Chair and CEO Gary McCormick, APR, Fellow PRSA, on what PRSA is doing for you in 2010

January 6, 2010

Gary McCormick,  APR, Fellow PRSA, is PRSA’s 2010 chair and CEO. On Dec. 1, he talked with John Elsasser, editor-in-chief of Tactics, about what the Society will be doing for you in the coming year.

What seems to be top of mind for PR professionals today?

PR professionals are facing a dual challenge — shrinking numbers of media outlets along with tightening client budgets. Together, that means we need to do more with less. It’s a function both of a tough economy and a new media environment in which consumers are migrating to social media over traditional outlets.

One of today’s biggest challenges is also an advantage. Social media makes enormous amounts of information available and engagement instantaneous. So, while we no longer have the luxuries of time and budget to conduct the quantitative research to determine the depth and scope of an issue, we can engage social media channels as long as we do our homework to ensure credibility.  Of course this should always be balanced in an overall strategy that includes traditional media.

One of the impacts of the economy, however, is the loss of work for many of our members.  To offset the challenges presented by the economy, PRSA is extending assistance to members through our Hardship program, which includes free monthly personal development sessions, mentorship opportunities and potential employer match through the PRSA Jobcenter.

Do you believe that this is a good time to be practicing public relations?

Absolutely.  As long as PR practitioners learn how to demonstrate the unique value that our profession brings to our companies and clients.  As a key cog in the strategic decision-making wheel, public relations is critical to the best use of resources for the company’s success.

PRSA’s Business Case for Public Relations, which we launched in the fall, is designed to define and promote the strategic value of public relations, fostering better-informed perceptions of public relations’ roles and outcomes.

What are some of the other program initiatives that PRSA is launching in the New Year?

This is a profession where you have to continually learn on a daily basis. It’s always changing and it’s always challenging. Education is increasingly mandatory at all levels. Many of the exciting plans we’re putting into action this year aim to empower practitioners to expand their understanding of the profession.

We recently redesigned the PRSA Web site to make information more accessible and customizable for members and inspire conversations about what’s new in the profession.  We also created the new “CEO Advisory Council” of senior-level professionals who will provide important insights and perspective on how PRSA can maximize member value and best serve the profession at large.

We’re also focusing on measurement standardization as part of the Business Case for Public Relations. We’ve assembled a Measurement Task Force comprising the current and past chairs of the Institute for Public Relations Commission on Public Relations Measurement and Evaluation. The goal of the task force is to begin the process of  identifying standard approaches to measuring PR impact.

What are PRSA’s major challenges in the New Year?

The PR profession today is not the same as it was six months ago, let alone 60 years ago. Professionals need to keep in mind that not learning today means losing tomorrow.  So we need to continue to deliver value to our members and the profession at large.  We also need to talk about that value and the strategic importance of the PR function.  We must communicate this value proposition internally to PRSA members as well as to other PR professionals. The Business Case for Public Relations is the first step in building a body of knowledge that will help us achieve those goals.

The next challenge involves reputation. PR professionals are the guardians of the reputation at most companies.  We need to use information made available through the Business Case to also promote the reputation of our profession. Our ability to do our jobs is contingent on our credibility.

In addition, a recessive economy will remain a challenge in the New Year. We need to be cognizant of what the headlines mean and help companies understand when it’s time to expand and when it’s time to restrict some activities.

The economy also provides an excuse for practitioners to postpone joining the Society. However, this is precisely the time that members most need the networking, professional development and information that PRSA provides. I find it surprising when people say,  “Oh, I can’t afford to be a member of PRSA right now” when we offer so much value for less than $1 a day.

What motivated you to volunteer with PRSA?

At first, my employer paid my dues for me to join PRSA and expected me to get involved.  After becoming engaged and realizing the value of membership, I realized I had shortchanged my career by not joining earlier. By then, I had lost 10 years of career development by forgoing networking, information exchange and professional development perspectives. Since then, I’ve continued to yield great returns on what I invested in the Society.

Why did you pursue a role in leadership?

I started with a role at the Chapter level, which was a very rewarding experience. It exposed me to a much wider perspective of  PRSA and public relations. The more involved I became, the more my network grew.  This personal growth  eventually led me to work at the District level, become a co-chair for the Champions for PRSSA and eventually run for the national PRSA Board of Directors. It was a natural progression.

What do you consider the main values of a PRSA membership?

Everybody comes to PRSA with a different passion and different expectation. For me, the main value of membership has been the insight I can find at a moment’s notice from people whose expertise on a particular subject may exceed my own. Anytime I have reached out to PRSA members for help, they’ve been accommodating and insightful.

In fact, PRSA is a hub of professional thought leadership that draws from a wide spectrum of experience. PRSA connects and supports the spokes that drive members’ full circle of  professional development, best practices and service.  And, PRSA is nimble and flexible enough to develop new and enhanced service offerings that provide members with what they need to be successful in today’s rapidly changing business environment.

This year, I’d also like to emphasize that PRSA can help members get the most out of their profession. Everybody has something to contribute. PRSA makes the tools available to turn those contributions into shared resources to elevate the profession’s performance and each individual’s success. I want members to see PRSA as a catalyst to achievement.

Getting to know Gary McCormick, APR, Fellow PRSA

During his career, Gary McCormick,  APR, Fellow PRSA, has pioneered significant changes in the way the federal government approaches public relations, public affairs and public participation. Integrating the principles of risk communication, research and strategic planning, communities nationwide have benefited from the involvement fostered by McCormick’s counsel. During a 17-year career working for federal clients, McCormick has managed many highly technical and emotional issues, including long-term storage of radioactive waste, environmental cleanup of defense sites and disposing of chemical weapons.

He currently works in the corporate PR arena as director of partnership development for HGTV.  In this role, McCormick is responsible for identifying opportunities for off-channel exposure for the leading home and lifestyle cable network and its on-air talent, and investigating, defining and implementing partnerships that will increase ratings and awareness with viewers. Before moving to HGTV, McCormick served as director of public relations for DIY Network and Fine Living TV Network, where he directed the networks’ media relations and special events, including DIY’s national partnership with Habitat for Humanity.

With strong ties to his Knoxville, Tenn. community and philanthropy, McCormick also gives back through his current and previous board service and associations with Habitat for Humanity,  America on the Move, Knoxville Center of the Deaf and Knoxville Dogwood Arts Festival.


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