Kurt Stocker’s career has spanned all aspects of public relations, having held positions in the corporate, agency and academic worlds. An associate professor at the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism’s Integrated Marketing Communications Program, Stocker has been recognized for his expertise in crisis management, employee communications, corporate governance, Integrated Marketing Communications, reputation management and professional development.
Stocker is a member of the New York Stock Exchange Regulation Board of Directors, Chair of the NYSE Individual Investor Advisory Board, member of the Disclosure Advisory Board and is a member of the Hall of Fame and past president of the Arthur W. Page Society.
Interviewer: Now you have had some experience in the classroom with some public relations students; in the business college?
Stocker: In the graduate school.
Interviewer: OK, how are those students? Are they prepared to make these difficult ethical decisions that they’re going to be faced with? Do they have the tools that they need to handle different situations? You taught at only the graduate level, it that correct? No undergrad?
Stocker: Oh, I’ve done some undergrad as well. Not everybody should come into public relations. First off many people don’t really understand what we do, and they don’t understand the ethics around it. I think the ethics are a basic part of it. Everyone in the Arthur Page Society that has been very successful at one time or another has to have bet their job. They’ve had to tell somebody no. They’ve had to tell somebody that’s the wrong thing to do and that somebody normally is a fairly important person in the organization and they know they’re putting their job on the line when they do it; and sometimes they’ve been fired for the right reasons and they’ve gone on and been successes someplace else. So number one if you’re coming into this profession, I think students have to understand that it’s a risky profession in a lot of ways. One it’s a very relationship profession; you end up with a very tight relationship with the CEO and others and we see in our profession the CEO leaves and the PR person leaves.
And the second thing is it’s risky because you have to tell truth to power and that’s not always easy and it’s generally not easy when you have a mortgage to pay. So I think the profession, the academics aren’t necessarily explaining what we do in the context of where you’re going to end up in the profession, not where you start in it. I’ve had two experiences. Undergrad, I’ve just visited my old college and I sat down with the professors and talked with a lot of the students. One of the questions I asked one of the professors is: are you teaching financial relations to your PR students? She said no. I said well then you’re not preparing them well. If they can’t read a balance sheet, if they don’t’ know how that company makes money they can’t do their job. I got a nice email from her some weeks later saying that I’ve made a deal with the business professors and we’re doing some cross training. So I think that undergrad, I’m not sure we’re preparing the students for what’s happening today in our business. I’m not sure it’s grown as quickly as the profession has.
For graduate, which I taught at Northwestern, we generally had students who had worked for two or three years in the profession before they came in, so they understood what was necessary. They had seen really good people at work and what they needed was more knowledge. They needed an experience transfer, if you will, which is what I was able to do. When you end up doing this for forty, fifty years, you make some mistakes, you do some right things, and if you understand which one was right and which one was wrong you can tell somebody else not to make the same one. I think the issue from an education standpoint is at the undergraduate level. I’m not sure it’s keeping up with the profession.