January 3, 2012
Gerard F. Corbett, APR, Fellow PRSA, had a challenging first assignment in PRSA leadership: Help the Society become “computerized.” In the late 1970s, Corbett was a member of the PRSA Automation Task Force. Since then, he has remained in the PRSA leadership ranks, and will serve as this year’s chair and CEO.
Corbett, who’s based in the San Francisco Bay Area, is the founder and CEO of Redphlag LLC, a strategic communications management consulting and services firm, and the PR Job Coach. He served for more than 12 years as America’s vice president and general manager of the Branding and Corporate Communications Group of Hitachi. Previously, Corbett was vice president of corporate communications for Loral Corporation, the former defense electronics company that Lockheed Martin acquired.
Here, Corbett talks to Tactics about the coming year.
What’s top of mind in public relations right now?
The economy, jobs and personal career growth. Interest in public relations as a career is at very high levels. So there is a fabulous opportunity for PRSA to grow its ranks and increase its advocacy on behalf of members and the profession.
What are some of PRSA’s initiatives for 2012?
Chief among my goals for 2012 is to focus on member value and engagement. PRSA has a wealth of talent that can be a formidable resource. We have the ability and responsibility to take on this mission with enthusiasm and energy. And “engagement” is the operative word. Our continuing incorporation of technology, mobile and [other technologies will help] PRSA engage better and become more relevant with our members.
If you could point to one thing that could turn a nonmember into a member, then what would that be?
Member value. People join like-minded groups in order to make personal and professional progress.
If PRSA delivers value that helps professionals become successful, then nonmembers will turn into members. Also part of the algorithm is something called reciprocity — or giving something back. If people see value, then they can be incented to join. If they want to quadruple that value, then they will get involved.
How do you describe member value at the agency level?
Thought leadership and success with clients that continues to drive their reputation and business. The value that agency folks would find in PRSA spans everything from benchmarking, best practices and collaboration to networking, professional development and research. PRSA can also be a pipeline to help develop mentors and the next generation of thought leaders, innovators and visionaries.
What do you consider as the main value(s) of a PRSA membership?
In this age, when knowledge and information are king and social infrastructure platforms are rapidly proliferating, professional membership organizations are essential to the progress of PR professionals. Networks are the currency of today’s knowledge and wisdom society.
A strong network has many benefits that span career advancement, benchmarking, job performance, effective crisis management, problem solving and a myriad of other factors. In today’s job market, roughly 70-80 percent of people are landing jobs as a result of their networks.
With a total membership of more than 30,000 pros and [students], PRSA represents one of the best avenues to effective networking in the profession.
How did you get your start in the Society?
I got my start in PRSA as a student in the early 1970s at San Jose State University, which at that time, had been awarding PR degrees for some 25 years.
Following graduation in 1977, I became a member of the local PRSA Chapter in the San Francisco Bay Area and would subsequently become a member of six different Chapters during my 35-year membership.
Why did you decide to pursue a leadership role?
In both my professional and personal life, when I see a need, I pursue it. My career has spanned 40 years, primarily in public relations and corporate communications, with a mix of engineering and information technology.
I decided to run for chair and CEO to do my part in helping the organization grow. There is tremendous opportunity — with the advent of social media and the proliferation of channels — to reach, engage and spur people to positive action.
And I would be remiss in not mentioning that the patience and support of my wife and children have played an important role in my ability to be involved.
What initially motivated you to volunteer for PRSA, and what has kept you inspired through the years?
Early in my career, management in various companies had always encouraged me to be active in PRSA. Many of the firms where I worked believed that it was important to be involved in professional activities and gave me the time to do so. I even had a supervisor who told me that unless I became Accredited, I would not be considered for any promotions.
Since then, I have served on a variety of committees and task forces. One of the most gratifying and busier engagements was a 10-year stint on the National Honors & Awards Committee, where I eventually served as chair for two consecutive years.
Speaking of leaders, who do you most admire?
I most admire leaders who can inspire others to do great things. History is replete with people who are able to motivate and guide with grace, diligence and savvy. I once had a boss who was a great mentor, able to take the time to listen, learn and lead. He was a great writer and critical thinker.
Much of what we do as PR professionals requires those critical thinking skills and the ability to distinguish what is important, and then, act on it. There is insufficient space here to provide the litany of folks who have had an impact on my career and character.
As a mentor, what fundamental principles do you emphasize to individuals entering the profession?
Being of value to people, approaching problems and opportunities with enthusiasm, being actively engaged in your communities and conducting your professional and personal life with strong ethics and unwavering integrity.
PRSA just enjoyed another successful International Conference. Can you give us a preview of what’s in store for the 2012 Conference in San Francisco?
A preview of the 2012 International Conference might spoil the fun! Seriously though, San Francisco and the entire Bay Area are at the locus of innovation for America — and even the world.
The folks from our local Chapter and the Pacific Northwest District, as well as the National Committee, will put on a spectacular Conference that will engage, inspire and stimulate all who come.
What are you most looking forward to as chair and CEO of PRSA?
I have always cherished the collaboration and friendship of fellow PR colleagues. These are characteristics that have kept me coming back to leadership roles with PRSA. I look forward to the collaboration of a group of experienced and professional people to move the needle for PRSA, its members and the profession.
Editor-in-Chief John Elsasser interviewed Gerard F. Corbett, APR, Fellow PRSA, for this month’s member profile.