Public Relations Tactics

Writing and Leading for the Future: Bonnie Riechert, Ph.D., APR, Fellow PRSA on PR Education

May 30, 2014

Bonnie Riechert, Ph.D., APR, Fellow PRSA, is associate professor and chair of the department of public relations at Belmont University. She is also the president of PRSA’s Nashville Chapter.

Riechert worked as a journalist and in higher education public relations before beginning her career as an educator at the University of Tennessee, where she earned her doctorate. She has been active in PRSA for more than 30 years, serving in the Volunteer Chapter and the Nashville Chapter as ethics officer, Assembly delegate, Accreditation chair, secretary, president-elect and president.

Today, she serves as faculty adviser to Belmont University PRSSA, one of only two Chapters in the country to receive a PRSSA Star Chapter award each year since the award was established in 2009.

Here, Riechert, who has been a PRSA member since 1983 and a PR professional for 36 years, discusses the importance of continuing education, Accreditation and leadership.

What was your dream job when you were a child?

A builder/carpenter, an oceanographer studying dolphin communications, a doctor and then a science writer.

How did you get your start in public relations?

I got my first PR job by accident, and it was through networking. After I worked four years as a newspaper reporter and state news editor, I went back to school, and I was in someone’s office when they hung up the phone and said, “You can write. Call this number across campus about a part-time student writing position.” I called, they hired me, and I found myself working in the world of public relations.

Soon afterward, that office at the University of Georgia hired me full-time while I also took graduate classes in public relations, and later, I worked full-time in public relations at the University of Tennessee while earning my doctorate. I discovered that compared to working as a journalist, I could make more of a positive impact on the world by working for an organization I believed in, helping to tell its stories.

How did you land your current job at Belmont?

I learned of my current job, as well, through networking. Knowing I wanted to move closer to my parents, some friends encouraged me to apply for a PR faculty position announced at Belmont University in Nashville. When I interviewed and met the Belmont faculty, students and administrators, I knew that this was the right place for me. I was invited here in 2006 to help provide leadership in a new PR degree program and to serve as PRSSA faculty adviser. Our program became a department in 2012.

What key skills do you think employers are looking for in new hires today?

Writing is the most important skill to learn and develop, with skills related to business, management and leadership also becoming important as people advance in their careers. Employers today look for new hires with skills in listening, writing, researching, planning, communicating through many channels, serving, leading, engaging and relationship building.

Describe your personal leadership style. What makes a good leader?

My “INFJ” personality type suggests my leadership style is being a catalyst. This means often working behind the scenes to make good things happen. A good leader is one who influences people to work together in a certain direction.

You are chair of the PR department at Belmont University, an associate professor, a PRSSA faculty adviser and the president of the Nashville Chapter of PRSA. Why did you decide to take on these leadership roles?

All of these roles allow me to make a positive contribution in my university and professional communities. I am fortunate to work alongside wonderful colleagues, incredible student leaders and dedicated public relations professionals. 

Why did you decide to take the APR exam and what are the benefits of Accreditation?

Preparing for the APR exam strengthens PR expertise, and achieving the Accreditation in Public Relations increases credibility in the profession. Just as the Ph.D. is recognized in academia, the APR is recognized in our professional community.

What are the issues that you hear concerning the PR profession, as well as trends?

Our profession and its members would benefit from wider participation in our professional organizations — such as PRSA — that provide continued education and ethics advocacy. Our organization and its Chapters are challenged to appeal to young professionals while also keeping senior leaders engaged. The more professionals involved, the more we enhance our profession together.

What challenges do you face in your day-to-day job as an educator?

We want to continue to evolve our curriculum to prepare students to succeed in, and help effectively transform, our fast-paced, ever-changing world. All educators are challenged to improve time management, balancing the demands of teaching, research and service.

Why is it important to be involved in organizations that focus on networking and continuing education?

Continuing education is a criterion of professionalism. It’s important no matter what field your career is in. Networking is crucial in our business — the business of relationship building.

What do you think the outlook is like for soon-to-be PR graduates or new PR practitioners?

Entry-level positions are out there, but the workplace is competitive, so we advise our graduates to get professional experience via internships and leadership [positions] in PRSSA, or other campus organizations, in addition to their degree. Our students who accomplish all of these things are competing successfully for jobs.

What advice do you have for new professionals looking to enter public relations?

Read, paying special attention to good writing and important current events. Be a news junkie. Always continue to improve your writing skills. Be active in professional organizations. Build your network. Develop your skills in social media and design. Write. Get published. Collaborate. Volunteer. Document and quantify your accomplishments. Promote yourself and your career, as well as your employer, and realize you are your first client.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned about PR in your 36-year career?

Focus on the intersection of what’s important to your organization, its publics and the news media. And intentionally practice research, planning, implementation and evaluation.

Best advice you’ve ever received?

Be honest. Be grateful. Be kind. Develop your character and the right actions will follow. My dad was the best example of these things, which are important personally and professionally.

What’s the best part of your job?

I most enjoy connecting with students in and out of the classroom — working with student leaders and seeing them set and achieve objectives, then staying in touch with them as they advance in their careers.

Getting to Know Bonnie Riechert, Ph.D., APR, Fellow PRSA

Any 3 dinner guests, past or present — and what you would have to eat?

I would love to have dinner — and take a selfie with — some of my favorite role models. These include: the late Betsy Plank (who so devotedly supported PRSSA), the late Rex Harlow (who helped established PRSA and was the first full-time PR educator) and Joe Johnson (former president of the University of Tennessee).

Favorite book?

“Vital Friends” by Tom Rath

Favorite movie? 

Anything with Cate Blanchett, or “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”


Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.


Susan G. Barnes, APR, Fellow PRSA says:

Bonnie Riechert is a great colleague, and having known her for many, many years, I can say that she really practices what she has preached here.

June 3, 2014

Megan Brown, APR says:

Bonnie is a wonderful example of a servant leader and has contributed so much to the public relations community. Her example has inspired many to become involved in PRSA, seek Accreditation and find ways to give back to the profession.

June 10, 2014

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