Oral Histories

Ron Rhody

Interview Segments on Topic: Characteristics/Qualities of PR Professionals

Ron Rhody Biography

Ron Rhody's long career in public relations includes serving as executive vice president and director-corporate communications and external affairs at BankAmerica and corporate vice president and director of public relations and advertising for Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corp. 

He became CEO of his own Consultancy and is the author of “The CEO’s Playbook” and “Wordsmithing: The Art and Craft of Writing for Public Relations.”  He has worked with and advised CEOs and senior executives in the business, academic and not-for-profit sectors on a variety of communication and public relations issues.  He has received numerous awards and honors from professional groups and organizations.

Transcript

Interviewer: I am speaking with Ron Rhody. I am very happy that you are taking time out from your busy schedule in New York City to come down here and talk with us. So I thought maybe we’d start talking about your career and how they helped prepare you for your first position with the Kentucky Fish State Wildlife Resources.

Rhody: The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

Interviewer: So how did all of this prepare you for working in Public Relations and then moving from an agency, state agency and eventually then into corporate environment? How did this all play out in the end?

Rhody: Well I think it was largely a mater of luck. I am not sure. I my father was a newspaper editor. So I grew up in that environment. And I had always thought or I had always assumed that I was going to be working with words numbers bore me to tears and I can’t handle it. And so I was pretty sure always that I was going to be working with words and I started out working on a newspaper with my father. Then moved into radio and then television and then into public relations. How did that prepare you for a career in public relations? The, it seems to me that this thing that we do is about ideas. It seems to me that we're in the business of creating packaging and marketing ideas and the final analysis where the idea isn't worth a damn until it can be articulated and so people can react to it whether positively or negatively and in the final analysis that idea to be well articulated has to be written. So I started the skills that were developed during that those earlier years in newspaper and radio and then in television were basically new skills on the news side of that operation. And so I learned to write. I learned to look at things carefully and to ask questions. To be a little irreverent but not totally irreverent and to concentrate on trying to hang words together in a way that would help people understand what was going on and what had happened which ultimately gets you to what it is I think we do in public relations which is package ideas. Develop packaging so it was I am it will be interesting for me to see what’s how some of these others have answered these questions. Because I am a writer by trade. Or that’s the way I look at myself as a writer by trade and lots of other things. But I think I'm a write by trade and others of my peers I know don’t consider themselves to be that so I‘ll be curious to see how they answer that particular question.

Interviewer: It’s been interesting. I would say the majority of individuals that I’ve talked with have all mentioned that writing is absolutely essential and if they consider themselves writers so. Yeah.

Rhody: Oh really good. I am glad to hear that.

Interviewer: If you are in that position today to hire someone for a PR position, what characteristics qualities are you looking for in that person.

Rhody: Well don’t most of us sort of hire people like ourselves. Well what’s important to me if I’m looking at new talent and I have an opportunity to do that from time to time. Let me go back to writing and I am not talking about personal attributes and I'm not looking at ethics or articulation, that sort of thing. But professional attributes. It seems to me that writing is the fundamental skill of a public relations practitioner because it is the articulation function is also the discipline function. You can’t write unless you know what it is you are trying to write. You can’t know what it is you are trying to write about unless you have done the research done the reportage done the investigation necessary to understand what the situation is so and it clearly can’t move anybody unless you get your ideas across in a persuasive way which is why I think writing is the essential skill for public relations. I also think it’s one of the essential skills for attorneys and they approach it in that fashion, so I look for people who are very good writers. I have had a tendency in my career. I'm past that now. But we talked about classes. My class is now off the scene. There are new classes coming on. But there is a tendency for people in my class to go for people coming out of journalism for a couple of reasons. One is in what they could write. They were disciplined. They could handle deadlines. We knew that they didn’t give into pressure. We knew they weren’t easily intimidated. So you had a tendency to go after people who had a background coming out of journalism. That’s all changed. It didn’t change for me. I have had and have some now very responsible positions in major corporations that who came out of journalism and who came into their first PR job at my operations. So the writing skill is very very important. Self discipline is very important. You look for people who are self motivated. Who are self starters. They don’t need to be told what to do but were looking for things to do. People who are honest of course. People who have pretty good people skills. The first thing you do is when the person sits down across the desk from you and says I like public relations because I love people. That’s the person that you escort out the door right away because that’s not the person that you are looking for when I say "people skills". You got to have people with energy. Both physical and mental. And this is a long list. Those people do for starters.