PRoust Questionnaire: Sean Kelly

The PRoust Questionnaire provides a quick insight into a public relations practitioner’s interests and point of view, as well as his or her professional beliefs and values.

If you are not familiar with the original 19th-century Proust Questionnaire, please see details at the end of this post.

PRoust Questionnaire answers from Sean Kelly:

1. What are your most striking characteristics as a PR practitioner?

I like to think that it’s trustworthiness; I’ve always been a straight shooter.

2. What is your principal fault as a PR practitioner?

I talk too much—it’s something I have to keep in check from time to time. Maybe it’s a Newfoundland thing, because I can certainly “Rant like Rick” when I find something to rant about. (But at least with the CBC’s Rick Mercer, you can change the channel or hit the mute button.)

3. What is your favourite occupation in PR?

I enjoy the adrenaline rush of crisis communications. There’s just something about maintaining your composure, acting quickly and decisively—and with confidence—while people around you are yelling “OMG!”

4. Why do you work in PR?

Maybe I’m not suited for any other kind of work! <laughs>

Earlier in life I thought I wanted to be a lawyer—not just any lawyer, but rather a wildly successful defence authority like Perry Mason or Matlock, never losing a case. And so glamorous. But after attending a Career Day event and meeting a lawyer who only talked about preparing wills, deeds, mortgages, and the like…I changed my mind.

I fell into the PR profession by chance, not choice, as a result of government layoffs. The silver lining was a reassignment to a PR job in the Department of Environment working closely with a fantastic Deputy Minister that I had worked with in a previous department. I discovered I was good at public relations. Better yet, I enjoyed the work and I wanted to become better at it. I’ve loved everything about it since then.

5. What is your idea of PR nirvana?

PR nirvana for me is when I am part of a philanthropic project that makes a meaningful difference in the lives of people who deserve to benefit from positive changes.

6. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery in PR?

Being stuck in a job where you are made to feel like you can’t make a difference and you are not appreciated.

7. What qualities do you most admire in a PR practitioner?

Sincerity, loyalty, sound judgment, trustworthiness and a commitment to the values and ethical foundations of the PR profession—which just happen to be expressed in the CPRS Code of Professional Standards—are the qualities I most admire.

8. What qualities do you most dislike in a PR practitioner?

I dislike arrogance in anyone, not just PR practitioners, and I don’t put anyone on a pedestal. I once got into a little bit of trouble with a Sergeant at Arms for saying hello to Queen Elizabeth II before she said hello to me.

I was about 12 years old at the time, but I met her again in 1997 and did it again. She didn’t seem to mind, but of course by then we were old acquaintances.

9. Who would you describe as a PR hero or villain?

My PR hero is my mentor, Edsel Bonnell. Why? Because he: co-founded the local CPRS chapter; was the first APR in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador; is a Member of the CPRS College of Fellows and a Life Member of CPRS; is an Order of Canada recipient; and is the holder of an honourary doctoral degree from Memorial University of Newfoundland (for service to the community and work in PR). In general, he is a tireless champion and cheerleader for CPRS, the PR profession and PR practitioners.

I guess that anyone who despises public relations and public relations practitioners could be considered a PR villain, but I prefer not to think of them that way. Instead, I suspect they just don’t understand us.

Of course, the other type of PR villain is the PR practitioner who sabotages our profession by acting unprofessionally or disingenuously.

10. What do you most value in your professional contacts?

I am fortunate to have some of the best public relations practitioners in the world as close friends and colleagues through my involvement in CPRS. I value their experience, wisdom, knowledge and insights.

11. Have you ever been influenced by a PR campaign?

Yes, but only the very good ones.

12. Where would you most like to practise PR?

Anywhere that has no media–only kidding. The truth is, I quite like being right here in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.

13. Has a novel, film, play or other work of fiction ever influenced you as a PR practitioner?

I mentioned earlier how my younger self wanted to be a lawyer and the 1979 drama, And Justice for All, had a lot to do with that choice. The film (starring Al Pacino) was about ethics and standing up for your principles at any cost. Even though I never became a lawyer, the lessons learned from that drama are as relevant for public relations as they are for law, so it is fair to say that film had a lasting influence on me.

