Strategies & Tactics

Bill Doescher on a Life Well-Lived

July 1, 2019

Name: Bill Doescher

Current job title: President & CEO of the Doescher Group, a marketing-communications consultancy

Current location: Westchester County, N.Y.

Career highlights: PR, advertising and marketing at the Chase Manhattan Bank, Drexel Heritage Furnishings, and Dun & Bradstreet. Nonprofit work: Past president of PRSA’s New York Chapter and the PRSA Foundation.

Favorite downtime activity: Playing golf

Favorite place to travel: Italy (Naples, Venice, Rome)

Any three dinner guests: Nelson Mandela, Jackie Robinson, Warren Buffett

Favorite films: “42” (Jackie Robinson story), “Pretty Woman” and “A Star Is Born” (1976 version)



As a child, what job did you dream of having when you grew up?

Either a Presbyterian minister or a pitcher for the New York Yankees. Neither one happened.


Why did you transition your career from sports writing to public relations?

I never intended to be a full-time sportswriter, although I occasionally dreamt about being the next Red Smith, a famous American sportswriter. But I knew that dream was a long shot, so when I saw a Newsweek announcement about New York Life’s career-advancement program, I decided to change my life.

The announcement outlined the criteria for any PR applicant: a bachelor’s degree with a major in economics from a reputable college; full-time writing experience; and a master’s in public relations from a communications school.

Since I’d always been interested in public relations and had already satisfied two of the three stipulations, I applied to what is now the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, where I obtained a master’s in 1961.


You’ve worked for several different organizations during your career, and once even decided against taking a job. What’s your advice for people thinking about making a change in their job or career?

You seldom know when a business opportunity may come your way, so always be ready with an up-to-date résumé. Be open to whatever may happen. Never brush opportunities aside — a mistake I almost made, and I’m lucky that I didn’t.

At the age of 34, I was offered the position of vice president of advertising and public relations at Drexel Heritage Furnishings in Drexel, N.C. I almost declined the offer because I didn’t want to relocate from New York City. But I took the job, and it was a steppingstone to my becoming senior vice president and chief communications officer at Dun & Bradstreet in New York City for 22 years.


What did you learn about writing while putting together your book, “Dear Folks?"

For me, the best part of writing my book was the fun of writing and remembering so many people and tales from a life well-lived. I realized that I had been using storytelling — the social and cultural activity of sharing experiences — to build community throughout my communications and PR career of 58-plus years.

I was also reminded that success in public relations, as in many other industries, relies on good writing and research.

Finally, I was happy to include lessons in the book that have inspired me, motivated my decisions and guided my life.


Your family’s traditional “Dear Folks” letter dates to 1937. How did these missives influence you as a storyteller? And is your weekly family letter still being written today?

Those missives certainly helped prepare me for a life of storytelling, and I looked forward to reading them every week as a kid. My father and grandfather weren’t professional writers, but they wrote the “Dear Folks” letter consistently over the years.

When they passed away, it was recommended that I carry on the family letter-writing tradition. I declined, and the tradition stopped. But in writing this book, I realized I had been drafting those family letters for a long time. I’d been collecting stories, reflecting on experiences and sharing lessons, without putting anything on paper — until now. This book is like one long letter.


What are some lessons you’ve learned during your career?

Never give up on your dreams. Self-promotion is your other job. Never be afraid to be creative — just be smart about it. Never burn bridges. Have an unwavering commitment to learning. Always strive for excellence.
 

John Elsasser

John Elsasser is the editor-in-chief of Strategies & Tactics. He joined PRSA in 1994. Email: john.elsasser@prsa.org

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