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Monday, September 13, 2010

Five Minutes with a Legend: Margaret Ann Hennen, APR, Fellow PRSA

Margaret Ann Hennen, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Minnesota's newest inductee into PRSA's prestigious College of Fellows. She was inducted during a ceremony at PRSA's International Conference in San Diego last year.

1.  What are the highlights of your public relations career?

Consistently bringing the voice of the consumer, whatever the industry, to an organization’s communications.  Any organization often needs to make hard business decisions; how those decisions are communicated to stakeholders sets the organization apart. Being truthful and direct in sharing bad news, as well as good news, showing compassion and gratitude are all important. Too often, we forget one or more of those four elements and our reputation is diminished. 

Earning accreditation and admission to the College of Fellows. Those were purely personal achievements – things I did for myself – but I believe they make me a better and more focused PR professional.

Margaret Ann Hennen, APR, Fellow PRSA
2.  What are some of the key lessons that you have learned in your career?

Take what you do very seriously; don’t take yourself too seriously. Learn to laugh.

Writing and speaking clearly are essential to our profession; curiosity gives an added advantage.

Strong networks sustain you – in good times and bad. Build communities.

Don’t cut corners – the building is only as strong as the foundation – your reputation grows from that foundation.

Stay true to your core values and principles.

Give credit where credit is due. 
If you make mistakes, it means you’re doing something. Admit your mistakes and learn from them. Learning from mistakes is really, really important.

3.  You were a national board member for PRSA. How would you describe that experience?

National PRSA service has been and continues to be a great source of learning. Because of my years working nationally with PRSA, I have a wonderful network of PR professionals across the country. I have personal friends as well as professional colleagues who are just a phone call away. The people and the experience enrich my life – professionally and personally.

PRSA has been a part of my life since I began working at Sperry (now Unisys) in the mid-'80s. My colleagues were a sounding board when I needed a reality check or had a question. Serving locally and nationally was just payback. I want a strong organization for the next generation of professionals. Is PRSA perfect, of course not – because everything can benefit from continuous improvement. But if people only sit around and complain, nothing will change. We all have a responsibility to contribute to that continuous improvement. Corny as that may sound, that’s why I volunteered for four years on the board and why I continue to be active in PRSA and the College of Fellows. 
4.  What predictions do you have for the evolution of public relations?

As it did during the 20th century, public relations will change to reflect our society and our learning in the 21st century. No doubt, we’ll continue to find new channels of communication as technology expands. But those are only channels – ways to communicate. WHAT we communicate will always be critical and the strategy behind with WHOM and WHEN we communicate will always take precedence over HOW and WHERE we communicate. All must be carefully thought through.

Couple that with developing and nurturing relationships and you have the backbone of public relations and communications.

It’s easy to be seduced by the latest technology and the rush to be among the first to adopt a new gadget or gizmo. We’ve certainly seen that in the last decade. To be successful, you need a compelling message and a strategy for who, when, how and where. Without those core ingredients, you’ll just be contributing to the general “clutter” in the world – and we really don’t need any more of that.

So as much as public relations changes, those core elements – a good message, a clear strategy and strong relationships – remain consistent.

5.  What advice would you give to new public relations practitioners?

Be curious. Explore. Be honest and ethical in your personal and professional lives. Learn to write. Develop a strong network and nurture it constantly. Listen more than you speak (God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason). Get active locally and nationally with your PR colleagues.

6.  Is there anything else that you would like to add?

We are fortunate to live in a community that has strong PR professionals. I have benefited from the relationships with my PR colleagues and mentors. John Beardsley’s death brings home just how important my PR friends have been and continue to be – and how much I’ve learned from them over the years.    

-- Brant Skogrand, APR, MBC