Oral Histories

Ron Culp

Interview Segments on Topic: PR and Technology/Change

Ron Culp Biography

Ron Culp is the professional director of the Graduate PRAD program at DePaul University and an independent public relations consultant. He was the Senior Vice President and Managing Director of the Midwest operations of Ketchum, has a 30-year career that spans a broad range of communications activities in government and the business-to-business, consumer products, pharmaceutical and retailing industries. Most recently, he was Managing Director and Chairman of Citigate Sard Verbinnen, where he established the agency's highly successful Chicago office. Culp also served as SVP of PR, government affairs, communications, and community relations for Sears, Roebuck and Co. for 10 years.


Interviewer: You mentioned the research and how important that is. Do you think the web has something to do with that? What kind of an influence do you think all the unique technologies have on new professions in the field?

Culp: Yeah it’s such an advantage and it’s also a disadvantage if you don’t use it, because I have no patience now for somebody who doesn’t understand what you are all about. Somebody who hasn’t done the basics checking the website, really reading the website. And you come in and then all of a sudden you ask a question that clearly is uneducated. You could get away with that, because in the olden days, because you know you just didn’t have the access to the information. Today almost all the answers are out there. And so it really helps you prepare to come in. The young people I’m seeing today that are just totally aware, they walk through that door knowing everything they should about the agency or the company that I was working with at the time and that’s just unbelievable. It’s all based on the technology changes.

Interviewer: So are journalists the watchdogs of businesses?

Culp: They used to be. They still think they are, but they are not. It’s far broader than that now. Everyone’s the watchdog. We’re so empowered now with the ability, I mean, I blog. You just have so many avenues to get points of view out there so we’re so engaged that you never know where it’s going to come from. They still play a huge role but very often they are following somebody else’s lead on the story and they, they are no longer where they used to be and they know it. They are frustrated, as some corporate people are, that it’s not as easily controlled messaging as it used to be.

Interviewer: Are there any other changes that you observed in the practice of PR during your career?

Culp: I think the biggest one is I thought it was stressful when we only had two news cycles a day. Some 20 years ago 25-30 years ago, definitely was easy. You knew that by the time you answered the question at noon for an afternoon paper or at 5 o’clock to 7 o’clock for the morning paper, that your job was done. And you had that window, that luxurious window of time between the media calling and you have to get an answer. And now it’s totally instant. Absolutely you have to be on top of so many more issues. You also have to be able to admit that maybe you don’t have the answer. Faster than we used to in the past. Oh and the wonderful thing about the current technology as well, that I think has helped expedite the movement of information, is we didn’t have voice mail when I started out. And an assistant or the person at the desk next to you would take a little message and it would be put on your desk and then you’d sort through the messages and see who you were going to call back. So you know just a quantum leap in all kinds of technology and communications that has changed the fact that this is instant. No longer two news cycles a day. And I think that’s what the, the quantum change in what all of us are doing versus where we used to be and we thought we were busy before. Not at all. Exactly. They have no idea.