Oral Histories

Ron Rhody

Interview Segments on Topic: Selecting a PR Career

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 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: Is there anything else that you’d like to talk about, thinking of our audiences being their next generation that they are in college or graduate programs who are looking to break into the field eventually? Anything else you’d like to tell them?

Rhody: Yeah a couple of things. One it’s the best game in town without in my opinion. It’s exciting. It’s rewarding for people who bore easily like I do. There’s always something that you need to get to you need to deal with literally everything in the media sense everything from film to the blogs. You get to deal with all the issues that are important so I think it’s the best game in town and I think the money is beginning to get to the point what makes it part of the best game in town as well. There’s that the other thing I would say that not to people who practice but maybe some is that we have a tendency or sometimes you have a tendency to be very defensive about this activity profession, craft, trade. And that’s dead wrong because what we do is very, very important and it’s important because what we do is make a difference in what people know. What they think. Consequently how they act. So it is a tremendously important function not to be denigrated, and not to be used loosely. We need to practice our craft with people that we believe in and whose ethics we support and not do so for others. So there are there are those things. Very important. I think as long as I am rambling there have been a couple of things that have disturbed me about. I think our people by in large have not been nearly assertive enough. In senior circles when you are sitting there with the chief counsel and the chief labor relations guy and the CEO and people are making public relation judgments in this environment. I think other people don’t often enough say I am the expert. I will I will make those decisions. But very good friend chief counsel. Bob Turner. I had this deal with Bob. You get to make all the public relations decisions and I’m going to make all the legal decisions. And it worked. That worked pretty well. But I think we have to professionally assert ourselves. The other thing I think that disturbs me about the programs that I see. And one of the reasons that I think that we might not always get the respect and support that we should get is that all too frequently our people are not knowing what they want to achieve. I guess it’s not necessary to be known and loved by all but I think we feel that if we run opinion tests that say oh the people have a favorable impression of us, we’ve done our job That’s not the job. The job is to help the organization reach its goals and we need to be very clear about what it is we’re doing in each program in order to make sure those goals are reached. So we have to find objectives all to often and I think those clearly defined objectives are understood by the senior line management when achieved add real stature to the organization.

Interviewer: Well I want to thank you for taking the subway all the way here and spending some time. I appreciate it very much and I think your comments will be very valuable when we add them to our collection. Thank you.

Rhody: Thank you.