Oral Histories

Ron Culp

Interview Segments on Topic: Transition to Corporate World

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.

Transcript

Interviewer: Well, we’re sitting with Ron Culp at the Arthur Page Society conference in California. And it’s Monday, September 17th in 2007. Thank you for spending some time with us today.

Culp: It’s good to be here.

Interviewer: Great. Well I want to start out talking to you a little bit about how you got into PR and selected that. You graduated from Indiana State University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and journalism…

Culp: Correct.

Interviewer: …in 1970, and you held a series of positions in journalism, local and state government, and then suddenly in ’77 you were manager of corporate communications with Eli Lilly. How did all that transpire?

Culp: It is an interesting story. The fact that I started out as a newspaper reporter you should say. And then a friend who was in politics at the time in Indiana got me involved in a political campaign for a congressional candidate and during that process this candidate brought in a consultant from the east coast who worked on the campaign. Long story short, we lost the primary and as a result of that, the consultant said you know you need to get out of Indiana for a while. And I have a couple of campaigns that I’m working on in New York State. So I want you to come up to Albany. I looked at the atlas to see where Albany was and my wife and I said “What the heck. It sounds like an adventure.” So we went out there to work for a year on political campaigns. This was in the 1972 period when Nixon was running for re-election and Republicans were very much in control. As a matter of fact, as a result of that election, you know the in New York State the governorship under Nelson Rockefeller in both houses of the legislature are Republican. Then what happened is in 1974 Watergate occurs and things change. And so we went from being the majority power where I ran a large public relations organization by then within the New York State Assembly to being in the minority where we had to say excuse me can we get some service over here. And so things changed a lot. Fortunately during that time, we befriended a number of people in Albany including a lobbyist for Eli Lilly. And he said, “You know, I detect that you are probably not as excited about this whole scene as you used to be. When you are ready, you ought to come and talk to us about a job at Lilly.” So I actually went there, thinking that I was going to be working in government affairs in Washington and in New York. And it turns out that when I showed up the real need was in media relations so I went into Lilly as department head of media relations.

Interviewer: Was that a difficult transition?

Culp: A big transition. Back then I had lots of hair and I had very curly Afro style hair and I walk in, I knew I had to wear a three piece suit back then, it was a three-piece suit so I had an ill fitting three piece suit. And I have a picture of this my first day on the job when the employee publication comes and takes your picture. And so I’m sitting there with this three-piece suit, very tight. A vest on and an Afro, and they still hired me.

Interviewer: I remember those days.

Culp: Yeah, I wasn’t alone.

Interviewer: Yeah you weren’t any different. Let’s jump to 1982 and talk about Oraflex.

Culp: Sure.