Member Profile: Gerard Francis Corbett
Meet our members! We will periodically feature veteran and new PRSA San Francisco members, and tell the story of their public relations career. If you would like to suggest a PRSA San Francisco member for a profile, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gerard Francis Corbett, APR, Fellow PRSA
Founder, Chair and CEO
Why did you join PRSA and what is one of your favorite benefits that the organization provides?
I am a 40-year member of the Public Relations Society of America having initially joined the Public Relations Student Society of America in 1974 when I was a PR Major at San Jose State University. I migrated to professional status in 1977 following graduation at SJSU with a B.A. in Public Relations. I joined PRSA reflecting the old adage, “birds of a feather flock together.” If you are serious about a profession and have the skills and passion to pursue it, associating with like-minded people will be a boon to your career. And that is precisely what I had in mind. I had spent about a decade in technology in Silicon Valley before entering the PR field as an engineer, tech writer and programmer for NASA, Four Phase Systems and National Semiconductor.
PRSA offered the ability to network with PR professionals, which remains as one of the foremost benefits of being an engaged member. My first job in PR was the direct result of the network I was able to establish through my membership in PRSA.
You have been in PR for more than four decades. Share a few ways it has changed over the years and where you see it going.
Public relations have seen dramatic changes in process, methodology, tools and proliferation of communications channels. However, the fundamentals of the business have remained bedrock since the industry’s early days. Public relations is crucial in building trust with people who have a vital stake in an organization’s operations and success. And public relations is an important mechanism in helping organizations effectively carry out their missions and responsibilities.
That said, the gatekeeper function is dead. PR professionals today are activists seeking to engage, enlighten, and energize an organization’s many stakeholders. They advocate not just for their organizations but also for their organization’s constituents and stakeholders, which adds the important role of presenting the stakeholders’ interests and views to management. They also serve as strategic content developers and storytellers, helping their organizations formulate key messages that are resonant with the corporate culture and nature of the organization. PR practitioners help an organization build mutual trust by encouraging transparency and integrity throughout the organization. They are counselors who actively advise and guide organizations in honestly communicating and behaving in the best interests of society and constituents. PR professionals are enablers and connectors, helping organizations stay grounded, stay human, and stay sensitive to the needs and desires of their communities.
In essence, the role of today’s public relations practitioner is akin to being the conscience of the organization, being ever vigilant to ensuring that the organization is “doing the right thing.”
Tell us about one of your most memorable experiences during your career.
For me the challenge is trying to narrow down memorable career experiences. There are many. Besides having toiled globally on behalf of public and private companies and organizations with hundreds of thousands of employees in both crises and opportunities, my fondest experience was serving the Public Relations Society of America as Chair and Chief Executive Officer in 2012. It was an experience and honor like no other to get to serve some 32,000 members and advocate for the profession and the professional. I carried the society’s message to many corners of the globe, speaking in Europe, Asia, South America and throughout the U.S. I visited more than a dozen chapters listening to members and aspiring professionals talk about their goals and needs. Serving PRSA at the chapter, section, district and national level for many years was and is an enriching experience that validates the metal of the profession and why public relations is so critical to the functioning of society.
An unusual career highlight was convincing my employer, Asarco Incorporated, in the early 1990s to provide a substantial amount of engineered material to help restore the roof of Monticello in Charlottesville, VA, to the original design of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States. The goal to restore a major American architectural landmark to original condition using my company’s products was the ultimate in product placement that required the best presentation skills I could muster to convince the CEO that it was a pre-eminent opportunity to showcase the company and contribute to America’s Heritage. Of course it didn’t hurt that I became the project manager for the company on the endeavor, including the ability to walk the roof during construction and celebrate its completion with dinner and cocktails in the dining room of Monticello.
What’s your best advice to the new generation of PR professionals?
Having coached or mentored hundreds of professionals over the years, my advice for success in our industry is to follow the seven E’s: Educate, Engage, Enthuse, Effuse, Energize, Excite and Be Ethical.
First and foremost is to know and understand what is your value. Then, put yourself in a position to effectively communicate to a potential employer how you can help the company reach it goals and help solve or eliminate the pain points in the journey to a brand that is trusted and remembered.