14. Who do you think has great public relations?

My employer (again with the kidding–or half kidding). But more seriously, I would say the Canadian Space Agency. What the CSA’s communications team did for the Chris Hadfield mission was literally and figuratively out of this world!

15. Which real, historical or fictional person or brand would you like to give a reputation makeover?

Just about anyone who has been wrongfully accused and dragged through the mud, particularly by the media.

16. Who is your favourite writer?

That would be Wayne Johnston who wrote The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, The Divine Ryans and several other excellent books. In fact, The Divine Ryans was made into a movie and it was filmed here in St. John’s, starring Pete Postlethwaite. I had the pleasure of having coffee with Pete on the movie set during the making of the “Apuckalypse” scene (in that part of the film it’s raining hockey pucks during a child’s dream). I was picking up rubber pucks in the backyard for weeks after the filming ended, but the experience made it worth it.

My favourite poet is William Butler Yeats.

17. What one thing is essential to your PR life?

Respect for others and respect from others. It’s very difficult to build healthy relationships in the absence of mutual respect.

18. Groucho Marx is quoted as saying he’d never join a club that would have him as a member. Which PR club, association or tribes do you belong to—and why?

I belong to the Canadian Public Relations Society. Why? Because this is the professional association that seeks to advance the interests and stature of the public relations profession and public relations practitioners working in Canada.

19. Where do you most like to do your professional networking?

CPRS events are excellent for networking.

20. What’s the best career decision you ever made?

The decision to complete the CPRS accreditation program: accredited in public relations (APR).

21. What skills and abilities do you think tomorrow’s PR leaders need?

Tomorrow’s PR leaders need the same skills and abilities that today’s PR leaders need, which includes being:

  • open minded
  • a critical thinker–and a quick thinker (particularly during a crisis)
  • an innovator
  • a motivator; and
  • a counsellor

22. Which talent would you most like to have?

There are two things that I wish I had learned over the years: To speak French and to play the guitar.

23. How would you like to end your PR career?

On a high note of course…but It won’t be ending anytime soon, at least not by choice.  I plan on working as long as I am healthy, energetic and feel I have areas of value to contribute.

24. How would you describe the current state of public relations?

In general I believe the current state of public relations is very good and getting even better. The profession (or emerging profession if you like) is not without its problems, some of which are age-old, but we are making progress.

Each year, universities and colleges produce excellent graduates from their public relations programs. Businesses, governments and organizations continue to need highly competent public relations professionals—and they are hiring.

Advancements in communications technology and the explosion of social media platforms have secured the need for public relations experts to help organizations communicate effectively with their stakeholders.

At a time when transparency and accountability are high on everyone’s agenda, PR professionals are busy developing strategies for organizations to achieve objectives in these areas while protecting privacy. As everyone with a smart phone and Internet access can become a citizen journalist, PR pros position themselves to help organizations and individuals respond effectively when a misstep is caught on camera or goes viral on YouTube.

While the state of public relations is quite good, I think it would improve significantly if we had greater numbers of practitioners joining their national PR association and enrolling in its accreditation program. Although I don’t see public relations becoming a licensed profession in the foreseeable future, in the absence of licensing requirements, it would be great to see more accredited practitioners in the workplace.

You don’t need to be accredited to be successful, but in Canada (at least) accreditation is an assessment of competency—and successful attainment of the APR designation brings instant credibility to the practitioner.

25.What is your PR motto?

Challenge yourself, and challenge those around you, to do a little better today than you did yesterday.


Sean Kelly, MA, APR, FCPRS, is a senior public relations practitioner with expertise in strategic communications, reputation and issues management, crisis communications and media relations, built over a 28-year  career (so far) in the public service. Currently he manages public relations for the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board. He is a leader in Canadian public relations and is presently serving  as the national president of the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS), following terms as the board’s VP treasurer and VP corporate secretary.

Sean holds a bachelor of arts, a bachelor of education and a master’s of arts degrees from Memorial University of Newfoundland. He is a member of the CPRS College of Fellows and recipient of several prestigious national public relations awards, including the CPRS Award of Attainment, the Don Rennie Memorial Award for Strategic Government Communications, the Lamp of Service and an Award of Excellence in issues/crisis management.

