Posted At: April 12, 2007 10:22 AM
Learning about leadership in public relations
by Bethany Cobb
Leadership is an integral part of any success and it plays a vital role in public relations. In March 2007, PRWeek recognized Raymond Buse III from Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber as PR Professional of the Year, Aaron Uhrmacher from Text 100 Public Relations as Young PR Professional of the Year and Meghan Stafford from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, as Student of the Year. Here are their thoughts on leadership.
Raymond Buse III: Leadership is accountability, taking responsibility with an equal mix of taking risks and knowing exactly when to do that. I believe leadership is acting proactively on issues rather than letting issues come to you.
Aaron Uhrmacher: In public relations, leadership means looking for new ways to reach audiences and not being afraid to try something that hasn’t been done before. In our industry it is very easy to get caught up in doing things the traditional, tried and true way. There is a lot of room for innovation.
Meghan Stafford: I think leadership kind of has two main parts. One would be having a clear vision and mission [and] knowing what direction you are going in on whatever project you are working with. Another part is motivating your constituents and the people working under you [and] making sure everything runs smoothly.
Q: Does good leadership mean always being in the limelight?
RB: No, in fact I’m rarely in the limelight. At the same time I can demonstrate leadership by giving people counsel. … I oftentimes offer advice to the mayor or the president of the chamber and I am in the background. It’s an interesting role of leadership a public relations practitioner can take by influencing other leaders.
AU: Never. No, I don’t think it does. Sometimes there is the opportunity for you to have your leadership be more public. The biggest part of leadership is being part of a team and challenging your team to come up with new ideas. … Leadership is not about the limelight. It can sometimes be the result of leadership.
MS: Definitely not. Oftentimes servant leadership is something that is overlooked when people think of leadership. [Servant leadership means] you are leading by serving and that is why you may not be a definitive leader, why you aren’t named a leader. The way you act and interact within the people in a group shows how you exude leadership. I think … you have to know when to be in the limelight and when not to be. I prefer to not be in the limelight.
Q: What are the experiences you’ve had that developed you into a leader?
RB: Back in 1997, I fought for the Cincinnati Reds, baseball’s oldest pro team, to invite NBC news anchor Linda Banker to throw the opening pitch on the Reds opening day. It is the highest honor to throw the opening pitch, and three times the Reds said they would not select her to throw out the opening pitch. I worked to gain support from the mayor, the governor, the secretary of state, … Neil Armstrong, [and] Al Gore [for] Linda, a native Cincinnatian. Finally the Reds agreed with me and invited Linda in 1998. It was covered in Time magazine.
AU: When I entered public relations, there weren’t a lot of people that were looking at the ways to use new tools for communication. … When I came to Text 100, we started looking at social networks, like Facebook™. … Having grown up with all these technologies around, I was able to come up with new way[s] to use an existing technology, to help create communities and leverage them for communication purposes.
MS: The University of Minnesota offers a leadership minor, which I have, that has helped, … [it] has been a solid base. I am also active in PRSSA and through that … I have been the national liaison, co-promotions chair, and I was the president last year. That was a huge learning experience for me. … I have been active as a civic engagement coach at two high schools in St. Paul [Minn.]. At Johnson High School, we helped [the students] learn different skills they could use to be civically engaged and civically active. These are the biggest things that have affected my leadership over the past four years.
Q: What role does ethics play in leadership decisions?
RB: I think it plays the most critical role. … You can’t have leadership without strong ethics. Also, in addition to being ethical, it is important that a leader is authentic. Authentic people who are true to their vision often accomplish more than people who are not authentic.
AU: My focus at Text is peer media, or social media, really online communication. We feel very strongly that it is imperative that authenticity and honesty are at the forefront of any online communication. There is no grey; it is black and white. A community is formed around … relationships and they have been formed in an authentic way.
MS: Ethics are huge. Almost every decision you make as a leader, you have to take a second to make sure what you are doing is ethically right for the group, for yourself [and if you] are working in a morally justified way. The decisions you make outside the group, ethics go along with that. People sometimes only take their ethics seriously within the group. The way you act outside the group is just as important, if not more important.
Q: What advice do you have for those who are looking to develop a good sense of leadership?
RB: Find a mentor; find someone who has a good amount of experience in the field you are most passionate about [and] seek out that mentor’s counsel on a weekly basis. I had a mentor who helped me through the process with the Reds. Had I not, I would not have had the determination or the belief that I could be successful. A mentor can make or break a career, but most mentors make them.
AU: You need to find something you are passionate about and be patient with people who might not know it as well as you do. Be encouraging, creative. Help the people around you succeed. A good leader is only as strong as the people you work with. The successes I have had at Text are a result of the teams I have had.
MS: I think being aware of what’s available to them within their community. On a college campus there is a lot to be involved in. People need to identify things they are passionate about before they look for a project. Before they can be really involved they have to be emotionally involved. … They should connect with an issue and take a leadership stance from that point.