July 3, 2013
Our community joins me in mourning the sudden and unexpected passing of friend, coworker, colleague and PRSA member Arthur Andrew Yann III, APR, PRSA vice president of public relations, on June 13. He was 48.
Arthur first came to my office to interview as we were filling one of the toughest jobs: VP of PR for an organization representing more than 20,000 public relations professionals.
He joined the Society in 1998, was a member of the Counselors Academy, served as a PRSA volunteer, and designed a campaign that not only won a Gold SABRE and three Big Apple Awards, but also three Silver Anvil Awards. Two Anvil trophies are proudly displayed on his office bookshelf.
As we spoke that first day, many things about Arthur became clear to me — his quick sense of humor, his powerful intellect and his passion for his work, which were reflected in his attention to detail as well as his commitment to excellence. And so, he joined our team in August 2008.
I was never sure where Arthur got his sense of humor, but it touched us all. He had a booming laugh that echoed across the office at random moments, as he found humor in the absurd. He once told us that his ancestors were Western European and their original surname had been truncated by a harried immigration official. As a result, for much of his life, people were “expecting (him) to be Asian” since his family had now become the Yanns.
After joining PRSA, he prepared for the APR exam. Like everything he took on, he worked hard to get ready, digging out textbooks and study guides, knowing not only the value of the process, but also the importance of holding this credential. He passed both the APR Readiness Review and computer exam on the first try.
When I’d meet with Arthur to discuss ongoing projects, we’d blow right through our scheduled time as we brainstormed and worked issues “upstream,” such as when we met several years ago to review our advocacy program.
Those discussions led to PRSA’s new vision for advocacy, which focused on ethics, the value of public relations and diversity. As we went on to execute the plans, Arthur — one of the best writers I’ve ever met — personally wrote many of our advocacy pieces.
Perhaps the most important and biggest challenge that Arthur took on at PRSA surrounded our membership dues campaign. After 10 years without an increase, we faced a stark choice: either cut benefits or raise dues. Arthur, working closely with the Board, executed a campaign that clearly, steadily and calmly set forth the case for an increase, as well as the options facing us. Members felt they had been well informed and approved the dues increase on the first vote with minimal discussion.
Arthur earned his place in our C-suite every day with his counsel, recommendations and commitment. Although he never formalized it, his advice was always the same: Do the right thing, and the public relations will follow. He was never a fan of being politically correct; he simply wanted to speak the truth.
Of course, his work at PRSA was just one aspect of Arthur’s life. He enjoyed a good single-malt scotch, was an avid supporter of the Pittsburgh Steelers and — despite years of futility — the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was also a devoted family man, as we learned through the pictures and stories he shared of his wife Amy and 3-year-old daughter Sofia.
If public relations is about storytelling, then Arthur was the consummate professional. His stories were fruitful and his love of the job was intoxicating. He mentored many and led with a constant resolve to always do the right thing.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions in Arthur’s honor to Sofia’s college fund. College America, FBO Sofia Yann, American Funds Service Company, P.O. Box 2713, Norfolk, VA 23501-2713.