolton

Interview Segments on Topic: PR Education/Training

Roger Bolton Biography

Bolton, senior counselor to APCO Worldwide, a leading global public affairs and corporate communications consultancy, began his career as a journalist before serving as a press secretary for a member of Congress.  Bolton became director of speechwriting for the Reagan/Bush re-election campaign, and was eventually confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be assistant secretary of the Treasury for public affairs and public liaison under President Bush in 1989.

As senior vice president of communications for Aetna, Bolton led a group of senior Aetna executives to think about culture and organizational effectiveness, which resulted in the creation of the Aetna Way, with integrity as its first fundamental value.  Roger Bolton is past president of the Arthur W. Page Society and current chair of the Arthur W. Page Center Advisory Board.


Interviewer: Success and being successful in business particularly at the senior level really depends on learning a lot about the business that you're operating in . If you don’t know the business, you have minimal chance of really being a success in it. The [inaudible] is different from writing a news story but you need to know that too. But there’s a great emphasis on what we’re moving into is the field of public relations education. [inaudible] How much do you really need to know about public relations as a discipline from an educational standpoint to be successful as you do about business and human nature?

Bolton: Well I think you need to know both and I don’t know that you necessarily have to have formal training in public relations to be successful at it. I had journalism training. And I think it’s close but not the same thing. And but I think I learned the basics of public relation on the job and I think yeah I think you do have to know about it. Where you get the knowledge isn’t as important as the fact that you have it. And I think you need to be as you suggest very deeply acquainted with the fundamentals of the business or you won’t be able to operate effectively. But you also have to understand the essence of public relations in order to be a professional leader of your function.

Interviewer: I can say amen to that. What about education experiences. Do you look for any particular type of educational experience either in new hires or senior people?

Bolton: I love it when I find journalism experience and journalism training. But I don’t necessarily think that formalized public relations or journalism training is critical to success. I think that experience is and if you’ve got a law degree or an economics degree or a business degree and yet you’ve proven that you can function effectively as a communicator, I think that that’s just fine.

Interviewer: What about mid-career education for your employees or others. What’s most useful for more public relations training or maybe learning about finance or law or history maybe even going back for a liberal arts. What would you suggest would be most useful to somebody who is aspiring to a top job?

Bolton: I think it depends on what you’ve got and what you need. So I mean it really would depend. If you’ve got somebody who’s got a really strong business or legal background who doesn’t have as broad a PR understanding as you’d like, then you’d want him to get some PR training. Contrary wise if you got you know a real whiz at PR who doesn’t really get the business stuff, then you’d want to get the business or financial training. I’d really say there’s no way to generalize it. It’s and I think there’s a real important point here and that is that each individual has development needs. Each individual has strengths and development needs and we spend a lot of time trying to individualize our approach so that each person has an opportunity to sit with his or her manager, make an assessment of strengths and opportunities and to create a development plan that’s right for that person. And it’s going to be different for each person.

Interviewer: You mentioned your experience at Aetna with the creation of yet a way which has obviously been a very effective thing for that corporation. I was wondering if there are other things that have occurred to you as you’ve seen it work effectively at the Page Society or other groups could be instrumental in helping to establish like a training in ethics per se or other things that you have helped corporations function better particularly American corporations known throughout the world not only for their innovativeness but their productivity being but for being just great ethical operating companies you want to do business with. You are in sort of [inaudible] you know far better than I do. But you know the current situation is that. Are there things you think you could do to help American businesses to improve their “ethical reputations” besides the building trust activity. It’s a kind of rooted question.

Bolton: Well you know again I think that’s what we’re searching for and I appreciate your reference to the Aetna Way. Because I think that the Aetna Way, the J & J credo others like it really are something that can distinguish corporations and make them become more trustworthy. Not because they have them and they put them up on the wall and that should somehow be admired. But because if they’re done correctly, they can actually change the way you operate. And if they do that, and leave you to be institutions that are not only dedicated to ethics and integrity but also dedicated to understanding the needs and relating to the needs of public constituencies. Then that’s it’s sort of who you really are as opposed to what you say that is critically important and if a credo or a set of values can make you fundamentally operate that way, then that’s how you earn trust. It’s day by day in the marketplace in the way you conduct your business with a compass and set of ethics.