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PR Powerhouse: A Ron Culp Profile

Published on May 1, 2024, 2:36 p.m.
by Anne Smith.

While there are many well-known names in the public relations world, the name Ron Culp is one that stands out amongst others. Culp has accomplished much in the PR industry and continues to inspire those around him as well.

Photo via DePaul University

Culp, a graduate from Indiana State University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and journalism, is now the professional in residence of the advertising and public relations graduate program at DePaul University. But Culp’s initial plan after graduating college was not to pursue teaching. In fact, he tells his students, “Do as I say, not as I do,” as his career path leading to his position at DePaul University was somewhat unconventional.

“As Richard Edelman once observed, I’m one of the few people that have served almost every industry out there in every part of the communications field,” Culp said.

Culp’s résumé is nothing less than impressive and spans over a broad range of fields in PR. For two years following graduation, Culp became a newspaper reporter, and immediately his hard work was recognized and his career took off. From there, he became a press secretary to Richard A. Boehning, former Indiana House majority leader. A political advisor on that campaign then approached Culp and offered him the opportunity to take on the director of member services of the New York State Assembly, where he served for seven years.

After his work in government, he moved onto the corporate world, where he became the department head of media relations at Eli Lilly before being named manager of corporate communications. From there, Culp was promoted to director of public relations at Pitney Bowes. His position at Pitney Bowes got him on the radar of an executive recruiter who helped lead him to being hired as the executive director of PR at Sara Lee Corp., followed by working 10 years as senior vice president of PR and government affairs at Sears.

But he didn’t stop there. Culp next shifted into the agency world where he opened Sard Verbinnen & Co., a financial communications firm in Chicago, Illinois. He then moved on to Ketchum, where he was a partner and managing director of the Midwest office. While at Ketchum, Culp was also on the board of advisors for The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations.

After covering these major areas of the PR profession, Culp was approached by a few Chicago-area colleagues wondering if he had ever been curious about teaching. At first, he was hesitant; he hadn’t had any prior experience teaching students. But, as the dean of communication at DePaul said, “You have a Ph.D. in experience,” citing Culp’s ability to give students real-world advice and lessons that truly could prepare them for their future in PR.

“I went in thinking, ‘I’ll do it for a year or two,’ and here I am,” Culp explained. “I just finished my 14th year.”

Culp advises his students that it is important to get started in the agency world early. For young, aspiring PR professionals securing their dream jobs after college, it is crucial to set yourself apart and distinguish yourself as a hard-working individual. He emphasized, “When you’re in college or right out of college, get those first internships and just work hard. Prove yourself. Raise your hand.”

Dr. Karla Gower, director of The Plank Center at The University of Alabama, is able to attest to Culp’s well-rounded and driven character, given that she’s known him for years.

“He knows the field so well and is so experienced, so he’s able to communicate that confidence and experience to his students,” she said.

When asked about his ability to inspire and lead others so well, Dr. Gower stated, “He gives back so much. He’s really good at what he does. But I think there’s the more important side, and that’s the fact that he’s a really good leader and mentor. He’s always encouraging students and helping them out.”

Not only does Culp provide invaluable advice to his students, but he also created Culpwrit in 2009, a blog designed for young professionals that gives in-depth content about working in the PR industry. He and guest contributors write about numerous career-related topics, such as the First Day on the Job to a typical Day in the Life and Advice from a Pro, in order to educate and guide younger generations about the ins and outs of succeeding in public relations.

Photo via The Plank Center

Culp’s lifetime of hard work and experience has not gone unnoticed. In 2015, the Public Relations Society of America awarded Culp with the Gold Anvil Award for Lifetime Achievement in Public Relations. Additionally, he was the first person to both receive the Arthur W. Page Society’s Distinguished Service Award and be inducted into the Page Society Hall of Fame.

However, one honor that tugs at his heartstrings is being presented this fall by The Plank Center when he will receive the Bruce K. Berger’s Educator Award in 2024. This is a culminating award as it recognizes not only what Culp has done in the past, but also how he made the transition into education.

Receiving the award also highlights a bigger message in the PR world from an educational standpoint, Culp noted.

“This award is a green flag for more people to do what I chose to do,” he explained. “It will make the profession better when more of us are training young people with the skills and experience that may help them succeed in either agency or corporate life.”

Aside from his tireless contributions to his work in the PR industry, Culp is also dedicated to developing genuine relationships with his peers, students and anyone he encounters, which is a characteristic that sets him apart. When asked what keeps him motivated after so many years of dedication and hard-work, Culp said the thank-you notes and letters he receives from prior students and mentees, many of whom are now in leadership positions in both agencies and corporations.

Culp’s career journey serves as a beacon of inspiration for young aspiring professionals. In the PR world, which is constantly changing and evolving, Culp’s story and legacy will continue to guide future PR professionals and leave a permanent mark on the field.

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