PRoust Questionnaire: Sean Williams


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 Williams:

1. What is your most striking characteristic as a PR practitioner?

My analytical, academic and rather intellectual approach to internal communication and measurement.

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

Probably my analytical, academic and rather intellectual approach to internal communication and measurement.

3. What is your favourite occupation in PR?

I’m a big fan of strategic communication leadership—but not necessarily as head of public relations. More like the moniker of “internal consultant.”

4. Why do you work in PR?

PR allows me to use communication expertise and tactics—such as writing, editing, video production, measurement—in a corporate setting that earns me a good living.

5. What is your idea of PR nirvana?

A CEO who invests in the function; one who fully realizes its value to the organization, including internally, externally and through measurement.

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

Pitching stories cold to the overworked, underpaid news media. Blerg.

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

The willingness to raise important questions (we frequently are the only ones with an appropriately broad perspective) and has the resolve to stand up for the cause of communication in the organization.

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

Narrow-mindedness, especially in thinking that mainstream media relations are the Holy Grail, and that measurement isn’t worth doing.

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

I once wrote a post saying that political PR (in the US) was evil. Some spin doctors who seem to hold sway in this Villains aspect of our profession: James Carville, Paul Begala, the late Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. 

Heroes? Professors like Brad Rawlins, now of Arkansas State University, Bill Sledzik of Kent State, Don Stacks of University of Miami and Don Wright of Boston University. The new generation of PR professionals will be better rounded.

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

People who offer interesting perspectives; I don’t have to agree with them, but I like it when I’m challenged intellectually.

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

No doubt, whether in a marketing communication sense or a reputation sense. It’s hard not to be influenced, positively or negatively.

12. Where would you most like to practise PR?

I’d have loved to have the chance to work regularly outside of North America. I’ve made several short business trips to Europe and believe I would have enjoyed working abroad. I was sorely tempted to move to Canada a few years ago!

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

Reflecting on this question brings me back to Nicholas Nickleby: a massive, eight-hour stage adaptation of the Dickens epic. It tells me about the power of a great story—it generates commitment!

14. Who do you think has great public relations?

Costco, Cisco, General Electric (for the most part), The American Red Cross, FedEx and PNC Bank (its CEO, Jim Rohr, is terrific on camera and in person).

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

The two brands that I mourn for right now are Hewlett Packard and Microsoft—great companies that are now in open struggle or on a precipice. They are or will be in a battle for their organizational souls (which I’d like to play a part in saving).

16. Who is your favourite writer?

Depends on the genre! I would say Brad Meltzer for thrillers, Jim Collins for business, Harry Turtledove for science fiction, Margaret Atwood for dystopia and Mark Twain for humor and storytelling.

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

Teaching at Kent State. It is personally fulfilling and I miss it when class is over.

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?

Institute for PR (feeds my academic side). IABC (it’s as regular as an old shoe and connects me locally). PRSA (my second newest affiliation—strictly a business positioning tool at the moment). Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (my newest—it connects me to a lot of measurement and research purveyors, especially outside of North America).

Also, the #solopr and #icchat communities on Twitter—lone wolves and internal comms people like me. Both help me with the inevitable isolation of the home office, although client and academic work have gotten in the way of my social media activities of late.

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

Hmmm. The sales part is hard. I’d say anywhere I can meet more prospects. Online networking can be helpful and easy. I’m losing patience with big conferences because you meet too many consultants.

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

Leaving a big bank after 13 years of upward migration to join a small firm, run a practice and work on major research projects. I’m forever grateful for my time at Joe Williams Communications; it really made my career.

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

Critical thinking skills are absolutely imperative. This means beefed up analytical capacity: the ability to see the communication implications for organizations and communicate them in a compelling way.

22. Which talent would you most like to have?

I’d love to be a jazz pianist.

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

As Old Professor Williams, still on thesis committees, teaching grad seminars, doing research, writing and presenting—after having created value for many clients of Communication AMMO, and then selling the company.

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

Confused and in danger of being taken over by marketing.

25. What is your PR motto?

Objectives are everything.

Sean Williams currently is an adjunct professor of public relations at Kent State University and owner of Communication AMMO, Inc., which helps organizations plan and execute communications effectively and measure the results. Current and past clients include Ernst & Young, Western Reserve Academy, Ketchum Pleon Change, Avery Dennison, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.

He contributed the guest post on PR Conversations, Triple-associate Sean Williams asks, “Why join?”

Read his Communication AMMO! blog, connect with Sean William on Twitter or LinkedIn. Contact him by email.

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:

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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11 Replies to “PRoust Questionnaire: Sean Williams

  1. Judy – thanks so much for the shot at self-reflection, which is in critically short supply for me lately! BTW, Several other PR heroes/heroines:

    @ajeffrey1 — Angela Jeffrey
    @kdpaine — Katie Paine

    Both of these pioneer measurement people started companies and own a lot of intellectual capital in PR. Angie is on, I think, her third iteration of entrepreneurship, and Katie is a one-woman evangelist for the cause. I’m proud they’re my IPR Measurement Commission colleagues. Both should teach in universities!

    David Rockland ( — “Doc Rock” not only leads the research and change practices at Ketchum, he’s a past chair of the Commission and a prominent thinker and voice in PR measurement.

    Mark Weiner ( — Mark is CEO of Prime Research and a trusted friend who’s always generous with his formidable thinking on our profession.

    Pauline Draper-Watts (@pdwatts) — Pauline has helped me connect many dots over the past few years and I have great respect for her.

    Finally, the entire IPR Measurement Commission — I’ve named several of them here, but all of them deserve notice for their ongoing support of the cause of research, measurement and evaluation for internal and external communications.

    Thanks again, Judy –

  2. Flattered by the shout-out in No. 9. Dismayed by No. 2 — that being “analytical and intellectual” in one’s approach to the business could EVER be called a weakness. But that’s the way happens in too many places. With your help, Sean, we are all raising the bar. Practitioners must be well rounded, but also more reflective in their approaches to business problems.

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