A Collaborative Transition: Q-and-A With PRSA CEO Joseph P. Truncale, Ph.D, CAE

May 1, 2015

Joseph P. Truncale, Ph.D., CAE
Joseph P. Truncale, Ph.D., CAE

Joseph P. Truncale, Ph.D., CAE, became PRSA’s CEO this past January, after 30-plus years with the National Association for Printing Leadership (NAPL). He sat down with Tactics to chat about the similarities between the printing and PR professions, what he’s learned about leadership and what he’s looking forward to most in his new role at PRSA.

Why was PRSA an appealing destination for you?

I was at a point in my career where I was thinking about doing something different. I had done a lot of business consulting at NAPL. I enjoyed that a great deal and thought, “Maybe I will just take that avenue going forward and restructure my position within a year or two.”

When this opportunity came along, it was a chance for me to utilize a lot of the skills and experiences I had gained over a long period of time in membership organizations, but in a different setting — a professional society versus a trade association.

Public relations is a profession that’s changing and going through a big transition, as we did in the printing industry. But it’s also one that’s growing and will continue to do so in the next several years — a lot about that appealed to me. I was ready for a significant change, and here I am.

You mentioned that there is growth and transition occurring in the printing and PR professions. Are there any other similarities you see between the two?

Each profession, at some point, has struggled to define or redefine itself. And it’s a challenge because in the printing industry, nobody wanted to run away from “printing” or “lithography.”

When I think about the PR profession, is it integrated marketing? It’s starting to encroach in that space. Is it strategic communications? There are a lot of other disciplines where PR professionals are now being called to broaden their expertise, and certainly a lot more things are landing on their desks than 10 or 15 years ago.

We’re not going to give up on the name — “public relations” means something, and it should. “Printing” means something, and it does. But we’ve got to transition and we’ve got to start to move, and we’re trying to figure that out. It’s a work in progress.

How would you define your leadership style?

Collaborative — I’m not much for making decisions by committee. You have committees, bring people together, and ask for their input and their point of view and vantage point. I use that phrase a lot — I can only see the world through these two eyes.

But ultimately, somebody has to make a decision. And the authority and responsibility for making the decision reside with the person in charge. And you can’t escape that, you can’t run from that and you can’t abdicate that. The best leaders don’t make decisions in a vacuum. They bring people around and they ask for their opinions and thoughts, they look at issues from different vantage points and they benefit from that inclusive discussion. And then, they render a decision.

What’s the best leadership advice you’ve ever received?

I don’t think it’s “Be yourself.” I think it’s “Know yourself.” And that doesn’t mean sitting in a room by yourself with your legs crossed. It means understanding what you’re about, what drives you, what your internal motivators are, how you’re wired, the things you’re predisposed to think and do, and the things you do or don’t like to do.

One of the most important leadership lessons I learned early on was: Identify your strengths and play to those. Like a lot of people, I got some bad advice, probably in the fourth grade, from my teacher: “The key to success is to work on your weaknesses.” No, that’s not the key to success. That’s the key to frustration and failure and beating yourself up.

The reason they’re weaknesses is because you’re not good at them. If you work on them all your life, then the best you’ll be is average. Instead, identify your core strengths and build on those. Leverage those. Concentrate on those and find opportunities where they can add value in all walks of your life, including your work life.

I worked hard at understanding myself, my drivers, my motivation, the things that — when I’m working on them — are good. But there are things I have to do because it’s part of any job. I force myself to do them, but not because I [lack] intellectual horsepower or will — they just don’t play to my strengths. That was a valuable lesson for me to learn. And I try to impart that onto others too. Know yourself first; take care of yourself first. And then you’ll be able to build on that.

You received your welcome to PRSA during the 2014 International Conference, but you officially started in January. After meeting leaders and volunteers throughout the country, what are your early perceptions of PRSA and its membership?

The membership is enthusiastic, energetic and passionate about what they do. They’re committed to the profession and the craft. Frankly, it’s one of the things that appeals to me about working in membership organizations: People who are accomplished in their profession will participate and share their knowledge, write, speak and mentor. I’ve seen that in the members I’ve met so far. I’ll be going out to a number of section conferences and meeting more members face-to-face. I’m looking forward to that part of it.

As far as the organization is concerned, it’s new to me. It’s great, because I get to ask questions such as, “Why are we doing that?” Or “Why do we do that that way?” And sometimes there’s a pretty good answer. And sometimes, I get, “Well, that’s a good question. Maybe it’s time to review that.”

So that’s been good — meeting the people, figuring out how things function and looking for opportunities to make some adjustments that will make us an even stronger organization going forward. I’m trying to be patient about that. I’m not the most patient person in the world but I’m working on that.

What do you see as some of the most pressing challenges for PRSA?

Like any other organization, we’re not alone. And we don’t have the franchise on content, professional development or awards. A lot of the things that traditional membership organizations have done over the years, others are doing them too. It’s not just other professional organizations; they’re being done by for-profit entities too. I saw that in the printing industry and I see that here, which tells me we need to be on our game, and we need to focus on the areas where we can differentiate ourselves.

And while we’ll still do a number of things because our members want them, it’s also important that we identify the things that make us stand out, that are unique to PRSA. And that’s where we have what I would call “operating leverage,” or competitive leverage, in the marketplace. I have a good idea about what some of those things are, and we’ll be playing to those strengths as we go forward.

What are you looking forward to most as CEO of PRSA?

I enjoy working with people. I like coming together with the volunteer leadership, people who give their time and talents to make for a better organization. It’s incredible when you think about the hours that volunteer leaders spend, whether it’s ad hoc work groups or the Board or Chapter officers. These people donate their time to create a better circumstance for the rest of the members.

The staff are talented, committed people who not only understand the profession, but also understand associations and have a great respect for the delineation between staff work and volunteer participation. And that’s not always an easy balance to maintain.

As I look around here as CEO, it’s an organization where I’m proud to be. I’m happy for the opportunity and excited about going forward with PRSA. We’re in a unique position to build on everything that’s been done up to this point and take the organization to a bigger, better future.

When you’re not traveling for PRSA and attending conferences and meetings, what do you like to do in your spare time?

I read everything I can get my hands on like business journals — business books are a particular favorite — biographies and novels. I’m a John Grisham guy; he tells a great story. I have a very eclectic musical taste. If I told you what was on my iPod, you’d crack up; there’s everything from Sinatra to Santana.

I like sports. I run a fair amount. I live on the Jersey Shore, so I’m a member of the Jersey Shore Runners Club, and I run some of the road races there in Belmar and Spring Lake. I’m a lifelong fan of the New York Giants; I’ve had season tickets forever. I’m not a very good golfer, but I like to play.

And I have a passion for teaching. I teach at New York University as an adjunct for a course that I was asked to develop called, “Executive Leadership.” I’ve been doing that for about 14 years. It’s energizing being around students and teaching at the graduate level in a strategic communications program.

John Elsasser

John Elsasser is the editor-in-chief of Strategies & Tactics. He joined PRSA in 1994.



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