Connect with Sean on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.


The PRoust Questionnaire was originally designed to reveal one’s personality. Its name and popularity as a form of interview has roots in the responses given by the French writer, Marcel Proust. His first set of responses came at the end of the nineteenth century, when he was still in his teens (from an English-language “confession album”).

For PR Conversations we have adapted this original idea with questions that offer a public relations’ perspective. It is fun to compare and contrast responses as the series grows. (See below.)

If you would like to be invited to complete our PRoust Questionnaire for posting on PR Conversations, please visit our Crowdsourcing suggestion form.

Earlier PRoust Questionnaire respondents:

Helen Slater

João Duarte

Catherine Arrow

Stuart Bruce

Fraser Likely

Jane Tchan

Sean Williams

Al Clarke

Léa Werthman

Estelle de Beer

Don Radoli

Toni Muzi Falconi

Richard Bailey

Jane Jordan-Meier

Nelly Benova

Peter Stanton

Mat Wilcox

Anne Gregory

Markus Pirchner

Heather Yaxley

Judy Gombita

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7 Replies to “PRoust Questionnaire: Sean Kelly

  1. Several of my CPRS colleagues and I have characterized the PRoust Questionnaire with Sean Kelly as a “great read”. It captures the essence of this principled public relations practitioner: a self-confessed “straight shooter” with a touch of irreverence, a man who is serious about the profession, but not necessarily about himself.

    I’ve worked with Sean on the Canadian Public Relations Society Board of Directors for a number of years now and I can attest to his dedication to the profession and CPRS. He is a tireless advocate of a management practice that through ethical communications builds relationships and understanding and which always serves the public interest. Sean is helping to move the profession forward by championing education and accreditation. He epitomizes through his example the mission and values of our organization.

    I enjoyed the glimpses the questionnaire provided into the influences on Sean’s career and the development of Citizen Kelly. As I’ve allowed in e-mail correspondence with him, I’d be hard-pressed to answer which films, books or writers have most influenced me. But Sean’s answers have reminded me that poetry provides a good touchstone for a professional communicator and that it’s been far too long since I’ve gone back to enjoy the works of his favourite poet, W.B. Yeats. In that regard, I sourced online a few quotes from Yeats that may be appropriate to our profession and to “pr conversations” like this:

    – Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
    – Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.
    – The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.

    1. Hey Bob,

      It took a while for the redness in my cheeks to subside. Thanks for the very kind words. Coming from a guy that I have admired and enjoyed working with for so many years, it really means something.

      Good job on the quotes.

      Citizen Kelly? Hmmm. We’ll have to talk about that one at the next Board meeting.


  2. Sean,

    As ever, you are a breath of fresh air in a time of mixed messages about public relations practice and what constitutes professionalism in public relations.

    I hadn’t known that you ‘fell into public relations practice’. I admire your personal drive to learn the craft, participate in the professional association, attain Accreditation in Public Relations and give leadership to PR practice in Canada. Thanks also to Edsel Bonnell and his CPRS peers who have lifted public relations practice from a tactical staff role to a recognized management function personified by APRs.

    I’ve seen evidence that fewer journalists are being hired into entry-level public relations positions nowadays and would want employers to know that candidates with a formal public relations education are the better choice for good governance and the management of organizational relationships.

    I’d also emphasize as you do the imperative to hire only principled PR practitioners as staff and agency partners.

    1. Hey Natalie, I applaud you as well for being a champion for accreditation.

      I just came from a wonderful conversation with a person who is interested in moving from a career in marketing to a career in PR. We talked about the importance of formal education, the value of professional development offered through CPRS, and, of course, the APR.

      Readers might be interested in knowing more about our “Pathways to the Profession” which was developed by our National Council and Education and Subcommittee on Educational Standards.

      It’s a hugely important strategic initiative led by CPRS for the advancement of the profession, Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to get the kind of recognition it deserves. Initiatives like this one are exactly the these types of things that bring value to the membership because it raises the stature of public relations. Check out the CPRS website for more educational programs

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